It’s been 31 years since the Hastings wrestling team won its last state championship.
The Tigers had high hopes of possibly ending that streak last year, but they fell just eight points short of that goal, placing third for their best finish since 1989 (when they also finished third).
But many of the same kids are back for Hastings, including nine state qualifiers. In fact, it seems the only face that wasn’t part of last year’s squad is new head coach Nolan Laux; though, the Tiger faithful are plenty familiar with him, dating back to his days as a wrestlers at HHS.
For Laux, getting back to Hastings was always the goal — he just didn’t expect it to happen in his second year as a head coach.
“I love Hastings High. I love the culture and all of the things we kind of built. It’s great to still be a part of it,” Laux said.
Laux won two state championships as a Tiger, in 2013 and 2015. He wrestled under the coaching of his dad, Brian, who again took over the HHS program midway through last season. Nolan said his dad shared some nice words once Nolan was officially announced has head coach, but he also quickly reminded his son that it’s time to get to work.
“Obviously, first it was all congratulations,” Nolan said of his father’s response. “After a while, it was, ‘I hope you understand how big of a job this is and what all this will entail and the time commitment.’ He gave some advice on time management and the teaching aspect of coaching.
“For the most part, he’s hands off. He doesn’t butt in unless I ask him about it. That’s been really nice that he’s let me do it, kind of like, ‘it’s your thing, it’s not me running it anymore.”
Nolan said he’s gone to his dad for advice about a couple things, but mostly Brian has let his son figure things out on his own.
Before getting the job at Hastings, Nolan was head coach at Doniphan-Trumbull, where he coached three state qualifiers. He said he learned some valuable lessons in his first year.
“A lot of the things that were big eye openers was just dealing with the paperwork and getting used to that and making sure my ducks were in a row,” he said. “There are a lot more kids (at Hastings) but it’s similar in a lot of aspects. I’ve kind of taken some things that worked last year and things that didn’t last year and trying to improve from my year at Doniphan.”
The Tigers are once again in terrific position for a successful postseason. Leading the way is returning state champion Damen Pape, who went unbeaten at 47-0 in the 170-pound weight class in Class B.
Laux knows what it’s like going into a new season as reigning state champ, and he said Pape is going into the new year with the right mindset.
“Damen works his butt off. He wrestles all year round, kind of similar to what we used to do. It’s kind of cool seeing that from the coach’s perspective,” Laux said. “I told Connor (Nolan’s brother, a three-time champ), that it’s very difficult to repeat. You look back at history and people win it one year and they don’t always get there the next. You have to go and work your butt off to get to it. Damen understands that and he has high expectations for himself and holds himself to a high standard. I’m really confident in him.”
Evan Morara (195) Izaak Hunsley (152), and Mason Brumbaugh (145) are also coming back after bringing home medals last year. Morara was third while the other two finished fifth. Bryce Brown (132) missed the medal stand last season but brought home hardware the previous two years.
Landon Zeckser (120), Jackson Phelps (160), Blake Davis (220), and Josh Callejas (285) are also returning state qualifiers.
Hastings’ lineup is loaded with talent and experience, and they’re going into the new season looking to make a lot of noise in Omaha.
“Our motto this year has kind of been that we’re glad we had success last year, but last year doesn’t win matches this year. Reminding them every day of that and knowing that we have a lot of guys on the team that have had success but we still have to earn it today,” Laux said. “We have high expectations as a team and we can be up there towards the top by the end of the year. I think they see that too, so it’s really exciting. It’s a good motivator.”