Wagner’s Kocer going for fifth straight state wrestling titleIt may be hard to believe, but Alex Kocer still gets nervous for the state wrestling tournament.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
WAGNER — It may be hard to believe, but Alex Kocer still gets nervous for the state wrestling tournament.
Kocer, a senior at Wagner High School, has won four consecutive state wrestling championships. He’s placed at state every year he’s wrestled on varsity, and he’s been a part of three team championships.
Despite all of his success, Kocer admits the pressure starts to rise every year when the end of the season starts to near.
“This time of year, I get pretty stressed out,” said Kocer, who wrestles at 152 pounds and is 42-0 this season. “All I think about is that state tournament.”
At this weekend’s Class B state tournament in Rapid City, Kocer will end his high school wrestling career with a chance to have his name etched alongside the state’s all-time elite wrestlers.
He could become the fifth wrestler in South Dakota history to win five state high school wrestling championships.
“It would put him in an elite group most definitely,” Wagner assistant coach John Tyler said, referring to Kocer’s potential fifth state title. “He’s always handled pressure really well. He has a desire to win, and he’s always prepared … as if he’s going against the best guy in the state.”
Kocer’s most recent state tournament loss was during his seventh-grade year. He lost in the first round to Dell Rapids’ Cade Buysee 3-2. He fought back to get in the third-place match, losing to Bon Homme’s Ryan Kriz 4-3 to take fourth place.
Since then, he’s gone 16-0 at state tournaments. He won the 103-pound title as an eighth-grader, 119-pound title as a freshman, 130-pound championship as a sophomore and took the 152-pound title last year.
Kocer said he grew up in a family with a strong wrestling background that goes back to his grandfather, uncles, dad and brother. His older brother Ryan was a three-time state champion and six-time state place winner. Ryan Kocer is also remembered for winning an ESPY Award in 2008 for the Top Male Athlete with a Disability.
Ryan Kocer lost his left leg in an accident on the family farm, when a runaway truck pinned his legs into a grain bin. Doctors were forced to amputate his leg below the knee. After the injury, he ended his high school wrestling career with a fourth-place state tournament finish in his senior year.
That season, Alex and Ryan helped their school start a three-year run as the dominant Class B wrestling team in the state. From 2008 to 2010, Wagner won three straight state team titles.
“(Alex) has accomplished a lot,” said Ryan Kocer, who has seen all four of his brother’s state championships. “He definitely puts 100 percent into everything he does all the time. That says a lot about him, because he’s a really driven person.”
John Tyler and Ryan Kocer agree on their favorite match Alex has ever wrestled. As a sophomore, Kocer was labeled an underdog in the 130-pound weight class to Canton’s Jeremiah Peterson, who was considered the favorite.
When the two met in the finals, Kocer was taken down early, but he fought back and won 12-2 by major decision.
“In his early years, he wasn’t given much of a shot to win the title,” said former Wagner wrestling coach Ernie Valentine, who left the school after the 2009-10 school year to take an administrative position at a school in Nebraska. “A lot of people didn’t think he was strong enough to wrestle some of those older and more experienced kids.”
Although Kocer won’t say his match against Petersen was the toughest state championship match he’s ever wrestled, he agrees it was a memorable one. He also listed matches against Faulkton’s Joe Aesoph, Hot Springs’ Brady Harkless and Mount Vernon’s Kyle Gerlach as notable.
“I’ve had a lot of close matches,” said Kocer, whose youngest brother, David, is going after his first individual state championship this weekend at 145 pounds. “Once you get to the semifinals and finals, they’re all tough.”
Last season, Tyler took over as Wagner’s head wrestling coach when Valentine left. The school hired Chas Welch as an assistant. Welch — who was an All-American wrestler in 2008 at Northern State in Aberdeen — said he was excited to help coach Kocer when he arrived at the school. Welch said the two wrestled in practice often last year, though he wouldn’t disclose who came out on top more.
“He’s tough,” Welch said. “We’ll put it that way.”
Philip’s Lincoln McIlravy and Bon Homme’s Hannon Hisek both won five state titles, and only two wrestlers in state history have won six. Last year, Webster’s Logan Storley won his sixth title, matching only Freeman’s Kirk Wallman, who won titles each year from 1984 to 1989.
With his fourth title last season, Kocer tied Wagner’s school record for most state championships in a career. Travis Slaba won four titles from 1992 to 1995 for Wagner.
Now, Kocer has a chance to become the most successful individual wrestler in the history of the school. The quest starts with a first-round match against Faulkton Area’s Austin Thomas.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” Kocer said of his wrestling career. “It would mean a lot to me (to win a fifth title). I’ve always wanted to do it since I won my first one.
“But you never know what’s going to happen. It’s the state tournament.”