Relaxed and mingling with the home crowd after Thursday's triangular, Blair's wrestlers could still feel the momentum they'd built going into Saturday's Eastern Midlands Conference (EMC) Tournament.
The Bears were ready for that task after blasting Omaha Benson 78-6 and Millard West 54-11 on Senior Night. The home team won 15 of the night's 18 contested matches, including 11 of the 13 it took from a solid Wildcats squad.
“Better than I hoped,” BHS coach Erich Warner said when asked how he thought Thursday's nightcap went.
“Millard West is a really good team and we wrestled as well as we have this year,” he noted. “I had no idea that would happen. I thought it would be a close dual and I knew it could go either way. And it wasn't that way at all.”
Two days later, the Bears won the EMC Tournament in Elkhorn with three bracket champions. But they built to the conference meet with one of their best efforts of the season.
“Personally, I was going to go out there and dominate,” senior Duncan Loges said of his Thursday match against Millard West's Korey Cozad. “Try and get the pin, get some points for the team, and I expected the same out of everybody else.”
The 152-pound Bear notched a 1-minute pin against the Wildcat, while Hank Frost, Lance Hume and Brady Soukup also won by fall. Dylan Berg added a 20-5 technical fall at 145 pounds, too.
“We're dominant when we're all wrestling good,” Loges said. “We did that tonight.”
The 152-pounder wasn't the only one who thought that either.
“Today we wrestled very well and I think that's where we need to be at the end of the season,” 126-pounder Tyler Curtis added.
While Loges' pin took a minute, Frost's at 138 pounds came in just 50 seconds after he hooked his opponent's leg with his own and quickly turned him to his back. Soukup's came 3:19 into the heavyweight match, while Hume's bonus points were scored with just seconds left in the third period. Leading Millard West's Ryan Kocovsky late, the 220-pounder stood up a takedown attempt, planted his head on the mat and arched his back until he was in a full mount for the pin.
Curtis (9-6 decision at 126 pounds), Brody Karls (6-2 decision at 132), Treyton Jones (14-0 major decision at 170), Braden Hanson (3-1 decision at 182), Dex Larsen (9-4 decision at 195) and Jesse Loges (3-2 decision at 106) were also on their game.
Coach Warner said it felt as if his guys wrestled mistake-free, while also taking advantage of every one of their opponents' miscues. Curtis sealed his victory with a last-second takedown, while Hanson broke a tie by taking his opponent's back with about 10 seconds to go.
To Curtis, the run through the Wildcats' lineup was reminiscent of the Bears' famous 2019 dual run in Kearney.
“It reminds us of last year at state duals. The excitement. The energy that the whole team has,” he said. “It actually lifts and gives us confidence with each match.”
Coincidently, Blair's win over Millard West all but guaranteed them a spot in the 2020 Class B State Dual Championships, which takes place Saturday at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds. The Bears looked poised to qualify on wild card points, just as they did last year, and did. They'll open the tournament in Kearney with a 9 a.m. dual against Pierce.
Before improving its season dual record to 15-7 against Millard West, Curtis, Hanson, Larsen and Hume picked up pins against Benson. At the EMC tournament, Blair notched 15 more.
Bears win EMC title
The Blair wrestling team scored 188 team points Saturday, topping Bennington by 16 for the EMC Tournament title. Third-place Plattsmouth had 119 points.
The Bears had nine wrestlers reach the finals of their brackets in Elkhorn with three — Karls, Frost and Larsen — earning conference championships. Karls was 3-0 at 132 pounds, besting Norris' Benjamin Schoenbeck 13-9 in the finals.
Frost, meanwhile, scored three pins at 138 pounds. His title match against Hunter Smith of Plattsmouth took just 1:38.
At 195, Larsen was 2-0 with two decision wins. Waverly's Wyatt Fanning fell to the 25-10 BHS wrestler 12-6.
In addition to the Bears' champions, Jesse Loges, Curtis, Jones, Yoan Camejo, Hanson and Soukup earned second-place finishes. Hume and Berg were second.
Blair earned second to Bennington during the EMC duals at the beginning of January, but bested the Badgers for the tourney title at the beginning of February.