News That Matters To Antelope County - Your News. Your Way. Every Day!
© Pitzer Digital, LLC
As Cameron Wilkinson and Brock Kester took their place on the Class D 113-pound medal stand Saturday night, the two Neligh-Oakdale wrestlers shared a quick glance and slight smile.
They didn’t talk about what was happening, but their presence said it all. Neligh-Oakdale had just made state wrestling history.
Although the Warriors didn’t want to make a big deal out of the feat, the two state medalists made Nebraska wrestling history on Saturday at CHI Health Center as the first two wrestlers from the same school to earn medals at the same weight.
“Oh, yeah. I was thinking about it,” admitted Kester, who stood on the podium receiving the fifth-place medal. “It was really cool to be able to do that. I think it says something about the program. We’re making a mark.”
Wilkinson agreed, “It was pretty cool. This was the first time anyone had done this, so to do that well the first year is quite an accomplishment.”
Wilkinson, who claimed state runner-up honors this year after placing fourth in 2017, was all smiles as he talked about sharing the podium with the underclassman. The senior and sophomore never faced one another at state.
“We are teammates first,” Wilkinson said. “We’re like brothers. Every since he came in as a freshman, I knew he could be a four-time state placer. I actually thought I could be the first to do that in school history, but I didn’t. He has the opportunity to do it, so I’ve pushed him ever since he came in. So far, he’s on track.”
Kester, who wrestled at 106 last year, earned a fifth place medal at state as a freshman.
This season marked the first year schools were allowed to enter two wrestlers in one weight class. However, in doing so, the school had to designate which wrestlers would be utilized for team points. Also, no more than 14 total wrestlers could be entered into district competition.
Neligh-Oakdale qualified two sets of wrestlers in two of the same weight classes this year. Senior Jayden Arehart and junior Kaleb Pofahl both qualified for state at 170 as well. Elkhorn Valley also had utilized the new rule at 160 with Josh McFarland and Mitchell Petersen.
Both Amherst (Class D 170) and Southwest (Class D 285) also qualified two with the rule. But no other school was able to medal two wrestlers in the same weight.
Neligh-Oakdale coach Gary Davis said a key to that success is having two great wrestlers training one another, battling it out on the mat daily. To be the best, they wrestled the best in the state each day in practice.
“Steel sharpens steel,” Davis said. “That’s a perfect example. Those two made each other better. For the last month, they trained together, warmed up together. If it was going to happen, those two were a perfect fit.”
Davis referenced a situation several years ago with another school where a state medalist was unable to wrestle at the varsity level all season because he was beat out by a teammate.
“This was a perfect example of letting that kid have a chance to compete,” he said. “To have two teammates who were that close and worked that hard be able to realize their dream together, that’s as cool as it gets. It was a great week, and that really topped it off.”
Kester spent much of the season wrestling at 120 but felt 113 was a better weight for him. Wilkinson said Kester actually planned to wrestle at 106 at districts, but after the season was going, he asked Wilkinson if he minded if they both wrestle at 113.
“I told him, ‘Do whatever you need to do to be as successful as you can,’” Wilkinson said. “By the time he was able to go 113, he was doing really well. I knew there was a chance to do well at districts, so to go one and two, I felt like we had a good chance.”
Wilkinson won the district title over Kester in one of the most unusual bouts in district history. After shaking hands, the official smiled and moved out of their way just as the teammates dropped to an arm wrestling match. Wilkinson then flipped over the top of Kester for a quick pin.
After both grapplers advanced to the district final, they met in the locker room and decided to have fun in the final.
“He said, ‘It’s your senior year, so we might as well make some fun out of it,’” Wilkinson said of his talk with Kester. “We did the arm wrestling deal and made everyone laugh. It was worth it.”
Davis later admitted he was worried about the two wrestlers meeting on the mats in Omaha, but the longtime coach said he never dictates how the match will go.
“I leave it in their hands,” he said. “The district final was interesting. All they said was, ‘Hey coach, can we have some fun with this?’ I told them two things — make sure you can wrestle next week and let the official know. But I can tell you, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Davis can’t help but get a little misty-eyed when talking about Wilkinson and Kester. While making state history is nice, it’s their work ethic and leadership that make him the most proud.
“If it was going to happen to anybody, it couldn’t have happened to two better wrestlers in the aspect of their work ethic. When Brock came up, Cam took him under his wing a little bit. It was neat they were able to do it,” Davis said. “It proves what kind of teammates those two are and how close this group is. They are a close group and work their tails off. That’s the only way that happens — through their work ethic.”