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3 unbeaten SD wrestlers meet in Division I

University of Wyoming redshirt freshman and Mitchell native Brent Havlik wrestles during the Cowboy Open earlier this season in Laramie, Wyo. (Photo courtesy of University of Wyoming media relations)

Brent Havlik was always impressed with Logan Storley’s and Robert Kokesh’s high school wrestling careers.

Havlik, Storley and Kokesh — all South Dakota natives from different towns — hold a total of 12 state titles. They’re all competing in the sport at the NCAA Division I level and all are in the 174-pound weight class. Through only a few weeks of the season, they are unbeaten, something that will change this weekend.

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In less than two months, Havlik — a Mitchell native and redshirt freshman at the University of Wyoming — will wrestle Storley and Kokesh, both All-Americans last year who are ranked in the top five of their weight class this year.

“It’s a good opportunity and a chance to make a name for myself,” said Havlik, one of two Mitchell High School wrestlers to capture three straight state titles. “I really don’t have anything to lose in these matches, and I think I’m capable of winning them. It’s just a matter of performing. Obviously the pressure is on them.”

This weekend, Havlik and the University of Wyoming match up against Storley — a Webster native and two-time All-American — and the University of Minnesota in a nonconference dual at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

Havlik gets his shot at Kokesh — an All-American for Nebraska — in a dual Jan. 3 in Lincoln, Neb.

“There’s a lot of great competition at the weight class this year,” said Kokesh, a 2010 graduate from Wagner High School and three-time Class B state wrestling champion. “It will be a fun season and I’m looking forward to it. It’s really exciting to see the South Dakota competitors doing so well at the Division I level.”

Havlik knows he is the underdog against Kokesh and Storley, both juniors, this year. Kokesh took third place at the national tournament last year, defeating Storley in overtime in their final match of the year. This year, Kokesh and Storley could meet up at the national duals (Feb. 16-17), the Big Ten Championships (March 8-9) and again at the national tournament (March 20-22). Last season was Kokesh’s first All-American honor, which means he finished in the top eight of his weight class.

Storley is one of two wrestlers in South Dakota high school history to win six state championships, claiming a Class B title each year from 2006 to 2011.

He is a two-time All-American for the Gophers and is ranked fifth nationally. Storley holds a 9-0 record this year and has taken notice of Havlik’s strong start in college.

“I always watched the A championships on replay and he’s a tough kid,” Storley said. “He’s right when he says the pressure is on us. We’re older and we’ve been All-Americans, but I’m not worried about putting too much pressure on myself. The only thing I’m really worried about is the end of the season and trying to peak at the national championships.”

Havlik, unranked nationally, is 10-0 this year and claimed the Northwest Open championship earlier this month. He was redshirted last year, meaning he was able to practice with the team and compete in open tournaments, but the season did not count against his four years of NCAA eligibility.

He said facing Storley on Sunday will be his toughest match this year.

“I have high goals and high expectations, and I think everyone would say it would be a pretty big upset if I beat him,” Havlik said, “but I’ve come a long way since I’ve got here.”

Kokesh was a takedown away from wrestling for a national championship last year. He lost to eventual-champion Chris Perry, of Oklahoma State, in the semifinals. This year, Kokesh is ranked fourth nationally and has started 6-0. At 2 p.m. Sunday, Kokesh and the Cornhuskers dual South Dakota State University at Frost Arena in Brookings.

Kokesh and Havlik never met up in high school, either, but usually got to watch each other at the annual Mitchell Invitational, which is considered one of the toughest one-day tournaments in the state that hosts both Class A and Class B teams.

“I don’t know if there are South Dakota bragging rights on the line, but there’s definitely some competition going on,” Kokesh said. “We’ll all be competing at the top — all wanting to be competing for a national championship.”

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