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Omaha Magazine

Bennington Golden Wrestler Kael Lauridsen Lives Up to the Name

Nov 01, 2021 10:46AM ● By Chris Hatch
wrestler kael lauridsen poses in neon pink gym

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Some people walk through beaded doorways into dimly lit rooms to get their palms read. Others rely on the black plastic orb with an eight inside a white triangle to tell them what to expect from their futures.

Bennington high school junior Kael Lauridsen’s prophecy started with just four letters. K. A. E. L.

Perhaps, more accurately, it started with that aforementioned “K.” 

That is the singular letter difference between his first name and that of Cael Sanderson, 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, undefeated college champion, and arguably the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time.

“Yeah, a lot of people did,” Kael with the K said when asked about the on-mat comparisons between the two, as well as the name similarities. “His brother is also named ‘Kylar’ so my parents kind of named us after them.” Kael’s brother also has one letter difference, an “e” instead of an “a.”

“When I met him [Sanderson] I was really young, so I was in seventh grade,” he said. “Before I started doing the international tournaments.” He met the noted Olympian at a tournament that, after some prodding, Lauridsen confessed he “probably won.”

When talking to the energetic, burgeoning local legend, he will casually drop insane stats and piles of victories into the conversation with a humble nature that belies the harnessed aggression lurking beneath.

See, it’s one thing for a moniker to function as a preordained promise of what’s to come, but it’s entirely another to go out and earn that name, to fight for that future that each letter so boldly proclaimed you were going to seek.

“I’ve been wrestling for as long as I remember,” he said. “I started in, like, preschool or kindergarten. My dad wrestled in high school and a little bit in college [University of Nebraska at Omaha], so he put me in the sport and I kind of fell in love with it.”

At this point, after wrestling for over a decade, he’s used to winning.

He learned that from his father, Jim Lauridsen. Part Nostradamus of names, part mentor, part coach, he has been along for the ride from the very beginning. 

“My dad has coached me pretty much my whole life, until I got to high school.” Lauridsen said, confirming the steadying hand that’s been guiding his rapid ascent has been there all along. “At the end of my freshman year, we moved to Bennington. It was only because of wrestling.”

That’s because that’s where coach Alan Pokorny has been finding the uncut diamonds of young, tough boys and making them into men that win on the mat for the past 34 years.

“On the mat, he is an intelligent wrestler,” Pokorny said. “He has a natural feel for wrestling, and picks up on new techniques real quick.” Pokorny is equally impressed by the heart that beats behind the singlet. “Off the mat, he treats others very well and is a good teammate to everyone, no matter what grade or how good a wrestler they are.”

Although he competes in a one-on-one sport, Lauridsen is quick to share credit. 

One of those coaches he credits, former Bennington sensation Brett Allgood, was one of the many elite performers for the Badgers in years past. 

“They’ve all helped me improve a lot, helped me with a bunch of little things. He [Allgood] was a four-timer [state champion] from Bennington. He has the takedown record for Class B. He tells me, ‘hey, records are made to be broken.’” 

Also on Lauridsen’s team is the club known as The Best Wrestler, which focuses on the technique/speed hybrid Delchev system and is led by its founders, Olympic coach Ivan Delchev and his son, former Olympian Georgi Ivanov.

“I’ve been working with him about two-and-a-half years maybe,” Ivanov said. “A lot of people don’t know that in order for you to continue to be successful [in wrestling], you have to keep developing at a rapid pace. We’ve been able to help develop him as a whole. You’re going to continue to see results.”

At the time of the interview, Lauridsen was in a brief lull in his otherwise jam-packed schedule. 

“My offseason is pretty much three weeks,” he said, having just returned from competing internationally at a cadet level in the Pan-American games in Oaxtepec, Mexico. He brought home a slew of hardware, replete with a sparkling 42-1 point total and a 4-0 record for the gold medal in the freestyle competition, and he also won gold in the Greco-Roman division, beating wrestlers from locales such as Brazil and Chile.

Lauridsen is familiar with overseas competition, having wrestled abroad in world championships in Budapest and at mat battles in Estonia, and having trained with some of the best coaches and competition in the world in Greece.

“I mean, it’s fun, it’s a great experience, I love it. But when I go there, I’m dialed in on the tournament,” he said.

Delchev agreed, saying, “He’s a talented kid, but he’s really passionate for the sport. He’s really competitive. He’s really smart, he picks up things right away. That helps. He’s got great technique.”

“When I’m training, my motivation is getting better every day,” Lauridsen said. “Because I want to be a world champ. I mean, I want to succeed after college. That’s what keeps me motivated.” This is more than merely lip service, as he has been training 5-to-6 days a week against all the competitors he can get his hands on, even during the COVID-19  pandemic.

“Kael’s future with us looks very good,” Pokorny said. “He is on track to win four state championships, and I believe he can do it if he stays healthy. He [has] also made good progress in areas that I thought he needed to improve on so far and has more to go. I feel he will get there because of the progress he has made so far.”

Future predicted. Future earned. Future still to come. Lauridsen is ready to take down whatever comes next. 

Visit benningtonschools.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann