LUSK – Amazing was the word head wrestling coach JD Wasserburger had to define his first season after replacing Ron Nelson.
The Tigers had a 16-2 dual record, won tournaments at Torrington, Southeast and Newcastle, and thrilled a packed crowd at Tiger Gym by winning the SEWAC duals on Senior Night. Niobrara County High School took second at regionals and followed it up with a fourth-place finish at the 2A State Championships.
Replacing five state qualifiers will be difficult, but Wasserburger likes what he has coming back and the newcomers to the program.
“I’m not sure we’ll be as strong a dual team this season, but you never know with some matchups,” he said. “But I also think as a tournament-type team we should be pretty tough.”
Senior Colton Coffman was a 2020 state champ and all-stater last season with a second-place finish. He is looking to become a two-time state champion this season and wrestling at 126 or 132 pounds.
“Everybody’s working hard so far,” Coffman said. “I definitely want to finish with a championship, and also think we have guys that can finish higher this year.”
Miles Ashurst placed third at state last season, and Blake Miller also qualified. Both look to move up the podium this season. Ashurst should settle in at 182 pounds, while Miller will fit in at 195.
“We’ve talked about what leadership means, and it starts with respect for your community, school, teammates and good sportsmanship,” Wasserburger said.
The junior class has a pair of veteran wrestlers in Gabe Matthews and David West, while Kort Bannan joins the team. Matthews and West are both two-time state placers and their expectations will continue to increase, while Bannan has been an early pleasant surprise. West figures to be at 138 pounds, while Matthews moves up to the 145-pound class.
Sophomore Nathan Fish went 47-5 and began his high school career with regional and state championships. With his experience and skilled technique, Fish should be the favorite throughout the season. Ivan Kremers has grown and will only improve as the season and his skills progress.
Four freshmen bring some experience among them, and Wasserburger has expectations for them as well.
When girls wrestling was approved as a separate sport last spring, several schools jumped on board quickly. It wasn’t until shortly before practices began that a pair of Lady Tiger seniors emerged to give NCHS a girls’ team this winter.
Jazmin Ladwig and Elyse Richards aren’t the first girls to wrestle for Lusk, but now have their own division to compete in. Neither one has ever wrestled before, but Ladwig has been the team manager the past three seasons and Richards spent plenty of time following older brother Dmitri on the mat.
“By the end of the season they’re going to be alright,” Wasserburger said. “This will help Jazmin get ready for track season, and Elyse comes from a long family history of wrestling.”
With Nelson and Andrew Wasserburger returning as assistant coaches, very little will change in the practice room and approach to each week as it has been for several decades now.
The season gets underway this Friday with the Tiger Invitational. Action begins around 9:30 a.m.