SOUTH SIOUX CITY — For South Sioux wrestling coach Evan Bohnet, success all came down to two things this season.
Hard work, and having fun.
Bohnet, who was selected as the Journal Wrestling Coach of the Year1, led the Cardinals girls’ wrestling team to a Nebraska state championship, with six wrestlers finishing as state place winners.
With the girls’ program in just its second year of existence, the Cardinals team wasn't filled with experience. Instead, the team Bohnet led was full of girls that were fairly new to the sport.
“We talk to the girls all the time about hard work paying off,” Bohnet said. “Most of them, it was their first year wrestling. The few that it wasn’t, it was their second year wrestling, and they put in enough hard work this year to really make it pay off. It is really a compliment to them, more than anything I did.”
The Cardinals didn't win a single individual title, but all six wrestlers who lost in the consolation semifinals came back to pin their final opponents. They beat Schuyler by 6.5 points.
Rather than see his team's inexperience as a weakness, Bohnet saw it as an opportunity. A team without prior ideas about how to approach the sport was like a blank canvas, one which Bohnet eventually used to sketch the program’s first title.
“Obviously, experience never hurts, but it is nice to be able to teach the things that I like,” Bohnet said. “The girls really wrestled kind of how we coach. They aren’t trying the crazy move that they saw at this one tournament, they’re sticking to the basic moves that are effective, and that work in all scenarios. Starting at the ground level is great, and it really has been fun to watch.”
This past season, girl’s wrestling was qualified as an “emerging sport” in Nebraska, and the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association hosted a girl’s state tournament for the second straight year. Bohnet was excited to see the growth of the sport at both the state level, and for his own program, which grew from seven wrestlers to 11 this season.
Bohnet is convinced that the numbers would’ve been even higher this season if it hadn’t been for COVID-19, and he plans to hit the school’s hallways and weight rooms hard in the next year, to try to drum up some more interest.
A state championship trophy should definitely help that effort, and Bohnet hopes to double the program’s numbers in the next couple of seasons. When asked how he was able to take the team from just two members in 2019 to a state title-winning squad, he passed along credit to his athletes, and their recruiting skills.
With just wrestler, senior Aridiana Zamora, not coming back next year, the Cardinals seem to be primed for more success on the mat.
“Those girls were doing the recruiting,” Bohnet said. “Those girls were trying to get their friends into wrestling, because they saw the potential with the team and their ability. It made my job on the recruiting trail a lot easier, and I was able to focus on finding the correct tournaments to go to, and finding whatever else for the program, rather than just trying to find the athletes.”
Another important factor to the program’s success, is the often-overlooked aspect of having fun. Bohnet sees fun as a crucial piece of the championship puzzle.
“If they are not having fun, then obviously I need to do something different. Winning a state championship was a lot of fun, but a state championship doesn’t happen every single day, unfortunately. We need to make sure we still have the fun around the program. Yeah, we want to win, but not at the cost of having fun.”
South Sioux sophomore Yohaly Quinones said that Bohnet made his athletes work hard every day in practice, but he always made sure that the team was enjoying the time they spent honing their craft.
"He's always making sure that we are having fun, but also that we are improving every day, and we're not stuck on the same things," Quinones said. "He's pretty intense. He wants us to show up on time and put in the work, but of course we always have fun."
Bohnet is the coach of both the boys and girls wrestling programs at South Sioux, and gives credit to his assistant coaches, Jeff Wood, Jacob Renken, and Jake Becker, for keeping both squads successful. And of course, credit should go to the wrestlers themselves.
Next year, the plan is to do it again, with even more girls participating.