UNDISPUTED NO. 1: Cubs' Hutmacher named Republic's wrestler of the year
CHAMBERLAIN — Nash Hutmacher isn't satisfied with being the best wrestler in South Dakota.
Just five days after the Chamberlain High School sophomore closed out a second straight Class A 285-pound championship with a 46-0 record, Hutmacher was back in the practice room.
He's preparing for bigger goals.
"I want to be the best heavyweight wrestler in the nation before I graduate," Hutmacher said. "Whether that's this summer, next summer or the summer after that. That is the goal. To be the best in the nation."
And this summer, he'll get the chance to prove himself again at the USA Wrestling National Championships, where'll compete in the freestyle junior division, which consists of high school juniors and seniors, July 12-20 in Fargo, North Dakota. Last year, Hutmacher won a cadet national championship, becoming the first South Dakota wrestler to accomplish that feat since 1990.
After beating fellow nationally ranked grappler Nick Casperson, of Beresford, 3-1 in the Class A heavyweight title match, one of the most anticipated matches in South Dakota history, there's no reason to doubt Hutmacher's chances to becoming the best in nation.
For his outstanding commitment to the demanding sport as well as winning his second state title, Hutmacher has been unanimously selected as The Daily Republic's wrestler of the year — an award decided upon by the newspaper's sports staff. In the 23-year history of the award, Hutmacher is the seventh area grappler to win the award twice. He received all three first-place votes in a system that awards five points for a first-place vote, four for second place, and so on.
The five other wrestlers who gained votes each won state championships. McCook Central/Montrose's Paul Lauck, who claimed the Class B 145-pound state title, finished with 11 points, while Mitchell's Carson Max, who won the Class A 195-pound championship, had nine points. Class B 220-pound state champion Evan Kizer, of Howard, garnered five points, while Hutmacher's teammate and Class A 113-pound title winner Max Donovan recorded four points and Howard's Aidyn Feldhaus, the Class B 182 champion, had one point.
Since being brought up to compete in varsity matches as a seventh-grader, Hutmacher has always faced older competition. And that prepared him for his showdown with Casperson.
"He's never backed away from the competition. One of the reasons he is where he is, is because he's never backed away from the competition," Chamberlain head coach John Donovan said. "That's fun. It's fun for him to realize where he's at and to be able to handle the pressure and compete at a very high level."
And as Donovan pointed out, the pressure wasn't on Casperson, who bumped up two weight classes. The stakes couldn't have been higher for the 16-year-old Hutmacher, who handled plenty of extra media attention before the match.
"There was a lot of pressure for him to go out and perform at his best," Donovan said. "It was kind of a circus. We tried to downplay the (Casperson) match and tried to not make it bigger. Obviously, everyone was into it."
But it was evident, Hutmacher relished the opportunity and made the most of it.
"Going out there, whoever won was going to be considered the best wrestler in South Dakota," said Hutmacher, who is unbeaten in his past 90 matches dating back to the 2016 state tournament when he was an eighth-grader.
"To go out there and win was a great feeling. It was a big challenge, but it was great to succeed. That match was amazing. ... Yeah, he was older and he had more experience, but I came out on top."
According to Donovan, finding quality competition for Hutmacher during tournaments throughout the season became more difficult. Hutmacher opened his sophomore season on a tear, recording 17 straight pinfall victories before being tested by Canton's Payton Smith in the championship match at the Dan Pausch Invitational on Jan. 6 in Brandon. Hutmacher beat Smith, who went on to win the Class B 285-pound state title, by a 6-3 decision. The next measuring-stick match for Hutmacher came in the championship match of the Lee Wolf Invitational on Jan. 27 in Aberdeen, where Hutmacher downed previously unbeaten Dane Stahl, of Watertown, by a 5-0 decision.
"He's been tough on competition," Donovan said. "Last year, we saw great competition all the time. This year, we weren't seeing good competition until the finals (in tournaments), if then."
All the work throughout the season came to the forefront when Hutmacher found out Casperson was going to move up to the heavyweight class for the state tournament. Donovan said practices for the Cubs were ramped up ahead of the region meet, and Hutmacher was well-prepared for the state tournament.
