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Decade of dominance: Omaha Skutt turns in mind-boggling performance in winning 10th straight Nebraska state title



OMAHA, Neb. - The story has been chronicled, documented and is well-known all around the state of Nebraska, but it definitely is worth repeating.

In one of the first wrestling tournaments that Omaha Skutt Catholic High School entered a decade and a half ago, the 12 wrestlers the SkyHawks entered went a combined 0-24 and were pinned in all 24 matches.

Fast forward to 2007. Skutt entered 12 wrestlers in the state tournament this past weekend at the Qwest Center in downtown Omaha, Neb.

Those 12 wrestlers turned in what ranks as one of the best performances I've seen in 30-plus years of attending state tournaments in Iowa and Nebraska.

I've been to hundreds of wrestling tournaments as a competitor, journalist and fan, but what I had the pleasure and honor of witnessing from Feb. 15-17 in Omaha was simply mind-boggling. And one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen from a wrestling team at any level. It was impressive to say the least.

Skutt's demolition of the Nebraska Class B field started with the first day of competition on Thursday afternoon. The SkyHawks won all 12 first-round matches and followed that by winning their first 10 second-round bouts later in the session.

That's 22 straight wins in the state tournament. And it made me think back to the unthinkable run by the Iowa Hawkeyes at the 1997 NCAA meet where they went on a huge roll at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, en route to the title.

Skutt finally lost its first match late in the second round, but quickly rebounded with a win at 215 to make them 23-1 on the first day of the tournament.

The SkyHawks broke their own all-class record by putting up a whopping 251.5 points in winning their 10th straight state title. They also broke the state tournament record by recording 18 pins. Second-place Boys Town, which turned in a strong performance, finished more than 100 points behind the state champions from Skutt.

The SkyHawks scored over 100 points in the first two rounds and had over 200 after the semifinals. They had a combined 40-9 record in the tournament. Their 11 placewinners set a new Class B state record. They extended their record of consecutive titles with their 10th championship in a row.

Making Skutt's run even more eye-catching was the fact that the SkyHawks lost three state champions and a third-place finisher off the 2006 team that also made history.

Skutt junior Tyler Sackett won his third state title and broke Nebraska's single-season record for wins. He's well ahead of pace to break the career wins record next year. Sackett is on course to join former SkyHawks Todd Meneely and Kasey Kohl as four-time state champions.

Sackett, who competed at 125, is a tough, hard-nosed, driven kid who can beat you with his silky-smooth technique or by breaking you with his strength and stamina. He is very strong mentally and the type of kid who will be more than equipped to handle the pressure next year when he shoots for state title No. 4.

What is impressive is the way the SkyHawks perform. They do it the right way with an aggressive, attacking team that comes at you hard for six minutes or more. Their kids work hard in the weight room and make improvements by competing in summer tournaments.

Head coach Brad Hildebrandt and former assistant R.J. Nebe, past All-Americans for the University of Nebraska at Omaha, brought that philosophy to Skutt when they started the wrestling program there 15 years ago.

The enthusiastic, passionate Hildebrandt brings a college mentality to the program, demanding plenty from his kids but at the same time caring deeply about each individual on the team. He is a master motivator who drives his kids to excel and has a knack for getting his kids to peak at the right time.

An example of what Skutt has built came at 145 when junior Tim Chavez, a wrestler unable to crack the starting lineup his first two seasons in high school, posted four straight victories to win a state championship in his first varsity season. Mike Corritore, another guy who spent two years on the junior varsity, capped his junior year by finishing second in his first state tournament.

Corritore appeared to have won his semifinal and started to celebrate before the referee awarded his opponent a stalling point as the time expired in regulation. That might have shattered most wrestlers, but Corritore quickly regrouped and eventually powered in on a leg attack to score the winning takedown in overtime.

Corritore entered the state meet with 17 losses, many a product of his team's rugged, grueling schedule. But wrestling a tough schedule paid off for him at the most opportune time.

It looked like a Skutt dual during the annual Walk of Champions, where the finalists parade out in front of fans just prior to the championship bouts with Queen's "We are the Champions" blaring. The SkyHawks had finalists in the first eight weight classes.

Skutt wrestles a challenging schedule, including an annual trip to The Clash National Duals in Rochester, Minn. They added another tough event in Kansas City this season.

The SkyHawks have sent numerous wrestlers to college programs. Mitch Waite was a two-time All-American and Steve Conlin an All-American for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Meneely, a sophomore at UNO, is currently ranked No. 1 in Division II at 149 pounds. Matt Farrell, a sophomore at Nebraska-Kearney, is a strong bet to become a D-II All-American at 184.

There are plenty of college prospects in the Skutt room now when you look at Sackett, Chavez, juniors Tyler Kottas and Quintin Cottle, and sophomores Derek Vogel, Matt Katusin and Zach Cottle. College recruiters already are taking notice of this star-studded crew.

Skutt's run of success has led to its share of resentment. Some of the loudest boos from fans came when Skutt posted some of its biggest wins. Some of the loudest cheers came in the rare instances when the SkyHawks lost a match. It's unfortunate, because these kids are just teenagers, but it goes with the territory when you build a dynasty like Skutt has.

Skutt has set the bar very high now with its record-setting performances, but there already is talk of breaking the scoring record next year.

All 11 state placewinners return, including five state champions, three second-place finishers, two third-place finishers and a fifth-place finisher from the 2007 meet. Skutt actually has six state champions back, with Zach Cottle winning it all in 2006 before placing second this year.

After 10 straight titles, Skutt is well on its way to starting a new decade of dominance in Nebraska. It should be fun to watch.
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