OMAHA — It never fails that there are some surprises at the state wrestling tournament.
O'Neill and its sophomore duo of Ty Rainforth and Brady Thompson were more than happy to provide that this year.
Three of O'Neill's four wrestlers advanced to the quarterfinals, and Rainforth and Thompson — both ranked by the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association (NSWCA) — both punched tickets to the Class B semifinals early Thursday afternoon at CHI Health Center. That allowed the Eagles — and not heavy area favorite Pierce — to lead area squads in the team standings with 22 points after Thursday's action.
“We've wrestled well up to this point,” O'Neill coach Bryan Corkle said. “You punch two into the semis in Class B down here, that says something, no doubt about it.”
Hastings opened up a cushion with 64 team points to lead the Class B team standings, 18.5 ahead of Gering. O'Neill was tied with Central City for 11th in Class B.
The undefeated Rainforth (40-0), ranked fifth by the NSWCA, faced a 2-1 deficit in favor of Ean Bailey of Lexington going into the third period of their 120-pound quarterfinal. Rainforth was awarded a penalty point after Bailey was caught stalling, and then he scored a takedown with 1:02 left and hung on for the 4-2 victory.
“I was just looking to get a takedown, get anything. I just needed points,” Rainforth said. “That penalty point helped confidence-wise.”
His coach said there was no doubt about the sophomore's ability to come back.
“Ty Rainforth has ice water in his veins, man,” Corkle said. “He's not flashy. I think a lot of people overlook him because he's just so solid. He wrestles good position, he had a good game plan going into that match, and just wrestled his game plan. “We knew he had a championship takedown late in the match.”
Thompson, who was ranked fourth at 138 entering districts, stuck seventh-ranked Joel Lemburg of Columbus Lakeview to the mat in 3:38 for a second-period fall.
“I just trained for the match, I guess,” Thompson said. “I just knew I could wrestle a better match than him.”
“He's a hammer,” Corkle said about Thompson. “There's no doubt about it.”
In first-round action, Rainforth earned a third-period pin of Arlington's Trevor Cooley in 5:16. Thompson scored a 13-1 major-decision over Garret Kaup of West Point-Beemer.
Now, the sophomore duo will compete in Friday's semifinals. Rainforth will face second-ranked Paul Ruff (37-4) of Gering, while Thompson (33-5) will take on second-ranked Collin Quandt (37-8) of Grand Island Northwest.
“I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait,” Rainforth said.
PIERCE ENTERED the tournament as heavy favorites to lead area Class B teams with 10 qualifiers, but just one of those was guaranteed to earn a medal following day one.
“It was rough,” Pierce coach Tyler Legate said. “At times, we wrestled pretty well. We just couldn't finish. I keep saying that, but hopefully tomorrow we can rally back and punch some guys into the medal rounds.”
Sophomore 152-pounder Ashton Schweitzer claimed a pair of close victories, defeating fifth-ranked Josh Colgrove of Plattsmouth 3-1 in the quarterfinals in order to advance.
“Ashton's wrestled good competition all year,” Legate said. “Lately, he's really been wrestling well. It just goes to show when you got confidence what you can do. I hope he can keep carrying that the whole way through. I'm very proud of him.”
Outside of that, it was a tough day for the Bluejays.
The first five Pierce wrestlers all suffered first-round losses. That was broken when Schweitzer rallied from a 2-1 deficit with a tiebreaking takedown with 28 seconds left in the second period, and then he held on from there for a 4-2 victory over Landon Towne of McCook.
Brett Tinker doubled the number of Bluejays in the quarterfinals when he needed 1:39 to pin Morgan Koch of Omaha Roncalli, but the fourth-ranked Tinker dropped an 18-12 decision to sixth-ranked Brock Skinner of Ogallala.
In the semis, Schweitzer (40-14) will battle Elliot Steinhoff (36-7) of Platteview — who knocked off third-ranked Cameron Zink of Ogallala.
“We got one out of our 10 into the semis,” Legate said. “That's rough. At least we have this afternoon and tonight to regroup. … All we can do now is come back and fight tomorrow. You can't fix the past.”
THE MOST dominating individual performance among area Class B wrestlers came from a guy who had a late start to the season.
Mike Leatherdale of Wayne had just 23 matches entering state while getting down to weight.
If that means Leatherdale (now 24-1 on the season) is fresher than other wrestlers who have competed in 43 and 45 matches as his first two state opponents have, he provided evidence of it in the results.
Leatherdale needed just more than four minutes to qualify for the 285-pound semifinals with back-to-back pins. He downed Reid Steinbeck of McCook in 1:38, and then he used exactly one more minute to take down Bradyn Kucera of Columbus Lakeview in 2:38.
What may have pleased Wragge the most was Leatherdale's mindset going into the day.
“He's a confident dude,” Wayne coach Dave Wragge said. “He stays relaxed, keeps level-headed, and does what he needs to do to get to where he's at.”
He was the only one of six Blue Devils to reach the semifinals. Leatherdale will take on Alfredo Valquier (41-3) of Nebraska City in the semifinals.
“Qualifying six out of that district was awesome. That was a tough district,” Wragge said. “I think everybody down here wrestled well. Obviously, going 1-5 that first round hurt, but it wasn't from wrestling poorly. We wrestled about as good as we could have.”