Blair wrestler Dex Larsen finished second Saturday during the NSAA State Championships at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.
The 195-pounder's Bears, meanwhile, finished eighth as a team in Class B with three medalists — Charlie Powers, Jesse Loges and the senior.
“It meant so much,” the silver medalist said. “I've spent my whole life coming to state wrestling, eating ice cream in the stands and watching everybody wrestle.”
But on Saturday, Larsen experienced what it meant to be the main event. The Bear stood in the tunnel and waited for his name to be called, trotting out to his place on the mat with a spotlight showcasing him in the dark arena.
“It's something you kind of take for granted when you're just watching,” Larsen said. “But when you get to experience it yourself, it's something you'll never forget. It really meant a lot to me.”
In the match that followed his introduction, the BHS standout battled fellow unbeaten grappler Lathan Duda of Broken Bow, who hadn't lost a match since 2019.
After a scoreless first period, Larsen's foe used his length and grabbed Larsen's ankles at the edge of the mat, barely securing two points in the second. Those two proved pivotal as Duda went on to win 3-2, holding off the Bear gunning for a late takedown.
“I would have liked to have seen him earlier in the season to get a feel for him,” Larsen said. “But I was pumped up. I knew I could win.”
It just didn't work out that way.
“It would have been nice to be a champion, but I gave it my all so there's nothing to hang my head about,” the runner-up said.
The medal was his career first after wrestling just two high school seasons.
“Last year, after taking two years off, I didn't know if I was going to go out for wrestling,” Larsen said. “I thought I might just not do a winter sport and just hit the weights hard.”
The BHS senior is a football player first. He signed with Wayne State College earlier this month, but wound up going out for wrestling as a junior because he thought it might help him out on the 100-yard field.
“Had a decent season,” Larsen said.
During his 12th-grade campaign, though, the 195-pounder took a big step forward.
“How far he's come from there to now is amazing, really,” Blair coach Erich Warner said. “It speaks to his work ethic and his commitment to everything. He puts only good things in his body and works his butt off in anything he's doing.”
Larsen's tenacity ultimately earned him an opportunity under the spotlight where he pushed one of Nebraska's best to the limit.
“(Dex is) happy no matter the outcome as long as he gives his best effort through all six minutes,” Warner said. “And he does that every match.”
Powers takes 3rd, Loges 5th
After 2-0 starts and then disappointment in the semifinal round, Powers and Loges battled back and ended their seasons with victories. The 145-pounder — who set school records for season wins and pins (35) — took third, while the 106-pound Bear claimed fifth.
“Obviously it wasn't what I wanted,” Powers said. “But next year I'm crushing the competition.”
The junior will ride the momentum of his season's 52nd win into that final, senior year run. He earned the victory against 47-6 Gage Stokey of Ogallala during the third-place match, securing a pin with just 55 seconds remaining.
Powers had trailed his final match 4-2 before a two-point takedown led directly into the season-ending pin. The 145-pounder also opened his state tourney with a pin before claiming a 4-3 decision against Asa Johnson of Alliance in the quarterfinals.
After a loss to Aurora's Trevor Kluck in the semifinals, the BHS standout earned a tech fall in the consolations before capping his night at No. 3 on the Class B podium.
“I'm confident in saying I work harder than everybody,” Powers said afterward. “And I've got goals I want to achieve, and I'm not finished.”
The Blair will be joined in that pursuit by Loges, who won his fifth-place match by third-period pin. He led it against Wayne's Garrett Schultz 5-4, but finished off a scramble with the Blue Devil by fall.
The season-closing victory came after two losses Saturday, which was preceded by a spotless Friday.
“I didn't like my first match. Didn't like how that finished,” Loges said. “My second match … didn't like how that finished. So, I just came out here, worked as hard as I could and I won.”
The 106-pounder finished the season 45-8. The state trip was his first.
“It was fun,” Loges said. “Didn't finish how I wanted to, but I came out and won my last match.”
Goals remain, however.
“As soon as I lost my first match, I was thinking about getting third this year and winning it next year,” he said. “That didn't pan out, but I'm going to come back stronger and better next year.”
5 Bears also contend, fall short
Three more BHS seniors reached the second day of the state tournament, but all fell just a win shy of a podium spot.
Braden Hanson, Gabe Gaskill and Lance Hume went 2-2 at 182, 220 and 285 pounds, respectively. The lightest and the heaviest of the trio lost their elimination matches by pin, while Gaskill lost his by 3-1 decision.
To reach Saturday's competition, however, the Bears won and kept their dream of medals alive. Hanson tallied a 13-4 major decision over Columbus Lakeview's Landon Ternus for his 39th victory.
Gaskill and Hume, meanwhile, stuck their win-or-go-home opponents. The pins came back-to-back on mat No. 6 at the CHI Health Center, closing out the Bears' opening day at state.
“Kids just feed off each other,” Warner said. “Gabe getting that win really helps Lance. You can't ask for much better.”
Gaskill pinned Elkhorn's Hamed Syed in 4:12, improving to 22-22 in his first high school wrestling season since his freshman year.
Hume then logged win No. 34 of his final season with a first-period fall. He put Bennington's Jake Stier on his back and stopped the clock at 1:22.
Before those matches, though, Blair's Luke Frost and Dylan Berg were eliminated from medal contention. The Bears did not leave state before logging tournament victories, however.
Frost finished 1-2 at 113 pounds, besting Grand Island Northwest's Caleb Alcorta by 6-1 decision during the first consolation round. The Bear's state run nearly started with a win, too, as he fought through a shot to the head to take his opponent into overtime before falling short.
Berg, meanwhile, won his first consolation match against Northwest's Austin Cooley 8-4. That victory came after and before two tight losses at 160 pounds.
Berg scored a reversal and tied his first-round loss with just :50 seconds remaining and eventually dropped his season finale just 6-5.