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MHS ready to host state's best at Opbroek Invitational

Starting Saturday at 11 a.m., the small Mitchell High School gymnasium will play host to eight of the state's top-ranked wrestling teams at the highly-competitive Jerry Opbroek Invitational.

With 10 total teams in attendance, and eight being ranked, it shows the top talent brought in for one of the toughest wrestling tournaments in the state.

"It's always very competitive," Mitchell coach Travis Carpenter said. "It's one of the best one-day tournaments probably in the state. There are people that won't place in this meet, who will place in the state tournament."

The placing goes to the top four in each weight class at the tournament, and with almost 80 ranked wrestlers in their respective weight classes in attendance, it will be a dogfight in each bracket to get to the top four.

With so many highly-ranked and respected athletes, Carpenter explained the seeding for the tournament has come down to a set of rules. The coaches talk before the tournament Saturday and look at a set of criteria listed, basing the seeding on who has beaten whom, and who has placed higher in other tournaments.

Then, when the tournament starts and after competing throughout the day and going through some of the best wrestlers in the state, to be in the top four is quite an achievement.

"If you don't place in it, it's not that big of a deal, but if you do, you've actually accomplished something," Carpenter said. "We like to keep the placing at four, and the kids who place definitely earned their spots."

Last season, Rapid City Stevens was the first team since 2004 to take the team title away from Sturgis. Sturgis previously had won four years in a row, and is the favorite again this year.

Stevens' head coach Brian Moser said it will be "nearly impossible" to win this tournament in back-to-back fashion this year, and he also gave Sturgis the title of favorites.

Sturgis is the No. 1-ranked team in Class A and has numerous wrestlers ranked atop their weight classes at the tournament.

"They don't have a weak spot in their lineup," Carpenter said. "You won't talk to a coach that's here that won't say Sturgis is the favorite. Obviously, we're going to do everything we can to knock them off every chance we get, but even that's unrealistic, because they have some real stud kids."

Bon Homme coach Mark Stoebner didn't disagree.

"The schedule they've wrestled is phenomenal, and they've won just about everything they've been in," he said. "Stevens will give them a push. I just don't think there's a B school that has the numbers to win this thing."

Sturgis will be accompanied by No. 3-ranked Winner, No. 4 Rapid City Stevens, No. 10 Mitchell and Pierre as the Class A teams. The B teams bring just as much talent. Wagner, the top-ranked team in Class B, hasn't lost a dual to any in-state teams this year. Other B teams will be No. 6 Bon Homme, which recently won the South Eastern South Dakota tournament, No. 7 Howard, No. 11 Parkston and McCook Central/Montrose.

Carpenter said these teams have attended the Jerry Opbroek for many years, and are perennially some of the top teams in the state.

And with the teams comes the fans. The small MHS gymnasium will hold two mats for the 10 teams, and the back gym will hold another mat. Coaches and wrestlers who have attended the meet in the past have said they've loved the focused atmosphere the tournament holds.

"A lot of people said they would like it to move to the Corn Palace, but I'm not one of them," Stoebner said, who has been coming to the Jerry Opbroek for 10-plus years. "It would lose the atmosphere. There are people standing on each other, and jam packed into that small gym. It's a great atmosphere."

Bon Homme recently defeated Wagner and Parkston at the SESD tournament last weekend, but Stoebner said his team's main goal isn't to win, but to grab as many placing finishers as possible.

"We look forward to it, and they realize if you're not ready to wrestle, it's going to be a short day," Stoebner said. "They know if they can place there, they have a very good chance at placing at the state tournament."

Just like every other year, the Kernels are excited to host the tournament, and they're ready to match up against some of the toughest competition they've seen yet this year. Carpenter said this tournament shows each member on the team where they're at individually, and what each one needs to do to prepare for state.

"Í think there's going to be numerous great matches from the first round all the way through the placing round," Carpenter said. "There's going to be kids who've been state placing and will be state placers, battling to sneak into the top four."

Mitchell's Jordan Reiner is currently ranked No. 1 in Class A at 171 pounds, the highest ranked wrestler for Mitchell, and he will be looked upon to score points for the Kernels and possibly win his weight class. He has a potentially-tough finals showdown against Sturgis' No. 2-ranked Nate Wilson.

Another possible huge matchup will be a battle at 160 pounds. Wagner's Robert Kokesh (26-0) may see Stevens' sophomore Kris Klapprodt (23-2)

"I think Kris is looking forward to wrestling that matchup," Moser said. "If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't it doesn't. But the winner will be in a good position afterward."

Many other top-notch matches will be presented during the day, and the finals round, which could be the best wrestling of the day, is scheduled to start about 7 p.m.