The West Lincoln Rebels did something theyâ€™ve never done in the schoolâ€™s stellar wrestling history. With eight wrestlers participating in the 1A/2A Wrestling Tournament, West has the most state qualifiers ever.
Until this year, the most was seven wrestlers done in 2000 and in 2003. John Harkey (103), Jeremy Pearson (125), Matt Avery (130), Zeb Elmore (135), Dustin Hester (152), Daniel Soto (171), Keane Steele (189) and Antonio Rojo (Heavyweight) will be this yearâ€™s participants.
Through each qualifying, that means they are individually in the top 16 of their respective weight classes. What stands out more, perhaps, are their individual records: Rojo 49-1, Harkey 45-7, Hester 43-6, Avery 42-5, Elmore 39-8, Pearson 37-9, Soto 35-12 and Steele 28-12.
Rojo dominated in the regionals, pinning each of his opponents. Rebelsâ€™ head coach Butch Ross believes he is the favorite in the heavyweight division to win a state title.
â€œI think his chances are real good. He pinned everybody in the regional. He just went out there and went after them,â€ he said.
Harkey and Pearson both finished as runner-ups at the regional.
â€œThey wrestled real well. They had tough final matches. Both of them wrestled good in the finals and if they continue on, I think they have a good shot at placing high in the state,â€ Ross said.
Hester and Avery finished third at the regionals.
To put into perspective just how spectacular the Rebels have been this season, consider this. Entering the season, Cory Norman (2002), Aaron Terry (2002) and Rojo (2004) held the school record for most wins in a season with 43.
Three wrestlers: Rojo, Harkey and Hester have already matched or surpassed that total with several other young men nearing the once magic number. While Ross is the mastermind behind the team, he chooses to deflect all of the credit.
â€œItâ€™s just a testament to their ability, how well they wrestled and how the whole team just came after people and won a lot of matches,â€ he said.
West Lincoln was the only team at the regionals to qualify all 14 starters.
â€œThat means weâ€™re a good, solid team. It shows you the depth we had on the team and shows you just how solid we were,â€ Ross said not in a boastful way but matter-of-factly.
Ross knows just how grueling the two-day state competition is, but that doesnâ€™t harness his expectations.
â€œI think they all have a good shot as placing in the top six. It would be disappointing if all of them donâ€™t win some matches down there,â€ he said.
On both Friday and Saturday, the Rebels will begin wrestling at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 9 a.m. and will not leave the mat until 9 p.m.
â€œItâ€™s tough when you figure you have top 16 in the state. Youâ€™re hitting that level of competition and being able to maintain the level that you need to compete at that level is a tough situation. Hopefully, you can just come out injury-free; itâ€™s not the time to get an injury,â€ Ross said.
by John Mark Brooks