Three is always less than four.
(I promise there’s no more math in this column.)
And in high school wrestling, the divide between three state titles and four is more than just one more gold medal.
Win state three times and your career is remembered fondly.
Get that fourth and your name is remembered forever.
“You sit in the stands and see older guys rack up their fourth,” Syracuse senior Max Hughes said. “I don’t know that I expected that this could actually happen. It’s pretty crazy.”
Hughes is one of three, along with Derek Robb of Sidney and Cameron Riggs of Maxwell, who are going for four at this week’s state wrestling tournament, beginning Thursday at the CenturyLink Center. They’re looking to join a group of 28 four-timers in Nebraska history.
Four wins this week in Omaha would put Riggs in even rarer air. Only three others have finished their high school careers unbeaten with four state titles. Riggs is currently 197-0.
“My dad has always said to win one match at a time,” Riggs said. “Whenever I go into a tournament, I’d like to think I’m going to win it because I have high expectations for myself. I just want to succeed.”
His road to four has had some late twists and turns.
Riggs won three state titles — one at 113 and two more at 132 — at North Platte St. Patrick’s.
But following a dispute over material being taught in a science class, the St. Cloud State recruit transferred to Maxwell in late September.
He was initially ruled ineligible by the Nebraska Schools Activities Association. That decision was soon reversed when a proper change of domicile was deemed to have occurred.
Maxwell coach Ryan Jones said connections in youth wrestling helped the transition. Riggs called the school “welcoming.”
“We’ve known him his whole life,” Jones said. “We were big Cameron Riggs fans even when he was wrestling for another team.”
It’s easy to see why.
Riggs is all effort. You don’t get to nearly 200 wins without a loss unless you’re putting in the time.
“He’s going to outwork you,” Jones said. “That’s what makes him great.”
Of the four-time hopefuls, Hughes may have the trickiest path to glory.
On the other side of the bracket looms Wood River’s Evan Waddington. He and Hughes split their meetings this season, with Waddington winning an 8-0 major decision in December and Hughes returning the favor 4-2 in a district final last weekend. It’s the lone loss of the season for both wrestlers.
“I just learn from it,” Hughes said of losses, “use it as fuel and motivation to get better.”
There haven’t been many opportunities to learn through losing in his career. Hughes has a high school record of 165-9 entering his final state tournament.
“Max has always been a very motivated kid,” Syracuse coach Jeremy Goebel said. “There’s always an opportunity that he’s seeking to put points on the board or put you on your back. And he does a great job from start to finish in being able to control the match.”
His first title came at 106 pounds in Class B. The Rockets moved to Class C for his sophomore year, and Hughes didn’t skip a beat, winning golds at 113 and 132 the last two seasons.
One more, at 138 pounds, would be the crowning achievement in his wrestling career.
“It would be a realization moment of all the hard work that put in,” he said.
The first with a possible chance to join the club (Saturday’s finals will start at 145 pounds) may have been the most unlikely when their high school careers started.
Red Raiders coach John Ganser said Robb was “under the radar” as a freshman, but he wasn’t for long.
Robb went 45-0 his first season and won the 138-pound title. He’s tallied 198 wins over his four seasons and lost once — by a single point as a sophomore.
“He’s always looking to score points,” Ganser said. “And he’s always looking to win the position. He hunts for the pin. Wrestling is a sport of reaction and movement, and he’s got plenty of both of those.”
Robb is a throwback of sorts. He was Sidney’s leading rusher on the football field. He’s got state track medals — including gold.
And he’s always looking to improve.
It’s not nearly as common these days to have a wrestler wanting to know where they can get better, Ganser said. It’s even more rare when that request comes from someone of Robb’s stature after he’s just dominated another opponent.
“But that’s Derek,” Ganser said. “It’s always, ‘What could I have done better? What can I work on?’ Not many kids are going to come up and want a critique.”
Robb declined an interview request through Ganser. The coach said his wrestler’s focus has been finishing up his senior season.
“He’s a young man of high character,” Ganser. “Very humble and at the same time shows good leadership. He keeps it all in perspective and always has his mind right and ready to wrestle. We’ve been pretty lucky to have him.”
The state of Nebraska has been pretty lucky to have all three. Prior to 2000 there had never been a season when more than two joined the four-time fraternity in the same year. If this year’s trio of pledges passes their final test, it would mark the fourth such occurrence since then.
“It would be just a dream come true if it happens,” Riggs said.
Wrestlers to watch
Class B undefeated
160: Rhett Trail, Nebraska City, 30-0
Class C returning champions
138: Max Hughes, Syracuse, 132-112-106 (2017-16-15)
285: Caleb Lefferdink, Syracuse, 285
Class C Undefeated
285: Caleb Lefferdink, Syracuse, 38-0