After a dramatic third-place victory, Arlington senior Hunter Gilmore took off for the arena tunnel, reaching it before coaches Doug Hart and Tyler Stender caught up.
Stender put his hand on the Eagle's shoulder and the wrestler stopped in his tracks. He turned and buried his face in the coach's shoulder.
As the pair embraced, Gilmore's state-qualifying senior teammates, Trevor Cooley and Josh Miller, arrived. At that time, they all celebrated their 145-pounder's moment.
There was one more landmark AHS match ahead, though — Miller's. The 170-pounder wrestled for his second-consecutive NSAA State Championship on Saturday night at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.
“It's going to be tough one, a tough battle tonight, but I think Josh is the type of kid that will get it done,” Hart said. “I hope.”
Miller capped a 13-year long journey with his senior teammates right. He dominated his district final opponent again, but on the grand state championship stage. The 12-1 major decision set off a multi-tiered celebration.
Miller flexed and yelled out into the cavernous arena.
He then transitioned into a cartwheel backflip, pointed to the crowd and, after leaving the mat, met Cooley and Gilmore at the edge of the tunnel. The trio embraced tightly again, shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder and shared in the moment that closed out their Arlington wrestling lives together.
“Winning last year was amazing,” Miller said before explaining why the 12th-grade title meant more. “Just capping off everything, everything throughout the years. Being able to end on that high note. Just being able to celebrate with my teammates — my family pretty much for the last 13 years.”
It was the 170-pounder who got Gilmore started in the sport at 5 years old. Cooley's been there every step, too.
“One of the best decisions I ever made,” the two-time state champ said. “Obviously, they count as family. They're just as much family as anything.”
Miller finished his senior season 47-0, dominating at every stage of it. In Omaha alone, he went 4-0 during the state championships.
The AHS standout, who also quarterbacked the football team last fall, won his first match by pin before besting Josh Jessen of Yutan and O'Neill's Servando Gonzalez during the quarterfinals and semis. He won the first of those matches 4-1 before earning a bloody 4-0 decision against Gonzalez in the semifinals. He was forced into the arena's first-aid room by the cut over his right eye, but emerged from it with title aspirations against David City's Tre Daro.
While Miller topped the Scout 6-0 in the district finals, he already led 7-1 through just two periods Saturday. The eventual victory and celebration left the 170-pounder with 190 career wins — all earned while teammates with Cooley and Gilmore.
“Growing up with them, its amazing,” Gilmore said after his third-place match, his voice cracking. “All of the memories.”
Their state trip together was what they'd hoped for all along.
“Its amazing that we, all three of us, got to be here together,” Gilmore added. “We started it together and finished it out together.”
While disappointed he was unable to join Miller in the finals after an overtime semifinals loss, the 145-pounder did finish his career with a memorable finale.
145-pounder takes 3rd
Gilmore closed out his high school career with a buzzer-beating, 2-0 win against a longtime foe in a third-place match.
Afterward, when asked what his favorite career memory was, the senior paused before relaying the obvious minutes after it happened.
“Right now, it's that match,” Gilmore said. “But there's been multiple matches I'm proud of. I've beat some of the best kids in the state and lost to some of the best kids in the state.
He won far more than he lost, though, finishing with a school-record 191 career wins — one more than Miller. The last may have been the most memorable.
Knotted at 0 with Logan View's Hunter McNulty, Gilmore appeared to score a two-point reversal at the third-period buzzer. The referee, however, wasn't giving it to him.
Hart stepped in, hand up, and had a meeting with the presiding ref, who then discussed the finish of the match with his colleague.
Ultimately, Gilmore got his two points and a third-place finish.
“He's a guy that's put in a lot of time, a lot of effort,” Hart said. “So, it's easy to fight for the guys that are working hard in the practice room, and have devoted a lot of time into this sport and our program.”
Cooley caps career with state win
While Miller and Gilmore finished their storied AHS careers on their respective podiums, Cooley fell short.
The 126-pounder went 1-2, finishing his senior season 20-13. He notched more than 100 victories during his four years, which included three state qualifications.
Cooley started competition Friday with a third-period pinfall loss to David City Aquinas' Zach Zitek. He battled through a tight first period before falling behind 12-2 in the second and eventually losing by fall.
Undeterred, Cooley turned to the next challenge — a win or be eliminated match in the consolation bracket — and stuck Gordon-Rushville wrestler Traiton Starr to the mat in just 2:04.
“I had a lot of butterflies,” Cooley said of his mindset going into the state win. “But that's my motivation — my butterflies, that energy flowing through my blood. It keeps me going.”
Later that same day, though, the senior Eagle wrestled his final match in Arlington colors. He wrestled all 6 minutes, losing a 9-4 decision to Battle Creek's Boston Reeves.
The match closed an accomplished prep career.
The weekend closed the careers of three standout Eagles.