The wrestling room at Millard South High School is like any other. The walls are covered in thick red pads. The air is hot, carrying a distinct aroma associated with hard work. Music echoes through the small room as wrestlers’ drill takedowns and pinning combinations again and again. Banners hang high above, red and blue, narrating a tradition of success.
At Millard South, there’s plenty to narrate.
Enter Nate Olson. He’s a first-time head coach at Class A’s marquee wrestling program. Quiet, and a self-proclaimed laid-back guy, Olson is a familiar face in the sweaty confines of this loft located somewhere above the locker rooms that surround Millard South’s main gym. It’s miles, both literal and figurative, from where Olson’s story begins.
Olson began wrestling at age three, just like his uncles and brothers before him. There’s nothing so special about that, especially in Tekemah, Nebraska. That’s just the way things are. At Tekemah-Herman High School, Olson won medals at four state tournaments, never finishing worse than fourth. From an early age, coaching was on his mind.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been kind of a student of the sport,” Olson said. “I kind of wanted to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Guy Mytty.”
Olson started following Mytty, for whom the state’s outstanding wrestler award is named, early. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Olson coached at Arlington High School. While student-teaching at Millard South, Olson volunteered in the wrestling room. A decade later, after moving from volunteer to Junior Varsity coach, Olson is the head Patriot.
His cool and collected nature rings true with his crop of young wrestlers. “I don’t think I heard one guy complain,” said senior Garett Svoboda. “We were all pretty happy when we heard it was going to be Coach Olson.”
Head coach at Millard South is nearly as big a post as there is in high school wrestling. It’s a post that was held by Doug Denson, another legend in Nebraska’s coaching ranks, for 23 seasons. Denson’s career records at Millard South are astonishing. His record was 308-33 in duals. He qualified 251 wrestlers for the state tournament, 152 of whom won medals. He brought home six state championships, including four straight from 2005 to 2008.
The shoes couldn’t be much bigger. But Olson knows as much as he could know about Millard South wrestling.
“I didn’t see it as taking over,” Olson said. “Just kind of keep going with what we have going on.”
What’s going on is an incredible run. Denson left his program with two consecutive state titles and a streak of dual wins bordering on unbelievable. To begin the 2017-2018 season, the Patriots had won 87 consecutive duals. Millard South hasn’t lost a dual since the championship round of the state dual meet in 2014. Following a win over Elkhorn South to start the 2017-2018 season and a 10-0 run at the Nebraska Duals, the century mark is in sight.
One hundred consecutive wins sounds ridiculous, but it’s certainly possible. The streak sits at 98 currently, besting an all-class record of 96 set by Gering in 1983.
Where some might feel the oppressive weight of following a legend, Olson has held tightly to the tradition. He’s kept Jay Meneely, a Denson assistant since 2003, which he counts as a distinct positive.
“A lot of people would think, following him (Denson), there would be a lot of pressure,” Olson said. “But I haven’t really felt it, maybe because it’s my first year.”
But, that’s not entirely true. Olson said during the record-breaking 97th consecutive dual win, his stomach began to hurt.
“I was so tense and nervous about it,” Olson said. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Whether Nate Olson’s name ends up being mentioned with Guy Mytty and Doug Denson is yet to be decided. What’s certain is that he’s kept the Patriots on top and his team is behind him. Just ask Svoboda.
“The train keeps rolling.”
Catch Coach Olson and the Millard South wrestling team Friday, December 22nd at 8pm on Cox YurView Channel 1013 and again, on Saturday, Dec. 23rd at 8pm