The Dakota Showcase was a chance for the wrestling programs at South Dakota State, Dakota Wesleyan, Northern State and Augustana to travel west and show off their abilities in Spearfish Sunday.
For a few of the wrestlers, it was also a chance to come home, and in some cases, wrestle against some familiar faces.
The main headliner was the 197-pound Jackrabbit wrestler and Spearfish native Nate Rotert to return to his high school gym, but it was also a chance for two former Rapid City Central Cobblers to meet up on the mat once again.
The final 184-pound bout of the showcase saw SDSU's Martin Mueller and Augustana's Aero Amo meet up, in a reunion of former Cobbler greats.
"We’ve always been good friends, our families are close," Mueller, a sophomore, said. Obviously it’s hard, but once you step on the mat you put everything aside and just do your craft."
Amo is a senior for the Vikings, he said Mueller was 30-40 pounds lighter than him in high school so while they never went at it during their high school careers, they went at it plenty while growing up in Rapid City.
The two also went against each other during the showcase last year, with Amo getting the upper hand on Mueller. This time, the result was reversed, as Mueller won by decision 12-2.
"He got the best of me last year so it felt good to beat him this year, now we can move past it," Mueller said with a smile. "I wish him luck the rest of the year because it was a good match."
Amo couldn't help but smile when asked about facing his old high school teammate, even if it came after a loss.
"Last year I wrestled him and I got him, and this year he got me, and maybe that’s the best way to go about it since we’re teammates, but it was fun," he said. "Martin is a good guy, hate losing to him but he's a tough competitor and makes us both better."
Although they weren't teammates, two other Black Hills wrestlers also met up to showcase how far Western South Dakota wrestlers can go at the college level.
Rotert and former Custer state champion Clayton Wahlstrom of Augustana wrestled in the final 197 match of the day. It was Rotert, ranked No. 7 in the weight class for Division I, who got the best of Wahlstrom Sunday in a 15-5 decision.
Wahlstrom, who is a junior, said he never wrestled Rotert in high school because they were in different weight classes, but understood the build-up of two local wrestlers going at it in the Black Hills.
"There’s a lot of hype, we’re from the same place and all that stuff, but he’s good, and it’s fun to put on a show for the crowd because that’s who it’s for," he said. "It’s fun for the fans which is good for the sport, but it’s just wrestling for us, it’s business."
The two wrestled during the showcase last season where Rotert pinned Wahlstrom.
Rotert was the big man on campus Sunday. A large portion of the cheering section was there to see their native son, which included a lot of the youth wrestlers in Spearfish.
"It was awesome, getting all my teammates here to see where I came up through, and to have my family here and good friends, it was awesome," Rotert said. "The young guys here were in middle school when I was coming up, and now they’re stepping into the Junior, Senior role. Teachers, family, I saw a lot of familiar faces so I appreciate them coming out to support me."
Some of the young Spartans might be signing their national letters of intent one day, and they had plenty of successful examples to look at of wrestlers who have made it from not far down the road.
Every West River wrestler who has made it said they have enjoyed the journey, even if the jump from high school to college can be a challenge at times.
"Every tournament is like a state tournament because you have all these great kids, and all the coaches wanted these kids for a certain reason," DWU freshman and Custer alum Forrest Lewis said. "Wrestling these kids every weekend is like wrestling state. You’ve got to bring it and come hard."
Amo said the biggest challenge can be getting over the stigma that the jump is huge, and realizing they are on the team for a reason.
"One of the biggest things is getting over the stereotype that it’s that much different," he said. "The workouts are essentially the same, you’re just wrestling guys who are also state champions. You’re wrestling great guys, so the competition in the room is a lot different, but the practices run about the same."