Weather and less than ideal driving conditions be darned, all roads point to Sioux Falls this weekend as 228 of the very best wrestlers in South Dakota take to the mat in the State Wrestling Tournament at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
And after two days of virtual non-stop action taking place simultaneously on eight mats, 14 individual champions will be crowned in both Class A and B on Saturday night, capping off one of the biggest nights in South Dakota high school athletics.
Adding to this year’s excitement is a highly anticipated clash for the Class A 285-pound title between two undefeated and nationally-ranked wrestlers. Chamberlain sophomore Nate Hutmacher is currently 10th in Intermat rankings while Beresford senior Nick Casperson holds down the 17th spot at 195. Hutmacher, the Class A 285 pound champion comes in at 42-0 having not lost a match since the 7th grade. Casperson, last year’s Class B 182 pound champion, is 34-0 this season with most of his matches having been contested at 195 before deciding late in the season to step up two weight classes and take on the challenge.
Regardless of the outcome, South Dakota wrestling fans will be the big winners of the epic match.
In addition to that exciting finale, here is a peek at what else to look for in Sioux Falls.
Pierre comes in as a three-time defending champion (and five of last six) and the Governors, top-ranked all season, will be favored to add a fourth consecutive title.
The Turman brothers, seniors William (132) and Lincoln (120) are multiple time state champions (William three times, Lincoln twice). Add two more No. 1 ranked wrestlers, Michael Lusk (145) and Austin Senger (160) to the mix, and the and the usual accompaniment of quality grapplers and Pierre will be formidable.
A trio of area squads look to have the best shot to knock off the Governors. Rapid City Stevens, the Region 4A champions, and Sturgis Brown, the region runner-up, both qualified all 14 wrestlers while Rapid City Central will send 11 wrestlers to Sioux Falls.
A veteran Stevens squad returns many of the grapplers who helped the Raiders to a 2nd place finish last season including seniors Spencer Stockman (last year’s 126-pound champion), who will wrestle and 132 and 182 pounder Dante Colicheski, 2nd at 170 in 2017 and the 182 top-seed this season. Additionally, the Raiders have seven wrestlers seeded in the top five at state including Cody Stockman (4th at 113) Brandon Sharkey (4th, 138), Cody BeVier (2nd, 126), Cooper Voorhees (4th, 145) and Nate Allen (5th, 152).
“I like where we are sitting,” Raider coach Travis King stated. “Our top guys earned those spots, but we had a lot of other guys who are situated well. And it often comes down to those guys who are seeded, eight, nine, 10, or whatever. Winning those matches is huge. I try to break the season down in stages and work on things to improve upon toward being great this time of the season. I think my kids have responded to that and understand what needs to be done. They have worked hard to get us to where we are, and I feel like we have a great shot.”
Sturgis started the season riddled with injuries, a situation that continue off and on throughout. However, coach Mike Abell said his team is healthy now and look to be peaking at exactly the right time.
“The 14 we put on the mat at region was actually the debut of those fourteen all wrestling together. We’d had injuries and sickness and all sorts of things all season so we had some of our wrestle-offs to decide our lineup the Sunday before the region tournament,” Abell pointed out. “Honestly, we have to have Pierre and Stevens stumble. If they show up and make a run like they are capable of doing, those guys are going to battle for the title. But if they have a couple of hiccups, crazy things can happen this time of year.”
Rapid City Central qualified 11 wrestlers, headed by Kolby Kost, the top-seed at 170, a second-place finisher at 182 last year. Cael Larson looks to do some damage at 106 as the freshman is second-seeded behind Wood of Sturgis. Bridger Kraye (5-seed, 182), Mathias Thompson (4-seed, 220), and Nolan Smith (5-seed, 195) could be on the center mat come Saturday night as well.
“We would have liked to get a few more kids qualified, but for the most part we did what we needed to do,” Cobbler coach Lance Pearson said. “We avenged some seasons losses and that helped us in the seeding so I think we are where we need to be. For us if we can get a kid who maybe doesn’t place but he can win and gets a pin on the backside will be huge. Those kids may not get a medal but they can pick up some valuable points for you.”
Other area Class A teams represented include Sean Gholson’s Douglas/RC Christian squad with four qualifiers: William George (41-8, 113) Sherman Taber (25-10, 120), Isiah DuBray (20-21, 138) and Colton Jackson (30-7, 145).
And Spearfish will be sending eight grapplers to Sioux Falls headed by seniors Reese Hanson (35-13, 182) and Marc Williams (220, 32-12)
Canton is the prohibitive favorite do take home the hardware in Class B as the C-Hawks feature the top seeds in three brackets: Braden Sehr (37-1, 106), Kellyn March (40-1, 126), and Payton Smith (39-2, 285) plus three other grapplers seeded within the top five.
Winner will likely be the only team capable of mounting a challenge as the Warriors are stacked in the lower weights with top-seeded Tristen Peters (41-9, 138) and four No. 2: Kaden Keiser (46-4. 106), Atlas Willuweit (36-3, 120), Wyatt Turnquist (39-3, 126), and Sam Kruger (46-3, 145).
Locally, Custer/Edgemont was the “feel-good” story of Region 4B as the Wildcats, 36th in the 2017 state tournament, took home the runner-up trophy behind Mobridge-Pollock. Custer qualified eight for the state tournament: Jestyn Woodward (106), Wyatt Dooley (113), Brennan Hanes (132), Chance Grill (138), Eli Mines (145), Levi Mines (152), Micaiah Grace (160) and Blake Kainz (182). Woodward, Grill, Levi Mines, and Grace head to Sioux Falls as Region 4B champions.
“We are growing and we have a lot of kids who started early and are growing up now and know what it takes to be successful. And we’ve had great community support here and it’s really nice to show them progress,” Custer coach Jared Webster said. “We have some good draws and we have to win some tough matches, but I believe that the kids proved last weekend they can do that and I have faith in them.”
Philip, the Region 4B perennial champion, comes into the tournament ranked sixth in the state as injuries coupled with the loss of some quality kids to other sports have taken too great a toll on the Scotties. Quality, however, won’t be a problem for the state qualifying contingent as McCoy Peterson (27-0) is top-seeded at 120 and Keagan Fitch (24-2) is the 2nd seed at 170. Blair Blasius (113, 29-8), Jadyn Coller (126, 18-5), Cody Donnelly (23-3, 160) and Jory Rodgers (24-5, 220) have shots at the podium as well. Kody Hagen of Hot Springs (145, Region 4B champ) and Robbie Lester of Lead/Deadwood (220 220 Region champion).
Coach Nick Durham’s St. Thomas More squad qualified six wrestlers: Tyson Durham (106), Zach Crawford (113), Logan Sauder (145) and Jesse Jankord (152), Stone Durham (160), and Corten Dobesh (170).
Other Black Hills area wrestlers to watch for in Sioux Falls include Kody Hagen (Hot Springs, Region 4B champ at 145) and Robbie Lester (Lead-Deadwood, champ at 220). Lead-Deadwood's Carson Pinske (126) could threaten as might Garrett Heil (182) of Hot Springs.
The wrestling action begins at 10 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday with the championship matches scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday with coverage aired on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.