Columbus High wrestling has one of the most distinguished histories of any program in Nebraska. Through all classes, only 26 schools have trained and produced 30 or more state champions.
Among Class A schools, only 12 programs (one of which, Omaha Tech, no longer exists) have 30 or more state champs since the first gold medals were handed out in 1928.
CHS has 35 state winners to its name and has sent roughly a third of those (10) to the top of the podium in the last 17 years. The longest the Discoverers have had to wait for a state champion since Lindsey Ball won the first gold medal in Columbus history is two four-year periods between 1997 to 2001 and 2008 to 2012.
Needless to say, Columbus High is a traditional powerhouse. Recent success is perhaps best represented by Colton Wolfe, a three-time state champion in 2014, 2016 and 2017 who left the program with the most career wins and most wins by pinfall.
Wolfe and Randy Glur, a three-in-a-row champ between 1975 and 1977, are where most debates begin about the greatest Columbus wrestler ever.
Yet, while those two have created more memories at the state tournament than any other Discoverers, not even they can match the accomplishments of a pair of Columbus seniors returning to Omaha this weekend for the final matches of their career.
"I definitely need to show up and make a statement that I am as good as I am, as they say I am," senior Carter Kucera said after practice on Wednesday. "I'm not just some kid who came out here and beat a record because he had a bunch of matches. I (want people to see) I have skill and all that stuff."
Kucera, wrestling at 132 pounds, passed Wolfe's career victory mark last weekend with his first win at the district tournament. He's now 172-34 in four years as a Discoverer.
He's a four-time state qualifier whose medal haul includes fifth last season, fourth in 2017 and sixth in 2016.
He'll be joined in Omaha by 12 other teammates, including Carson Zwingman, who passed Wolfe on the career pins list on Jan. 26 at the Norfolk Invite. He's 169-50 over four years and a 2018 state runner-up.
Though his silver medal a season ago was his first piece of state hardware, Zwingman is also a four-year state qualifier.
"After Christmas, I was looking at the records and thought the pin record was definitely doable. It became something I was going for," Zwingman said. "You have to think of every opponent as the best guy. I just went out there and had fun, and the pins happened. I didn't overthink it."
Columbus is sending one more wrestler to the CHI Health Center in Omaha than a year ago when it captured five medals and finished sixth as a team.
Columbus has seven team state tournament championships in its history, but none since 1984 when the Discoverers won all seven of their titles in an 11-year span.
They figure to be in the mix again among a group that includes Millard South, Omaha Burke, Lincoln East and Kearney.
East won it last year, ending a three-year run for Millard South. Burke hasn't raised the team trophy since 2000. Kearney last held it in 1998.
And honestly, that's where Kucera and Zwingman say they have the majority of their focus.
Sure, there's pressure to validate their achievements. Kucera and Zwingman will have their names on the list of school records hung on the wall just outside the wrestling room.
Many of the names on that board have the title 'State Champion' attached in the record books.
But inside the wrestling room, on the other side of that same wall is a pad listing team championships. That's where Kucera and Zwingman really want to leave their mark.
"For the most part, I've achieved what I wanted to, but as a team, I feel like we haven't really reached our potential," Zwingman said. "Maybe this week we'll change it."
Joining the historic duo is a group of seven who were in Omaha in 2018. Anthony DeAnda, like Zwingman, settled for runner-up.
Kasten Grape took third, and Clay Cerny was fifth. Tanner Kobza, Cade Fullner, Avery McMeekin and Blayze Standley each went 1-2.
First-time qualifiers include Caine Stenger (106 pounds), Levi Bloomquist (126), Alex Korte (138) and Camdyn Iwan (145).
"Both (winning an individual and a state championship) is ideal. Since I've been a little kid, I've wanted to have my name on that wall," Zwingman said. "But state, as a team, I think, would mean more to me and the school than an individual title.
"The guys have all worked hard in the offseason. It's been a grind. It would mean a lot to me as a team state champion."
Standing in the way of that, at least for Kucera and Zwingman, are a trio of opponents that have had their number.
Kucera has faced Nolan Niemiec of Papillion-La Vista seven times in his career and gone 2-5 including 0-2 this season. He's also 0-5 against Kearney's Phillip Moomey.
Zwingman's only two losses of the season are to Millard South's Isaac Trumble. Over the past two years, Trumble is 3-0 against Zwingman.
Kucera has Moomey as a potential semifinals opponent while Zwingman faces a bracket that includes three unbeaten wrestlers, but two, including Trumble, are on the other side of the bracket.
Trajen Linear, 37-0 from Papillion-La Vista South, is a potential semifinal foe.
"I have a lot of pressure to get back in (the state title match)," Zwingman said. "The coaches know that. They've put pressure on me all year because they know what I've got."
In order for Columbus to challenge for a state championship, coach Adam Keiswetter has said he believes it will take a medal at every weight class, if not a host of individual champions.
That means Zwingman and DeAnda likely need to advance back to the title match joined by Grape and Kucera making an extra step this year. Other ranked wrestlers with experience such as Cerny, Kobza, Fullner, McMeekin and Standley also must have a deep run.
"(A team state championship) would be absolutely outstanding. I want that a lot because that would be even bigger than my own state championship," Kucera said. "That would mean your entire team is the best in the state.
"If you look at the state championships (printed on the pad), the last one was 1984. Adding 2019 would be huge, even bigger than a state championship to me."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com