In the showdown championship match, Hutmacher trailed 1-0 after the first two periods, but earned an escape point and critical takedown in the third period to close out the win. In front of a loud Premier Center crowd and statewide TV audience, Hutmacher showed off his strength, speed and size throughout the match. In the end, Hutmacher's prime conditioning proved to be the difference, according to Casperson.
"He really has heart," Casperson said about Hutmacher after the title match. "A lot of heavyweights you see fold in the third period. That's what I was hoping for, but he didn't give an inch. That's what sets him apart, not only his size and strength, but he's got guts."
And just like every other match throughout the season, Hutmacher said he stayed true to his style—wrestle aggressive and wear down opponents.
"If I push the pace, they'll tire out," said Hutmacher, who finished the season with 37 pins. "The third period, I feel, has always been my period all throughout my varsity career. I prepare and practice that way, always going at my opponent, going hard all the time."
Helping Hutmacher stay and top shape and get pushed on the practice mat has been a plethora of coaches, former wrestlers and current high school wrestlers. Hutmacher's main practice partner, fellow sophomore Ruger Forester, qualified for the state tournament at 220 pounds. Chamberlain middle school wrestling coach Luke Giese, former Chamberlain standout Nick Claussen, assistant coach Jeff Steckelberg and Donovan each also practice against Hutmacher.
"All those people who come in and help me throughout the year are a big part of my success," said Hutmacher, who added he hasn't began considering any post-high school plans.
Alongside Hutmacher's success, the Chamberlain wrestling team took big steps forward in the 2017-18 season. The Cubs qualified eight wrestlers for the state tournament, placed four wrestlers and had two state champions to finish in 10th place as a team. Seeing the sport of wrestling continue to grow in the Chamberlain area has been just as enjoyable as the wins on the mat for Hutmacher.
"It was a pretty special year because we were doing so well as a team," Hutmacher said. "The AAU program, the middle school program have gotten exponentially bigger compared to what it's been in the past."
The Cubs will be poised to take another step forward with only two seniors graduating from this year's roster. Donovan said his core group of Max Donovan, Collin Powell and Hutmacher continues to push the Cubs in the right direction.
"All of them have stepped up and lead by example," coach Donovan said. "Nash is out there helping in the community and the kids love him. He sets a great example and that's what it's all about, making him a great young man."
And the two-time state champion, known as "the Polar Bear," has simple advice for any young wrestlers.
"Always work hard," Hutmacher said. "Never leave a practice session thinking you could have done better. But even with all the serious aspects with it, have fun with it. You can't be serious all the time."
Here's a look at the other wrestlers who received points in the voting:
Paul Lauck, McCook Central/Montrose: Lauck, who missed all of his 2016-17 season with an injury, came back with a vengeance in his senior season. Lauck finished the season at 52-2 and finished the season with 36 pins. He wrapped up his season by winning a rubber match against Winner Area's Sam Kruger by 8-2 decision in the 145-pound state championship match.
Carson Max, Mitchell: Max, wrestling with an injured shoulder in the final weeks of the season, was not to be denied a state championship at Class A 195 pounds. Max (32-3) finished the season with a 6-4 decision over Joey Otta, of Sioux Falls Roosevelt. He is Mitchell's first individual state champion since 2012.
Evan Kizer, Howard: The No. 1 wrestler in his class, Kizer closed out a strong season with a 9-2 decision over Jesse Hastings of Mount Vernon/Plankinton/Corsica-Stickney. Kizer, a senior, finished at 39-4 and did not lose to a Class B wrestler all season and helped his team to a third-place team finish.
Max Donovan, Chamberlain: The No. 2 seed at the state tournament, Donovan took the 113-pound bracket by storm with three pins to reach the championship match. In the title tilt, he took down Douglas/Rapid City Christian's William George 15 seconds into overtime for a 3-1 sudden-death victory. Donovan, a junior, finished the season at 45-4.
Aidyn Feldhaus, Howard: Feldhaus had never previously placed at the state tournament but the Tigers senior picked the right time to shine. He topped Redfield's Barrett Wren 5-3 in sudden death overtime and finished the season at 46-6. He helped Howard finish in third place as a team.
Past award winners: 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; 2015: Blake Bietz, Parkston; 2016: Blake Bietz, Parkston; 2017: Nash Hutmacher, Chamberlain; 2018: Nash Hutmacher, Chamberlain.