By Rob Sanders
The junior group is full of nomads.
Five of them are seeking their first state titles in 2017.
What drives an athlete to seek competition outside the high school season? Is it to stay ahead of the competition? Is it to chase an elusive state title? Is it to test themselves at the regional and national level? Is it to continually evolve in a sport that they are passionate about? The wrestlers on this list fit into at least one of those categories.
This list is created from a cumulative score from criteria listed below. Tournaments were used starting from the 2015 weekend of Monster Match and Preseason Nationals, and ending with those same 2016 tournaments. We will add results for this junior class after the state championships conclude in February.
Competition Seeking Juniors
1. Billy Higgins, Skutt Catholic- 18 points
2. Derek Robb, Sidney- 16 points
3. Tyler Cunningham, Gretna- 14 points
4. Melvin Hernandez, David City- 12 points
5. Jack Huffman, Millard West- 9 points (has a NSAA title)
6. Lee Herrington, Kearney- 9 points
(Tie)7. Cameron Riggs, North Platte St. Pats- 8 points
(Tie)7. Max Hughes, Syracuse- 8 points
9. Adam Kinnaman, Lincoln Southeast- 8 points
10. Caden Moore, O’Neill-7 points
11. Jake Oltman, Lincoln Southwest-6 points
Billy Higgins was bent on winning a 2016 NSAA title. But when that didn’t happen, he refocused and went on a mission to ensure a spot on the top of the NSAA podium in 2017. After winning the NHSCA sophomore national title in early April, Higgins shifted his focus to the international styles of wrestling. After winning freestyle and greco-roman state titles in May, he went undefeated in Greco competition at Junior Duals, and finished as a Fargo Greco All-American in the Junior division.
After winning his second straight state NSAA title, Derek Robb won AAU and USA Wrestling state titles in Folkstyle to lock up the Folkstyle Triple Crown. He attended multiple wrestling camps during the summer and competed in Florida at the AAU Disney Duals.
Tyler Cunningham, Melvin Hernandez and Jack Huffman won their first NSAA titles in February of 2016. Between the three of them, they only lost six matches the entire high school season. Instead of relishing in their success, they shifted their sights and made some noise at the national level.
Hernandez wrestled in a tournament in every month from November of 2015 to July of 2016, an astounding nine months of training and competing. He competed in Florida, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and recently finished 6th at Preseason Folkstyle Nationals in Iowa.
Cunningham feared no one this past spring and summer. He competed at state, regional and national level freestyle and greco-roman tournaments in Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma and North Dakota. He earned All-American finishes in Greco at UWW Cadet Nationals and at Fargo.
Huffman wasn’t the favorite to win the 113lb Class A NSAA state title, but with some solid strategy and patience he was able to beat a returning state champion for the title. Huffman was a Freestyle state champion, Greco state runner-up, and earned All-American status at UWW Cadet Greco Nationals. Like Cunningham and Hernandez, Huffman was on the Freestyle and Greco National team that competed at Junior Duals.
Since the 2016 NSAA state tournament, Lee Herrington has wrestled 101 matches while competing in all three styles of wrestling. In only his second year of wrestling Freestyle and Greco, he won seven matches at Junior Duals and was only two matches away from being a Fargo All-American in both styles.
Halfway to their goal of winning 4 NSAA titles, Cameron Riggs and Max Hughes elected to stay busy this past spring and summer. Riggs competed in both Freestyle and Greco, while Hughes competed primarily in Folkstyle and Freestyle. Both are tied for seventh on this list as they have no head to head matchups in the last year that could’ve broken the tie.
Riggs placed in Freestyle and Greco at USA state, won 4 matches at Junior Duals, and won 2 matches at Fargo. He also made dozens of treks from North Platte to Omaha and Kearney to get the extra training needed to continue his progression.
It’s pretty impressive that Max Hughes kept competing during the spring and summer in the midst of a growth spurt. In February, he won the NSAA Class C 113 title and competed at 132 for State Freestyle in May, and at Fargo in July.
Looking at how much Kinnaman, Moore and Oltman have competed in the last year, it is evident that they are seeking a 2017 NSAA state title. Kinnaman was a state runner-up in freestyle and greco and placed 1st and 6th at Monster Match in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Caden Moore competed in all three styles, but spent most of the spring and summer learning Freestyle and Greco. He placed top 3 in both styles at USA state, and won 5 matches at both Junior Duals and Fargo. Although the Cornhusker State Games weren’t used as criteria, Oltman won gold medals in all six styles. Like Kinnaman and Moore, he placed in both Freestyle and Greco at USA State.
Scott Fulsos is one who could have made this list, but he chose to train more than compete. He spent over 50 days of his summer at the Legends of Gold Training Center in South Dakota.