Let the numbers games begin.
District wrestling tournaments around Nebraska on Friday and Saturday will set the fields for next week’s state tournament.
Those with hopes of a team title will be paying extra close attention to one thing: qualifiers.
“You’re always trying to take it one match at a time, but as a coach you’re also always looking ahead and seeing what you need to have happen,” Millard South coach Nate Olson said. “Of course you always want to get all 14 (weights) qualified.”
The first-year coach was an assistant a season ago when the Patriots did just that, pushing their entire lineup through to state.
The depth paid off with a third straight Class A title, the program’s seventh in 13 seasons.
Challenges to that throne will be aplenty, starting with a loaded District A-3 field on Saturday at North Platte.
Fourth-ranked Millard South is joined by No. 5 Omaha Burke, No. 7 Columbus, No. 8 Papillion-LaVista South and No. 9 Omaha Central.
Because the Patriots replaced 10 of 14 starters from a year ago, Olson said expectations for this season were replaced with measured growth.
“In some ways we were lucky because they were so young and so green and the only place they could go was up,” Olson said. “But I think our guys have been working hard. They came in and didn’t know what varsity was going to be like.”
The three-time defending champs, who swept the Metro Conference tournaments in January, have the toughest road of any Class A team championship contender.
Top-ranked Lincoln East and No. 2 Kearney each will face only one other rated team at districts.
Meanwhile, No. 3 Gretna, competing in Class A for the first time, is the only rated team in District A-2 at Omaha Bryan. District fields are set based on returning state tournament points, and the Dragons’ returning state points in the Class B tournament determined their standing in Class A.
For the first time since 2014 — Millard South has won the past three titles by an average of 26.5 points — the team crown appears to be up grabs in the largest class.
The same can be said for the Class B championship, a rarity over the past two decades.
Omaha Skutt came into the season looking to win the Class B title for the 20th time in 21 years but has stumbled with a lineup rarely at full strength.
The No. 3 SkyHawks lost duals to No. 1 Hastings and No. 2 Wahoo the same day in late December. No. 10 York won a tournament at Skutt two weeks ago.
Don’t count the SkyHawks out just yet. Over the past 20 state tournaments, only once has Skutt finished with fewer than two individual state champions. The SkyHawks have two more ranked wrestlers than Hastings and three more than Wahoo heading into districts.
Valentine in Class C and Burwell in Class D are looking for repeat championships and have lineups to match those aspirations.
Districts begin Friday for all tournaments other than Class A. The top four in each weight class at each district qualify for the state tournament set to begin Feb. 15 at the CenturyLink Center.