As the pinnacle event of the high school wrestling season is set to begin on Friday, four area wrestlers have designs on winning a state championship for the second year in a row.
All four, however, have taken different paths toward repeat performances. The Chamberlain duo of Nash Hutmacher and Max Donovan can earn back-to-back Class A state titles in the same weight classes as last season, 285 and 113, respectively. Meanwhile, Bon Homme/Scotland/Avon's Josh Crownover and Wagner's Lance Soukup look to win at heavier weights. All four wrestlers will begin their title defense on Friday at the state wrestling tournament at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City.
Hutmacher, of course, is searching for his third consecutive state championship to extend a 110-match winning streak. At 29-0, the junior is the top seed and the only wrestler in the A-285 bracket with less than six losses.
"The personal goal for me this season is just to go out and look sharp in every match-be dominant in every match," Hutmacher said. "Obviously I want to look my best for the state tournament and come out on top again."
Hutmacher's teammate Donovan is not only the defending state champion, but he has posted a 30-3 record thus far. Still, the senior is not the top seed in the 113 bracket.
Donovan enters the state tournament ranked third, behind No. 1 Cael Larson (49-1) of Rapid City Central and No. 2 Landen Fischer (25-7) of Rapid City Stevens. A loss to Fischer in his third match of the season proved to be a turning point for Donovan moving forward.
"In the first few tournaments I was nervous because I had to step to my reputation," Donovan said. "But after wrestling matches and losing to (Fischer) I was like, "OK, I have to do me the rest of the season.' Toward the end of the season, I started adapting and just being me-going out there and trying to dominate every match."
While Donovan tried to live up to his reputation, Crownover built his at the state tournament last season, going from a wildcard to win as the fourth seed last season to being the Class B 160-pound champion.
Moving up to 170 pounds this year, Crownover has transitioned into being one of the top wrestlers in the state with a 37-5 record.
Competing in a heavier weight class has not bothered the junior, who has wrestled at four different weights in the last two seasons.
One constant remaining, though, is Canton's Shaden Scheidt, who Crownover beat in overtime of the state finals last year and is now the undefeated top seed at 170 this season.
"Not many people can come back the next year, be slightly heavier and win," Crownover said. "So (winning a state title) would be awesome."
Like Crownover, Soukup also bumped up a weight class after cruising through the 113-pound bracket en route to a Class B state title last season.
The Wagner junior was 31-7 and the top seed a year ago, but this season he is 36-9 and three close losses top-seeded Kaden Keiser (Winner Area) and No. 2 Bradyn Robbins (Redfield Area) have him as the No. 3 seed at 120 this time around.
Soukup relishes the chance to be the hunter rather than the hunted, which takes the pressure off his quest to repeat.
"I'm the state champ, everyone wants to go after me and beat me," Soukup said. "I'm not usually the underdog. It hurts me mentally (to be the favorite) and I'm a big mental guy. I get inside my head a lot and I just have to push that aside."