Wagner's Kocer earns Daily Republic wrestler of the year awardAlex Kocer says he’s an elite wrestler.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Alex Kocer says he’s an elite wrestler.
“I’m not trying to be cocky,” Kocer said, “but I think I could be up there with the best. I feel confident with myself and my wrestling abilities.”
At the end of February, the senior from Wagner capped his final high school wrestling season with a 152-pound title, his fifth straight Class B state championship. He finished his season with an unbeaten record and was named the Class B state tournament’s outstanding wrestler, an award he’s earned three times.
For his efforts, Kocer has been named The Daily Republic’s wrestler of the year. The award is voted on by the newspaper’s sports staff.
Kocer — who will receive a plaque for the award — took all three first-place votes in a system that awards five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth.
Mitchell senior Brent Havlik, who won last year’s wrestler of the year award, was second with three second-place votes. Another Kernel, Jason Greenway, was third with eight points, McCook Central/Montrose’s Dominic Blindert was fourth with six points and Howard’s Luke Loudenburg was fifth with four points.
All five wrestlers from the Mitchell area won state championships, but it was Kocer’s 46-win, unbeaten record and mark on South Dakota high school wrestling history that set him apart from the group.
Kocer cemented himself as an elite high school wrestler, becoming the fifth person to win at least five state championships. Only Freeman’s Kirk Wallman (1984-89) and Webster’s Logan Storley (2006-2011) have topped Kocer’s accomplishment with six state titles.
“Alex is one of the best high school kids I’ve ever seen wrestle,” Wagner wrestling coach Chas Welch said. “He always comes prepared.”
Kocer credits his teammates and his family for his success on the mat. Most notably, Kocer said his older brother, Ryan, has inspired him. Ryan Kocer, a three-time Class B state champion, attended all of his younger brother’s championship matches.
“I just wanted to live in his shoes,” Alex Kocer said. “I just remember watching how good he was and wondering, ‘How am I supposed to live up to that?’ ”
It’s easy to say Kocer has exceeded his brother’s achievements on the wrestling mat.
He has only two state tournament losses in his career, both coming as a seventh-grader when he finished in fourth place. Since then, he’s won 20 straight matches at the state tournament for five top-podium finishes.
Perhaps the most memorable match Kocer had at the state tournament was a major decision over Canton’s Jeremiah Peterson in 2010.
It was a highly anticipated match when Kocer was a sophomore, wrestling then-senior Peterson, who many tagged the favorite of that year’s 130-pound weight class. Kocer’s victory played a large part in helping Wagner High School seal its third straight Class B state team championship.
Peterson said Kocer was the best wrestler he ever faced in high school.
“He’s won five state championships and it takes a lot of mental strength to do that year after year,” said Peterson, who now wrestles for Augustana College in Sioux Falls. “He just comes prepared to wrestle people he knows he’s going to face.”
Peterson’s comment of Kocer being the best opponent he’s ever faced was a common trend among the wrestlers Kocer beat in the finals throughout the years.
“He’s one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever went up against,” said Newell senior Taygen Schuelke, who lost to Kocer 14-5 in the championship match at this year’s state tournament.
Kyle Gerlach, who’s now wrestling at Dakota Wesleyan University, was the last person to beat Kocer. It was during the Southeastern South Dakota Conference tournament in 2011, but Kocer avenged the loss to beat Gerlach for the state championship that same year.
“He’s the best I’ve seen,” said Gerlach, who lost to Kocer in the 152-pound finals in 2011. “He’s got hips different than anybody else in the state.”
Kocer has used a series of tilts to earn plenty of back points throughout his career.
“I’ve just learned a lot of simple moves,” Kocer said.
As a freshman — the year Wagner won the team title by one-half point — Kocer picked up a first-period pin over Tri-Valley’s Zach Schuman at 119 pounds.
Schuman, who’s a junior at Tri-Valley, was in Rapid City this year to see Kocer win his fifth straight championship.
“Seeing a guy go out with five titles is great,” Schuman said. “It’s not just like he just stumbled upon those. He earned every one.”
Kocer’s first state championship came as an eighth-grader at 103 pounds. That year, he beat Lyman’s Ian Muirhead — who now wrestles for Northern State University in Aberdeen — in the championship. Muirhead said Kocer was the most technically sound wrestler he ever faced.
“To have the level of dominance over everyone is really something,” Muirhead said. “I had five losses that year and four were to Kocer. I never beat him.”
When asked to comment on many of the compliments from the wrestlers he’d beaten in championship matches, Kocer was nearly speechless.
“They must not have had that tough of competition,” he joked. “I guess I’m just kind of baffled.”
Next year, Kocer isn’t sure of his college whereabouts, but he’s nearly certain he won’t be on the wrestling mat collegiately. He said he would consider coaching in the future, but he’s heard that wrestling in college “takes up pretty much your whole life.”
“I get a lot of questions about why I’m not going to wrestle next year,” Kocer said. “I just tell them the commitment would be tough.
“In the winter time, I don’t even know what it’s like to not wrestle. It’s going to be weird next year.”
Here’s a look at the other wrestlers who received votes:
n Mitchell’s Brent Havlik won his third straight Class A wrestling title this year, defeating Jackson Entringer in the 170-pound finals. Havlik finished the season with one loss, and he joined Doyle Everson as the only other Mitchell wrestler to have claimed three state high school titles.
“Winning three titles and being the first one to do it in a long time at Mitchell is outstanding,” Mitchell coach Travis Carpenter said.
Havlik, who finished with 12 points in the voting, finished the season with two overtime wins for a state title. He recorded a 39-1 season.
n Mitchell’s Jason Greenway won his second state wrestling championship, beating Huron’s Hartman Katz in the 160-pound Class A championship. Greenway finished the season 40-1 and had eight points in the voting.
n McCook Central/Montrose senior Dominic Blindert won his first wrestling championship. He beat Winner’s Tate Novotny in the 170-pound Class B finals. Blindert finished the season with a 52-1 record and had six points in the voting.
n Howard’s Luke Loudenburg, a freshman, finished the season with a 106-pound Class B title. He defeated Beresford’s Justin Haneke 6-3 in the championship for his first state title. He had four points in the voting and finished the year with a 44-1 record.
The Daily Republic’s past wrestlers of the year:
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