The State tournament starts Friday in Rapid City, and there are plenty of reasons for both casual and intense wrestling fans to follow along this weekend. Here are just a few of the dozens of storylines that make this state tournament one of the best in high school sports.
1. Can Pierre 5-peat?
Not many high school programs can boast four consecutive state titles, but that’s just what Pierre wrestling has done. They’ve been dominant under head coach Shawn Lewis, winning six of the last seven state crowns. This year they bring back the second-most wrestlers to the state tournament in hopes of making it five in a row.
Pierre is coming off of a very successful regional tournament and, despite being ranked sixth by Dakota Grappler in the team rankings in Class A, their coach thinks they are in the mix to come out on top.
“We are going to need all 13 qualifiers to score points. We will also need 12 place winners, along with a champion and a couple finalists. It is going to be a total team effort for us to be able to push for a title,” said Coach Lewis.
The Govs will look to Maguire Raske (170), Gage Gehring (195) and Jack VanCamp (138) to try to rack up some points.
2. The Nash Show
The Chamberlain junior Nash Hutmacher may be the best wrestler South Dakota has ever seen. He has a chance to be the first wrestler in state history to win four heavyweight state titles. He hasn’t lost a match at the state tournament since he was an eighth grader in the consolation semifinals, and he’s the biggest favorite to stand atop the podium again this year for his third straight heavyweight crown.
His coach John Donovan tries to put Hutmacher’s success into perspective. “He’s very coachable and made himself a student of the game ever since he was a seventh grader," he said. "He’s still improving his takedowns and his pinning combinations, and he’s kind of eyeing a pin record. Randy Lewis has 48 straight pins, and I believe Nash is at 27 straight pins. He’s a pretty neat kid to be around. I think a lot of people miss that. He supports our wrestlers no matter what their record is. His goals are team goals."
Just one wrestler has taken Nash into the second period, and that was Kaden Johnson of Aberdeen Central. He hopes to give Nash his biggest competition of the weekend as the second seed in the 285-pound weight class.
3. The Class A Team Title Race
So many teams will arrive in Rapid City with legitimate hopes of capturing a Class A team title this year. There’s about six teams or so that have a good shot at making a serious run.
Rapid City Stevens looks like they have the best chance to pile up enough points to be at the top of the podium. They don’t have a ton of top end title contenders other than Cooper Voorhees (152), but they did bring 13 talented wrestlers to the state tournament. Rapid City Central also has a good chance with a couple of number one seeds in Cael Larson (113) and Wyatt Jungclaus (170) leading the way. Aberdeen Central also hopes to be in the mix.
“Any kind of upsets that go in your favor are going to be good,” said Aberdeen Central Coach Donnie Bowden. “This is the most level the playing field has been since I’ve been coaching.”
Chamberlain Coach Donovan has a couple of one seeds in Brenden Salfrank (106) and Jacob Moore (126), as well as a few other contenders like Kaden Johnson (285), Brock Baker (182) and Will Jarrott (160).
Brandon Valley could get the title if a few things fall their way. The Lynx have title hopes for Kobi Terpstra (132), Isaac Klinkhammer (138) and Damion Schunke (160).
“We want our guys to wrestle up to their ability over these two days. If they can do that and believe in themselves, then we will have a successful weekend,” said Derek Outland, Brandon Valley’s head coach. “The state tournament is always interesting because of the different competition you see and how the matchups play out over the weekend between different wrestlers and teams.”
And don’t count out Sturgis. They bring 12 wrestlers to the dance, with Jacob Wood (120) as a favorite in the ultra-competitive 120-pound class. Plus they could get a huge boost from Wren Jacobs (160), who’s been dominant since returning from injury.
4. Can Canton Set a Record for Most Team Points?
Canton qualified all 14 of their wrestlers who tried to get to state this year. They’ve been dominant in recent years and are the heavy favorites to bring home the team title again. This year, their goal is to set the record for most team points at a state tournament. They’d have to break last year’s record of 165.
This year, they boast two undefeated athletes in Kelly March (132) and Shaeden Scheidt (170). March heads the list of the dynamite dozen, with two state championships under his belt and looking for a third as a junior this year. Scheidt is a two-time runner up, but has improved his technique and become an elite finisher to vault him to the one seed. His rival, Josh Crownover, beat him last year in the 160 pound finals and has split with him in six career matches, but Scheidt has won the last two during this season.
There are two more one seeds for Canton: Braden Sehr (126) who won in the 106-pound weight class last year, and Cullen Rutten (195). Sehr’s only loss this year came to Connor Simmonds (Fairmont, MN). He’s going to be tested with Jadyn Coller of Philip in the 126-pound class.
Rutten is “The most improved wrestler,” according to Coach Jeremy Ask. “It’s been so fun to watch Cullen improve this year. He’s going to be in a dogfight in the 195 (pound weight class), but I wouldn’t count him out.” That dogfight includes a potential third meeting with E.J. Leetsch of Howard, who is in the four seed. They have wrestled two very close matches so far this year.
There are ten more wrestlers hoping to make an impact at state including Scott Peterson (182), Braxton Trowbridge (120) and Andy Meyer (106). And this team isn’t close to being done. They have just two seniors and three juniors in their wrestling room.
5. The Most Highly Contested Weight Class
Jesse Hastings (MV/P/C-S), K.J. St. Pierre (Wagner) and Tyler Resick (K/WL/P-G) have all beaten each other at one point in the season. Hastings is the defending runner-up and is the favorite, but all bets are off for this crazy class.
Damion Schunke (Brandon Valley) is the one-seed as a freshman, but since Wren Jacobs of Sturgis returned from injury at the regions, he’s the one everyone’s watching in this class. Throw in Will Jarrot (Aberdeen Central), Nate Allen (RCS), Logan Bowes (BRK) and the sixth-seeded Tah Jae Jenkins Harris of Huron as a returning state finalist, and there's craziness in this class.
Jacob Wood of Sturgis is one of the best wrestlers pound for pound in the state as a two-time champ, but his class is unbelievably competitive. It’s going to take a supreme effort to stand atop the podium here. There are 11 former state place winners competing in this class.
The potential of an Isaac Klinkhammer (BV), Lucus Anglin (VER) final in the 138-pound class is incredibly exciting. They met in the 2A region final, where Klinkhammer won by decision. But back in early January, Anglin won in sudden victory over Klinkhammer. They’ve split their other two matches this year as well, and both are defending champions (Anglin in 126, Klinkhammer in 120). Can’t wait.
Sam Kruger (Winner), Lucas Bietz (Parkston), Levi Mines (Custer) and Blake Gessner (Mc/M) all have high hopes for a championship in this class – but don’t stop there. There are seven to eight athletes that are good enough to be in the finals in this weight class, but because of the depth, it will be extremely hard to get to the top. Kruger comes in as the one seed, but Bietz is a former state champion who is finally back and healthy.
Caden Lamer of Tri-Valley is going for a fifth (yes, fifth) state championship (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 in 106, 113, 120, 132). But Hunter Peterson of Philip, who sat out last season due to a horrific injury, is back as the three seed. Then there’s Lamer’s nemesis, Jackson Eklund (Burke/Gregory), who is another state finalist that returns for a chance to take out Lamer.