The Mitchell High School wrestling team is aiming for a top-six finish at this weekend's state meet. The Kernels have accomplished such a feat since placing fifth in 2013, and they have one top-10 finish during that span.
With 12 wrestlers entered in the tournament-which begins at 11 a.m. Central today in Rapid City-Mitchell certainly has the depth to achieve its goal, but a strong start is going to be necessary, which did not happen last year.
Last season, only three of the 10 Kernels in the state tournament competed on the second day and four lost their first match, which resulted in placing 12th as a team.
"The state tournament is like four separate tournaments within itself," MHS head coach Travis Carpenter said. "You're leaving and you're coming back and you're leaving and coming back, so you've got to be ready when you step on that mat and get off to a good start."
None of the three placewinners from last season are back, with Carson Max and Kyler Bauder suffering season-ending injuries and six of Mitchell's 12 wrestlers are competing in the state tournament for the first time.
The Kernels also have five freshmen-Brock Sparks (106 pounds), Brandon Sparks (113), Tucker Vilhauer (152), Joe VanOverschelde (160) and Beau Foote (285)-and eighth-grader Bryce Palmer (120) in the lineup, with only Foote entering the weekend with prior experience at state tournament, but the message from the coaching staff is the same for veterans and rookies, alike.
"We've been to tournaments bigger than this one, as far as the number of wrestlers in it," Carpenter said. "We've been in big matches before, we've won big matches before and now let's go do it again."
Mitchell has five wrestlers seeded in the top-10, in Vilhauer, Foote, Cole Gehrke (145), Max Schoenfelder (182) and Carter Max (220).
At 36-3, Max is the top seed at 220 and the favorite to finish the weekend atop the podium, with an 8-1 record this season against opponents in his bracket. Max, though, has never reached the second day of the state tournament, so Carpenter kept advice to the senior simple.
"You have to focus on the task at hand," Max said. "You can't be looking forward at anything, you have to go one match at a time. When you look at the state meet over the course of the years, you've seen people overlooking other people and get knocked off."
Chamberlain is also looking for a top-six finish in Class A, and while the Cubs only have six qualifiers, two of them are returning state champions and another placed third last year.
Nash Hutmacher (29-0) is seeking a third consecutive state championship at 285 and to extend his 110-match winning streak, while Max Donovan (30-3) is looking to end his prep career with back-to-back state titles at 113.
Collin Powell (29-5) placed third at 120 last season for the Cubs, and he enters this year's state tournament as the No. 3 seed in the 126 bracket. Gabe Skustad (27-10) placed seventh at 106 last season and he is the No. 4 seed at 132 this time around, while eighth-grader Noah Hutmacher (6-12) makes his first trip to state at 152.