The wrestlers at Rapid City Stevens, much like the weather, are warming up at just the right time.
The Raiders started the championship round at the Region 4A tournament with three convincing wins and closed it with three wins by pinfall as Stevens pulled away from Sturgis to win the region title for the fourth straight year.
The Raiders finished with 271 points to claim top honors. Sturgis finished second with 240 points and Rapid City Central placed third with 181 points.
Stevens, which held a 14-point lead on the Scoopers heading into the final round, had six head-to-head matches – four in the first five weight classes – with Sturgis in the final round. A quick start by the Raiders put the Scoopers’ title hopes in a stranglehold early in the finals.
“That last round, those are always tighter matches and the stakes are higher,” Raider head coach Travis King said after the tournament. “We had Evan (Eckholm) come out and get a big win. He set the tone and our kids competed all the way through.”
Eckholm set the tone for Stevens in the championship round with a 12-1 win over Sturgis’ Korbin Osborn at 106 pounds. Jack Schoenhard followed with an 11-3 win over Spearfish’s Josh Hoffman at 113 before Raider senior Logan Graf followed with a 15-3 win over Sturgis sophomore Maverick Simons at 120.
Sturgis bounced back with wins at 126 and 132, with Logan Desersa downing Stevens’ Caleb Richter 4-2 in overtime followed by Kelton Olson’s 10-6 win over Raider junior Jacob McCormick.
By then, Stevens had upped its lead in the team chase enough to take command of the team standings.
“Those bonus points, we work on those because that’s going to be the difference next week,” King pointed out. “Those are the area our kids are ready mentally. There’s a lot that goes into wrestling, and that’s the wrestling IQ part. It’s something we spend a lot of time on.”
The Raiders got a big boost in the middle of the finals when junior Riley Benson, who has lost only twice this season, pinned Central senior T.J. Morrison, who came into the title match with only one loss on the year.
Benson worked a single-leg takedown into a cradle to turn Morrison onto his back midway through the second period before closing out the match by pinfall at the 3:27 mark.
“The best wrestling pin in the business is getting the head and a leg,” King said. “When you lock those up, the get really tight and uncomfortable. Riley ended up catching that near-cradle and that’s a tough one to get out of.”
Sturgis tightened up the team race when Wren Jacobs took the 160-pound title with a 4-0 win over Douglas’ Payton DeWitt and undefeated Reese Jacobs kept his record unblemished with a 2-1 win over Cobbler junior Landin Winter. Scooper senior Robert Merwin claimed the 182-pound weight class with a pin of Belle Fourche’s Cade Bickerdyke.
That was as close as Sturgis would get, as Stevens closed out the tournament with three weight-class wins that all came by pinfall.
Ryan Brink opened the run by sticking Scooper ninth-grader Aiden Werlinger at the 2:37 mark. Another Stevens senior, Eli Hout, followed by pinning another Sturgis ninth-grader, Zak Juelfs near the end of the second period. Colton Lauen closed the Raiders’ run with a pin of Douglas’ Malik Ahmed-Hosie at the 2:45 mark.
“We finished hard, which I think is a heck of a way to finish the tournament, pinning your way through the last three matched in the championship round,” Brink, a senior who was a runner-up for the Raiders at the 2020 State A tournament. “
The win at the region tournament positions Stevens well heading into the Class A state wrestling tournament next weekend at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
“Wrestling is such a mental sport,” Brink said as Stevens eyes its third straight state team championship. “You look at Riley Benson pinning T.J. Morrison. That’s a huge win for him. That’s going to give him a mental edge on everyone else in that bracket.
“Those big wins we had today are just going to catapult us towards state and a state championship.”
King, similarly, likes his where his team is at heading into next week’s state championship tournament.
“We’ve got a great shot to win state next week,” King said. “Our kids are ready physically, and they’re in great shape. Everybody’s right where we want them to be at this time of year.”
Action at the 2021 State A tournament begins at 10 a.m. MT Thursday at the civic center with the opening round of the individual tournament. Action in the team dual tournament starts at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.