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Nikki Moore caps career with state title

 Finals at the 2020 Inaugural Kansas Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Tony's Pizza Events Center in Salina on Thursday, February 27, 2020.  (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
Finals at the 2020 Inaugural Kansas Girls State Wrestling Tournament at Tony's Pizza Events Center in Salina on Thursday, February 27, 2020. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com) (KWCHCIK)
Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 10:08 PM CST
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The inaugural Kansas girls’ wrestling tournament championship bouts opened at weight class 136. Nickerson senior Nichole Moore, ranked first at 116 and third nationally, had to wait more than an hour before her finals match started. Traditionally, Moore starts to prepare for her bout significantly ahead of time.

That occurred again Thursday. Moore had a variety of pre-match moves. She paced back and forth. She watched several of her Team Kansas teammates and close friends win state titles, including Onaga senior Morgan Mayginnes. Moore gave Mayginnes a hug as she headed for ceremonial pictures. Moore had her headphones on and listened to TP and Esco, the wrestling rappers.

“The Realest Sport album is my favorite,” Moore said. “I listen to that every time before I wrestle.”

As her match time drew closer, Moore worked on the practice mat. At 6:40 p.m., she walked up and down the mat. Six minutes later, she took off the headphones, took a drink and quickly went through a series of elaborate high slaps with a coach mat side.

Then, she controlled Paola sophomore Kailyn Younger and won by fall in 2 minutes and 27 seconds at the Tony’s Pizza Event Center in Salina. Including her record against boys, Moore finished 38-7 this year and is Nickerson’s all-time winningest wrestler with 129 victories.

“I was really pumped for this one, because it was my last one ever, and I was going for the state championships, and I felt really confident, and my other teammates, like my team Kansas girls were walking around, they were winning state championships,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s my turn, let’s go.’ I was telling them congratulations and I just can’t wait for it to by my turn to get to do that. So there was just a lot going on. It was awesome.”

Moore led 12-2 after the first period. In between periods, Nickerson coach Nick Flowers gave Moore a slight smile and a small head nod. Moore ended the match 27 seconds later.

“This was all very exciting. It was new, and the feeling in here is awesome,” Moore said. “It was my last high school match ever, so it’s all been very emotional. It’s been pretty great, though. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Moore captured a state crown at the unofficial state tournament at McPherson last winter. She earned the top West Regional Wrestler honor two weeks ago. Earlier, CBS contacted McPherson coach Doug Kretzer about a story on the growth of girls’ wrestling in Kansas.

Doug and his daughter, Mya, who graduated last spring, spearheaded the effort. Coach Kretzer, named the 2020 all-classes Coach of the Year, told CBS that Moore should be the subject.

CBS followed Moore around at regionals, and went to her farm in Abbyville, population 87, located 19 miles from Nickerson. The story ran on the national evening news earlier this week and has received more than 16,000 views on Twitter alone. Moore is headed to Estonia this spring to compete internationally and will wrestle for Baker University in college.

“It was crazy,” Moore said of TV. “That was a little bit more than I think I was expecting. It was exciting, though, for sure.”

Moore had a long-time goal to qualify for the boys’ state meet. She was close the last two years. Moore was again a starter on the Nickerson boys’ squad in 2019-20.

This season, KSHSAA’s rule was that a squad had to declare as a boys, girls or mixed team. If Nickerson went mixed, then the other Panthers would not have an opportunity for state. Moore chose to help her teammates, notably freshman 235-pounder Maddi Miller.

“If we had done a mixed and allowed her to wrestle at regionals, then our wrestler would not have been able to wrestle at girls’ regionals,” Flowers said. “So she understood. She had teammates who wanted their opportunity also, so she took a metaphorical bullet for her team, but she still comes out a state champion.”

Miller was not ranked until Jan. 28. She finished 18-3 and took fifth. After a first-round bye, Miller won her second match by fall in 3:26 to assure a state medal. In the semifinals, she lost, 13-5, to Washburn Rural junior Dajia Anderson, the eventual state champion.

“At the beginning of the year, I am looking at this, and I am looking at the girls we have out, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to take this opportunity away from them,” she said. “So we decided to come here as a team.”

Miller was the only wrestler at state to take Anderson a full match. Flowers said Miller “impressed” and has already set goals to go down a weight class and win a state title.

“She set some high bars for everybody,” Flowers said. “She came in this season saying, ‘I am going to win a title, but I have got to get everybody else up along with me, and she really drove Maddi Miller all season long. … She has built something special.”

As well, Moore’s wrestling partner was her brother, Gavin, a freshman 106-pounder. He qualified for the 4A state meet with a 34-4 record. Class 4A boys is also held at Tony’s on Friday and Saturday.

“That has been amazing,” Moore said. “Getting to work with him and train him constantly, I think we have been able to set each other up really well for postseason. I think I have been able to set him up really well for his next three years. We are really good competitors with each other, so we can push each other to the brink without pushing each other too far, which is really important, I think.”

At state, she had a first-round bye, then won by fall in 1:05 and 3:51 to move into the finals. She began preparing for the championship well before start time.

“She has always done, anywhere from 10 to 30 matches before she is up, she will be up walking,” Flowers said. “Getting her head right, always going through everything.”

This winter, Moore has worked on being the aggressive wrestler and shooting, aspects that showed in the state finale against Younger (27-13). While most runner-ups shed disappointing tears after a loss, Younger smiled and congratulated Moore.

Soon after, Moore sat down next to Mayginnes and watched two of her Team Kansas’ friends, Paola’s Jordyn Knecht and Marysville’s Elise Rose, battle for the 123 title.

“Between (Moore) and Jordyn, there’s a few other girls, they are the face of the sport,” Paola coach Darvin Willard said. “They are well-known. They have been doing it for years. … Now they have got an opportunity to just wrestle girls, and it was an exciting venue. There was tons of people here, and it was a great atmosphere.”

Later, Moore took multiple pictures with the titlists, including many from Team Kansas, a squad that Flowers labeled “like her second family.”

“I knew what was coming, and I knew that it was going to be my last match,” Moore said. “But it was still hard. It was emotional, but I was prepared. And I was just glad that I had my team here with me.”

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