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Kernels, Aberdeen, Huron vying for Eastern South Dakota Conference wrestling title

Luke Hagen/Republic Mitchell's Lakin Neugebauer, top, works to pin his Brandon Valley opponent in the 112-pound match in a dual last week at the Mitchell High School gymnasium.

With three teams still vying for its title, the Eastern South Dakota Conference wrestling championship is still very much up for grabs.

Huron, Aberdeen Central and Mitchell each have one conference loss, and depending on what happens in the next two-plus weeks, any of those teams could be hoisting the ESD title at the end of the year.

"The ESD is so balanced," Mitchell coach Travis Carpenter said. "I said at the beginning of the year I wouldn't be surprised if the team who won had at least one and maybe two losses."

Mitchell still has three ESD duals to go with two to be wrestled this week. The Kernels are 3-1 and their only loss came at Huron, 39-29. Proving the conference is very even, only one of Mitchell's wins was by more than four points.

In the team's first conference dual of the year, Mitchell downed Yankton 32-30, and later in the year made a 21-point comeback against Pierre to win 34-30 on a pin in the last match of the night. In its other win, Mitchell beat Brandon Valley, 43-24.

Today at 7:30 p.m., the Kernels travel to Brookings to make up a dual that was originally scheduled for last Friday, but was postponed because of the weather. The match should be winnable for the Kernels, as the Bobcats are 0-3 in the ESD. Then, to make things a little more difficult later in the week, Mitchell hosts Watertown, which is 2-3, Thursday.

If Mitchell wins both of its duals this week, Carpenter and the Kernels will be closely watching the dual between Huron and Aberdeen Central Friday night in hopes of an Eagles win.

"All we can do is take care of is ourselves," Carpenter said. "If we can win against Watertown and Brookings, whatever happens Friday night will determine which one of those two teams will have a shot."

The last time Mitchell won the ESD Conference was in 2006 and before that there was a drought for the Kernels since 1998.

Of the three teams left in the hunt, the Kernels need the most help.

For Mitchell to win the conference outright, it will have to win its remaining three duals, including a season-ending dual against Aberdeen Central on Feb. 4, and have Huron lose one of its final two duals. Besides wrestling in Aberdeen, Huron travels to Yankton on the same night Mitchell and the Eagles dual, possibly making Feb. 4 a very meaningful night in ESD wrestling.

As the standings sit, Huron is in the driver's seat. If the Tigers win out, they'll win the conference outright. The Tigers' only loss this season came Jan. 5 against Pierre, which won the dual 35-34.

Huron won the ESD outright in 2008 with a 6-1 record. Friday's match marks the third straight year the Tigers and Eagles will wrestle in a highly meaningful late-season dual.

"Our kids have gotten really excited about wrestling the really good ESD duals the last few years," said Huron coach Dan McCarty, whose team is 4-1 in ESD duals. "This one will be just like the ones against Mitchell and Watertown earlier this year."

Last year, Aberdeen defeated Huron by one point, and the Eagles went on to win their first conference title since 1973.

Maybe surprisingly, the Eagles are 3-1 in the ESD.

Aberdeen had a 23-dual winning streak going, which dated back to 2008. That ended Thursday with a 31-28 loss to Yankton, putting the preseason favorites in the same company as Mitchell and Huron with a single loss.

"There's no excuse," Eagles' coach Toby Bryant said. "Yankton outwrestled us that night."

For Aberdeen to win its second straight conference title, it will have to win out. That includes beating Huron and Mitchell at home and closing the season with a win over Brookings.

"We have to be perfect," Bryant said. "That's all there is to it."

Besides the final three contenders, Pierre and Yankton are 3-2, Watertown is 2-3 and Brookings and Brandon Valley are winless.

For those teams, the rest of the ESD schedule won't mean as much, but for Huron, Aberdeen Central and Mitchell, the next few weeks are very important.

"The team that stays the healthiest throughout and most consistent usually wins the conference," Carpenter said. "There are three of us with an opportunity to win it, and it all depends on the next two weeks."