This group of sophomores is a unique species. They have converted their respective challenges into fuel, and continue to surge onward.
In a perfect wrestling world, we could push a magic button that transforms all of the best wrestlers to the same weight class. Then we would blow the whistle, enjoy the clash of styles, and we would know who is the best wrestler is after the dust settles. Until then, we can only use opinion and speculation to rank a group of wrestlers at different weights.
The criteria below has been created to facilitate the task of ranking those wrestlers.
- Phillip Moomey of Kearney- 15 points
- James Burks of Omaha Burke- 14 points
- Creighton Baughman of Millard South- 12 points
- Jack Sutton of Wahoo/Cedar Bluffs-10 points
- Camden Russell of Millard West- 9 points
- Devon’Tae Gutierrez of Scottsbluff- 8 points
- Trey Arellano of Sidney and Evan Waddington of Wood River- 7 points
Tied for 9th with 6 points: Blake Jackson of Millard South, Carter Kucera of Columbus, Zach Borer of North Bend Central, Cody Carlson of Fremont, Nick James of Kearney, and Caydon McCracken, Battle Creek.
Many wrestlers on this list traveled the nation to test themselves against the nations best, but Phillip Moomey topped the list thanks to his 11-day trip to Russia and Estonia. On the trip, Moomey got the opportunity to train at Russia’s Olympic Training Center and won Freestyle and Greco titles at the Tallinn Open in Estonia. The tournament included nearly 1,900 competitors, and Moomey competed against many wrestlers who had spent their lives training specifically in either Freestyle or Greco. His most impressive performance on home soil was his 5th place finish in the 120lb Cadet Greco bracket at Fargo. Before then, he doubled up at the State Freestyle and Greco tournament winning both styles in Cadet 120lb bracket. Even more impressive than his summer accomplishments, is how consistent and focused he was with his training. Even after his win that guaranteed him All-American status at Fargo, he wanted to know what he could improve on. In total, Moomey wrestled 110 matches since the 2016 NSAA State tournament.
How hard is it for a freshman to beat a senior? What if that senior is your brother, and you had to crush his dreams in order to achieve yours? Just ask James Burks. Faced with both obstacles, he stayed poised and won a 2016 state title in the 132A bracket. Burks kept the pedal to the metal, jumped up two weight classes, and doubled up at the State Freestyle and Greco tournament in the Cadet 145lb bracket. Burks also doubled up at the Northern Plains Regional and outscored eight opponents 76-12 and added one fall. Another instance of Burks seeking challenges was apparent the last day of Team Nebraska’s Fargo training camp. All wrestlers were instructed to choose opponents for three matches, and Burks chose coaches Adam Keiswetter, Dalton Jensen and Rob Sanders. To add perspective to Burks’ decision, Keiswetter was a three-time all-american for UNK, Jensen was a two-time finalist and NCAA Champion for UNK, and Sanders was a two-time NCAA Qualifier for the Huskers.
As competition concluded on day one of Junior Duals, Creighton Baughman was told that his grandfather had passed away earlier that day. Baughman paid tribute to his grandfather the next day by completely dominating his three opponents by outscoring them 34-3. Baughman finished 5th in the 120A bracket where many freshmen would have been thrilled to be on the podium. Although his bracket was laden with proven upper classmen, Baughman felt that he had “choked” at state. His improvement was evident throughout the season, as he transposed a mid-January major decision into a major decision win of his own. Like Moomey and Burks, he went on to win Cadet Freestyle and Greco state titles.
Jack Sutton suffered a leg injury that kept him off the mat from July to October, then he jumped right into 195B which was loaded with running backs and linebackers. The high school transition is hard enough for freshmen at the middle and lower weights, but Sutton still finished the season with a 19-8 record. Although he didn’t place at state, Sutton got to work on the Freestyle and Greco circuit where he won State Freestyle and Greco titles and placed in both styles at the Northern Plains Regional. Sutton found his mean streak over the summer, and it will compliment his slick arsenal in the neutral position.
Camden Russell has been on the brink of exploding, and he knows it. Since May of 2015, Russell has made the blood round of every national tournament he has entered. He has earned All-American status in two of nine events, but it’s the seven finishes that weigh on his mind. Learning to keep a steady pace in his matches is one area that Russell has improved in since the high school season, and it will help him get over the hump.
Devon’Tae Gutierrez won’t stay off the mat. Before the 2015-2016 high school season, he competed in Colorado, Missouri and Iowa. After finishing 2nd at state in the 113B bracket, he competed in Freestyle, Greco and Folkstyle tournaments in the spring and summer. Also in the summer, he and Scottsbluff teammates spent a week at the Jeff Jordan camp where they drilled the single leg specifically over a thousand times. He spent another week at an elite camp in Ohio, then went straight into the last two days of the Fargo training camp. His aggression is his biggest weapon when he harnesses it.
The only blemish on Trey Arellano’s record in his freshman campaign was a 9-6 loss in the state semifinals, a match he was leading until the last flurry. He competed at USA State Folkstyle, won AAU State Folkstyle, and represented Nebraska at AAU Disney Duals. Arellano can seamlessly flow from position to position without hesitation, but is most dominant when he initiates his primary attacks in the neutral position.
One of four on the list to finish as a freshman state runner-up, Evan Waddington’s only loss was in the 113C state finals to a returning state champion. Of his 54 wins, he accrued 39 falls, and only four of his opponents avoided a major decision or technical fall. In the spring and summer, Waddington competed in Freestyle and Greco tournaments in Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Kansas. He loves the international styles, and all of his training in Freestyle and Greco has expanded his already vast arsenal of attacks.
Of the six tied for the 9th spot, one was a high school state champion, two finished as state-runner ups, one finished third, one finished sixth, and one was a blood-round finisher in a treacherous weight class. Every wrestler won between 33 and 60 matches during the high school season and wrestled in multiple offseason tournaments.
The recurring theme among these wrestlers, is that they aren’t satisfied with their success. They crave the sport of wrestling and have fallen in the love with the pursuit of evolving and excellence.