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SYRACUSE — District wrestling always comes with a bit of extra excitement. A special time to try to qualify for one of the state’s great postseason tournaments.

Syracuse coach Jeremy Goebel is ready to take his team to St. Paul in the new district format that features serpentine districts for the three most eastern districts in each of the three smaller classes.

“It’s that part of the season where it can get to be a grind,” Goebel said. “For the most part are kids are pretty healthy. We think our schedule will help us the next two weeks.

“We wrestle a mainly Class B schedule, we went up to the (Flatwater) Fracas in Grand Island which helps us.”

Ranked third in Class C by newrestle.com, the Rockets could be a top contender for the C-3 title which also features ninth-ranked North Bend Central at St. Paul. Wrestling begins Friday and wraps up Saturday with the top four finishers in each weight class advancing to the state meet next Thursday in Omaha at Century Link Center.

The new district format ranks teams based on retuning state points and wrestlers. The teams are then divided into districts in a serpentine bracket format. Along with St. Paul, Cross County and Aquinas will host district meets this weekend.

Goebel, in his third season as head coach, brings a deep team with five ranked wrestlers led by top-ranked Max Hughes (132) and Caleb Lefferdink (285). Hughes is a two-time champion.

He won 106 as a freshman and 113 as a sophomore, jumping two classes for his junior year where he has gone 34-2 and moved his career mark to 131-8. Both of his losses have come outside of Class C this year.

“Max is just a kid who gets after it every time he is on the mat,” Goebel said. “The thing with Max is he is great with our guys at the lighter weights. He makes them better in practice, gives them confidence in their matches. He helps our team a bunch.”

Fellow junior Lane Bridgmon is 32-14 and ranked sixth at 120 and at 145 senior Keegan Pope is fourth at 145 with a 41-6 mark. Pope was a qualifier last year at 138. They all feed off each other their coach said.

“Keegan has three losses to No. 2 (Grant Albrecht of Raymond Central),” Goebel said. “He has just been a great senior leader for us.

“Lane is a kid who just missed State last year in wrestlebacks at districts. He walked off that mat determined to get to state this year. He has just been willing to battle for six minutes every time out.”

At 160, senior Mitch McWilliams is ranked second behind top-ranked Zach Borer of North Bend Central and a finals match could loom in St. Paul. McWilliams is 36-5.

“The guys really look up to Mitch,” Goebel said. “He has just kind of worked his way up every year. We are proud of what he has done this year.”

Lefferdink is top-ranked at 285 ahead of Wilber-Clatonia all-state football player Riley Homolka and Nebraska football walk-on commit Hunter Miller of Cross County. He is 43-1 after advancing to the semifinals last year.

“Caleb has just been really solid all season,” Goebel said. “He’s been a great leader, has been very consistent. I think last year has fueled him a little bit.”

They’ll find out if they can put it all together the next two weekends as they try to battle for a district title and a state title with heavyweight powers Valentine and David City.

“Up and down the districts, there are some great teams,” Goebel. “We have so much respect for the great programs in our class. The Class C meet is always a dog fight.

“We don’t expect it to be much different this year.”

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Tony has been covering prep sports in Nebraska since 1998. He has worked for three weekly newspapers and has written for the Grand Island Independent since 2003.

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