After grappling with dwindling numbers of high school wrestlers for several years, the Lead-Deadwood Golddiggers continue to pin their hopes on a brighter future on the mat.
The shortage of athletes coming out for wrestling even led to the school not fielding a team from 2010 to 2013. The few Lead-Deadwood wrestlers participating in the sport instead competed with Spearfish as part of a cooperative agreement for those four seasons.
But the program began to rebuild from the ground up when Kip Mau began promoting wrestling at the youth under the Amateur Athletic Union umbrella, and then at the Middle School level, said current Lead Deadwood head coach Beau Voegeli. "Kip Mau got the youth program going and brought a new level of excitement," he said.
"When I was attending Northern State and the wrestling job opened at Lead-Deadwood, I felt it would be special to be part of the programs," added Voegeli, who wrestled at NSU for three and a half seasons.
"Beau Voegeli and Kip Mau have done a fantastic job of building the AAU program, which in turn has rebuilt our high school program," said Lead-Deadwood activities director Joe Williams. "We have been on our own for five years."
Since their return as a separate team, the Golddiggers have found some individual success as well, with Bailey Norton and Dylin Johnson qualifying for the State Class B tournament in 2016.
Max Johnson, Johnson and Carson Pinske qualified for state last year. Pinske went on to capture seventh place at the State B tourney at 120 pounds. Johnson made the podium as well, placing eighth at 132 pounds.
However, the challenges of retaining wrestlers for the program remain.
"We had a lot of individuals not return to the team," Voegeli said. "Our seniors have seen more people quit than we currently have on the roster.”
Those still wrestling for the team bring a strong work ethic to the practice mat, he said. “We are one of the hardest working Class B teams in the state. I feel real proud about our fifteen wrestlers."
The overall improvement and wins keep coming, he said.
Lead-Deadwood competed at meets in Custer, Rapid City, Hot Springs, Webster, Lyman and Newcastle, Wyo. The Diggers hold a 2-3 record in dual competition with two duals remaining.
"We finished second (team standings) at the Newcastle tournament and third at Custer and Hot Springs," Voegeli said. "Carson Pinske and Robbie Lester each won two tournaments. Dylin Johnson was second at the Mid-Dakota Monster tournament. We beat Belle Fourche in a close dual."
Lead-Deadwood competes in the BHC tourney in Hot Springs on Saturday. Pinske won the Black Hills Conference 120-pound title in 2017.
Voegeli said injuries have also taken their toll, but he expects the Golddiggers to be healthy for the regional tournament, set for Rapid City on Feb. 17.
The top four finishers in each weight class at Region qualify for the State B tournament in Sioux Falls Feb. 23-24.
"Our goal from the beginning of the year was to qualify eight for State," Voegeli said. "My future goals are to get 20 or more participants out for wrestling, have the team earn Academic All-State, and be a successful dual team."