HOWARD — The bigger the stage, the better Howard junior Luke Loudenburg wrestles.
Loudenburg won titles as a freshman and sophomore and then handled the pressure of going after a three-peat this year, when he became the third Howard wrestler in school history to win three state titles in his career. After claiming the Class B 132-pound championship in the beginning of March, he said having all eyes on him at tournaments is a feeling he thrives off.
“I take it as a challenge. I use it as motivation,” said Loudenburg, who had a 41-1 record this season. “Since becoming a state champion, everyone’s gunning for you, so they can be the one to beat a state champion. They’re gunning for the best.”
For his impressive season, Loudenburg has been named The Daily Republic’s wrestler of the year. Loudenburg received 14 points with two first-place votes in a system that awards five points for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote, three for a third, two for a fourth and one of a fifth.
All eight wrestlers who received votes were state champions, making it a loaded field in this year’s voting. Bon Homme/Scotland’s Dan Stibral, who took second place in the voting, went undefeated, won the 285-pound title and received 12 points with one first-place vote.
Wagner’s David Kocer was third with 10 points, Parkston’s Brady Reiff was fourth with three points, Bon Homme/Scotland’s Duncan Stoebner and Winner’s Sean Bice tied for fifth each with two points and Howard’s Bailey Neises and Bon Homme/Scotland’s Alex Caba tied for seventh with one point apiece.
Loudenburg stuck out from the group for having the biggest target on his back and the stiff competition he matched up against. He defeated four wrestlers who have won a state championship throughout the year.
“With our schedule, he meets up with the best the state has to offer,” Howard coach Tyler Dahl said. “He is a great athlete and he has been there before. He has been in four state finals and has three state titles, so for him it’s another day in the office.”
Loudenburg, who was the team’s captain for the third straight year, beat two former Class B champions and two former Class A champions. Those wrestlers were Parkston’s Blake Bietz, Webster’s Nolan Richie, Sioux Falls Roosevelt’s Kyle Yasgar and Sioux Falls Washington’s Grant Rosheim.
Loudenburg said he prepares for each match the same, adding he enjoys wrestling tough opponents.
“I actually like wrestling those matches just in regular tournaments, because it makes me wrestle to the best of my potential,” he said. “I just like giving everybody the best showing I can.”
Loudenburg defeated Bietz three times throughout the season, with the biggest match coming in the state semifinals.
“Some say that having Bietz and Luke meet in the semifinals is a bad draw,” Dahl said. “But if you ask Luke, he will say that you have to beat all of them sometime if you want to be the champion.”
Loudenburg beat Bietz by a 9-3 decision in the semifinals before defeating Philip Area’s Rance Johnson 9-4 in the finals. En route to the semis, Loudenburg pinned his first two opponents. His performance helped lead the Tigers to seventh place in the team standings.
Loudenburg’s only loss of the year came to Tri-Valley’s Ryan Schuman, also a three-time state champion.
At the Howard Invite this season, Loudenburg, Schuman and Richie all competed at 138. Loudenburg wrestled at the weight class early in the season, Schuman dropped down a class and Richie stayed at his regular weight to set up an exciting bracket. Schuman beat Loudenburg in the finals 3-0.
“All three wrestlers were looking for good competition,” Dahl said. “Too many times, the wrestling fans don’t get to see guys like this go at it. It’s good for our sport to get wrestlers to seek out the best competition they can.”
Loudenburg started on varsity in his eighth-grade year, a season in which he took second at the state tournament. From his freshman year on, he dominated the field. Over the past four seasons, he has a 176-12 record. Loudenburg has the chance to become the second Tiger to record 200 wins, according to Dahl. The other Howard wrestler to reach the mark was Evan Donahue, who finished his career with 209 wins.
As an eighth-grader, Loudenburg finished runner-up and had a 38-9 record with 19 pins. In the last three seasons, he has suffered one loss per year, going 48-1 as a freshman, 49-1 as a sophomore and 41-1 as a junior.
“His work ethic challenges others to get better, so he helps those around him improve themselves,” Dahl said.
Loudenburg, who also helps with AAU wrestling in Howard, puts a lot of time in during the offseason.
“He puts in the time to get better athletically,” Dahl said. “Every year, he comes into the room a better athlete because of his offseason work. Strength-wise, he is pound-for-pound the strongest kid in the room.”
Although wrestlers are eligible to compete on varsity during starting their seventh-grade year, Dahl said Loudenburg was “too small to compete at 103” that season.
Next season will be Loudenburg’s final high school wrestling campaign, and he has one more feat he has his sights on: Becoming the only wrestler from Howard to win four state championships.
Here’s a look at the other wrestlers who received points in the voting:
• Bon Homme/Scotland’s Dan Stibral won the Class B 285-pound title this season, giving him his first championship. The senior, who received 12 points in the voting, earned a 3-2 decision in overtime in the state finals to finish the season 40-0 — the only Mitchell area wrestler to do so. He had 29 pins this season.
• Wagner senior David Kocer won his second state championship this year, winning the 170-pound title in Class B. Kocer defeated Philip’s Chandlier Sudbeck in the finals for the second straight year. He finished with a 37-1 record and 23 pins and received 10 points in the voting.
• Parkston’s Brady Reiff earned his second straight state title at 220 pounds. Reiff got three points in the voting and had a record of 43-3 in his junior season with 24 pins.
• Duncan Stoebner was crowned the 113-pound state champion at Class B this year, giving him his second state title. The junior, who garnered two points, finished the year with a 41-1 record with 25 pins.
• Winner senior Sean Bice won the 138-pound title at the Class B state tournament. The first time state champion compiled a 46-1 record with 21 pins. Bice received two points.
• Sophomore Alex Caba finished runner-up last season but broke through this season to earn his first state championship. Caba, who earned one point in the voting, won the Class B 120-pound title and recorded a 36-5 record with 19 pins.
• Howard’s Bailey Neises earned his first state championship this year, winning at the 126-pound weight class. The junior compiled a 25-1 record and received one point in the voting.
1996-B.J. Jones, Mitchell
1997-B.J. Jones, Mitchell
1998-Hannon Hisek, Bon Homme
1999-Matt Evers, Mitchell
2000-T.J. Christensen, Mitchell
2001-Andy Everson, Mitchell
2002-Andy Everson, Mitchell
2003-Nate Hansen, Gregory
2004-Tyson Reiner, Mitchell
2005-Tyson Reiner, Mitchell
2006-Riley Reiff, Parkston
2007-Riley Reiff, Parkston
2008-Dan Koupal, Wagner
2009-Robert Kokesh, Wagner
2010-Robert Kokesh, Wagner
2011-Brent Havlik, Mitchell
2012-Alex Kocer, Wagner
2013-Brady Reiff, Parkston
2014-Luke Loudenburg, Howard