Wrestler Abigail James faced more steep competition to qualify for state Friday and Saturday at Fremont High School than she did in 2022 as a Ralston Ram.
The Blair High School senior was up against a deeper Nebraska talent pool as a whole and a stiff District 1 Tournament lineup.
“She was pretty nervous because this district was tough,” Bears coach Terry Bellamy said.
Even so, James repeated her feat. The fourth-place finisher at 145 pounds became the first — and so far only — Washington County wrestler to qualify for the NSAA Girls State Wrestling Championships.
“I think she had more self-confidence,” Bellamy said. “She put it all together.”
Overall, 10 Blair wrestlers scored 67 points to finish 11th out of 36 scoring teams in Fremont. The effort capped a notable debut season for the girls wrestling program, which won the Eastern Midlands Conference Tournament late last month.
Bellamy said he told every Bear that left the mat Saturday about how far they'd come from their first practice in November.
“It's just neat to see their journey,” he said. “I'm pretty happy with them.
James went 4-2 during District 1 competition. She'll take a 19-11 overall record into the Feb. 16-18 state tournament in Omaha.
The BHS senior first won by 30-second pin against Omaha Benson's Avrianna Lofton before a quarterfinals loss to Conestoga 145-pounder Maggie Fiene. In response, she won her next three matches by pin to qualify for the state tournament.
James earned a fall in 44 seconds against Arlington's Jaydin Allen, stopped Bellevue East's Jamela Khaitov in 1:23 and pinned South Sioux City's Stephanie Olivarez in 3:30. The two-time state qualifier lost her third-place match to Anyia Roberts of Grand Island, but stood on the podium to cap the district tournament all the same.
In addition to James, Blair's Riley Martin, Ali Wheeler and Jaysie Garcia-Abalos finished just a win shy of a state tournament berth. Martin was 3-2 at 100 pounds with two pins and a 5-2 decision, while Wheeler went 3-2 at 120 with two pins and a 6-3 decision against 23-9 Millard North wrestler Kloee Mitcham in her first match.
Garcia-Abalos, who ends BHS' debut season with a team-best 26 wins, was 4-2 in Fremont, too. She had four first-period pins, but was bested by Pierce's Isabelle Kuehler during the consolation semifinals.
Overall, all but two Bears earned a contested victory at districts. Madi James claimed two, and Josie Tilson, Savanah Roan and Najmina Ahmadzada had one apiece. Brianna Matzen and Maia Opetaia-Swope fell just short, going a combined 0-4.
Altogether, though, Bellamy was pleased. He started coaching in 1999 and feels as if the girls team is right where the boys team was before it took off into the tradition-rich program its been in recent years.
“I'm just super proud of the girls,” he added.
DISTRICT 1 TOURNAMENT
Friday-Saturday at Fremont High School
Top 10 teams: South Sioux City 245, Grand Island 242, Millard South 162, Aurora 106, Pierce 103, Fremont 94, Conestoga 89, Beatrice 85, Louisville 83, Stanton 68. Also: 11, Blair, 67. 23, Arlington, 23.
(Weight: wrestler, district record (season record), place)
100 pounds: Riley Martin, 3-2(16-8), NA
105: Josie Tilson, 1-2(17-18), NA
115: Brianna Matzen, 0-2(4-10), NA
120: Ali Wheeler, 3-2(24-18), NA
125: Maia Opetaia-Swope, 0-2(3-16), NA
130: Savanah Roan, 1-2(22-14), NA
140: Jaysie Garcia-Abalos, 4-2(26-11), NA
145: Abigail James, 4-2(19-11), fourth
155: Madi James, 2-2(14-11), NA
170: Najmina Ahmadzada, 1-2(3-7), NA
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