Wrestling coaches focusing on goals, not ratings
The state high school wrestling tournaments are a little less than two months away. Many coaches will be pushing their wrestlers harder in the next few weeks than ever, preparing them for the end of the season.
Many area schools have wrestlers ranked at the top of the state in their respective weight classes, and many area teams are ranked as well.
In the Class A team rankings, Winner is No. 3 and, despite defeating No. 5-ranked Huron in its last dual, Mitchell is at No. 10.
"I really don't put a lot of weight into rankings," Winner head coach Bill Kaiser said. "We have some very high expectations for ourselves. As long as we show up and wrestle the way we're capable of, I know we'll be fine."
Winner currently has nine of its 13 starters ranked No. 11 or higher in the state, including its No. 1-ranked heavyweight, who hasn't even seen a match this season.
Isaiah Curtis is the top-ranked heavyweight wrestler in Class A, and he suffered an ACL injury in the first game of the football season.
Kaiser said he is hoping to get Curtis back soon, along with getting much of his team healthy before state regions and finals.
"We've got some bumps and bruises, but we're not any different than any other team," Kaiser said. "You always have to wrestle hurt, but we try to make sure we're healthy by the end of February."
While Kaiser said he usually goes back to the basics toward the end of the year to get ready for regions, Wagner head coach Ernie Valentine uses a more individual approach.
The No. 1-ranked Red Raiders have lost just two duals this year, both to out-of-state teams. When the team traveled to Gillette, Wyo., on Dec. 19 and 20, it lost to host team Gillette and Glasgow, Mont.
Wagner has the top-ranked Class B wrestler at 160 pounds, Robert Kokesh, who is currently 22-0 on the season.
Valentine said he's happy with the way the season has been shaping up, but said he doesn't put much stock into being the top-ranked team, as it's someone's opinion.
"I don't think anyone on the team worries about rankings," Valentine said. "I hope they don't let it influence the way they wrestle."
As the defending state champions, the Red Raiders know their top goal is to repeat. But, Valentine said he knows there are four or five other teams with the same top goal.
When the final weeks of the season arrive, as a coach, Valentine said he changes up the pace of practice to ready the team. He said he helps each wrestler clean up his mistakes, while getting the team's intensity and focus top notch.
"Whoever has the best regions is going to put themselves in the best position to win at state," Valentine said. "They set their own goals, and they want to give themselves an opportunity to win it again."
Mitchell didn't have as much success as Wagner last year in the state finals and are coming off a frustrating 14th-place finish. The team's goal is to return to the top eight teams in Class A this season. Junior 171-pound Jordan Reiner should help Mitchell put up points, as he is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in his weight class in Class A.
No. 10 Mitchell recently defeated Eastern South Dakota Conference rival Huron, but despite defeating the Tigers, Mitchell is still ranked lower. Head coach Travis Carpenter said he normally keeps tabs on the rankings, but he doesn't put much stock into them.
"I use them as a research tool," Carpenter said. "I like to see where some kids are at, and it may tell me who beat who."
Along with Reiner, Mitchell will be relying on its other previous tournament qualifiers from last season to help score points at state, including Jason Greenway (130), Austin Havlik (160) and Kyle Larson (215).
Currently, Carpenter said he's been happy with the way the season has been for his team, especially with the close wins over rival ESD schools. Mitchell defeated Huron by just three points on Jan. 3, and came away with a one-point win over Yankton at the Watertown Dual Team Invitational Dec. 6.
To get ready for the state tournament, Carpenter said he injects more live wrestling in practice, more conditioning and conducts morning runs with the team.
"I try to push the team's conditioning to the edge just before state," Carpenter said.
Other local wrestlers in the area ranked atop their weight classes are 119-pound Ryan Kriz of Class B Bon Homme, Alex Hammel, Chamberlain (135), and Dan Noonan, of Howard, at 140 pounds in Class B.
Currently, Sturgis is the top-ranked team in Class A. In Class B, Bon Homme is ranked No. 6, Howard is No. 7, Marion/Freeman is No. 8, Parkston is No. 11 and Burke/Gregory is No. 12.