RAPID CITY — For the fourth consecutive year, Winner Area finished as the runner-up to Canton in the Class B state wrestling tournament.

But the gap is closing.

From 2018-2020, the C-Hawks won by an average of 60.2 points per year, including a 67.5-point defeat last year. This year, however, the Warriors narrowed the margin to 28 points and had an opportunity to jump ahead after Canton lost its first three matches of the final round Saturday.

Winner saw 11 of its 12 wrestlers place and had five state finalists, with Kaden Keiser and Sam Kruger capping unbeaten seasons to win their third consecutive state championships. But the Warriors went 0-3 in the remaining championship matches, including a loss by Preston Norrid to Canton’s Marshall Baldwin at 220 pounds.

“We got five kids into the finals, but we were still the underdog in most of those matches,” Winner Area head coach Spencer Novotny said. “I’m happy with the effort. I think a big thing for us was that we came back through and we didn’t get a bunch of seventh and eighth-place finishes. We got into the fifth and sixth-place matches and I would’ve liked to see more in third, but that’s kind of where the chips fell.”

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Keiser and Kruger were the first teammates to finish undefeated since Beresford/Alcester-Hudson’s Dakota Galt and Nick Casperson in 2017 and joined Kirk Bainter (1980-1982) as the only Winner wrestlers to win three state titles. Keiser (40-0) topped Howard’s Lane Miller — who entered the match 39-0 — in a 13-6 decision at 145, while Kruger (38-0) finished unblemished for the second year in a row, beating Canton’s Luke Richardson in a 15-0 technical fall at 170.

But after the tournament, Novotny found himself thinking about three finalists that did not win. Achilles Willuweit was the 285-pound runner-up for the second-straight season, losing by fall to Wessington Springs/Woonsocket/Wolsey-Wessington’s Quinten Christensen in 6 minutes, 24 seconds.

Meanwhile, Norrid lost to Baldwin in 1 minute, 1 second, as all four of Norrid’s losses this season came to Baldwin. Maxton Brozik also lost a 7-1 decision to Kimball/White Lake/Platte-Geddes’ Kasen Konstanz at 106 after splitting a pair of matches during the regular season.

Winner loses Kruger, Norrid and 138-pound fifth-place finisher Aaron Gilchrist to graduation, but Novotny is already looking toward finding a way to chase down Canton next season.

“You start thinking about the kids who didn’t win and what we could do to change that,” Novotny said. “When you get second, it leaves a taste in your mouth that makes you want to work a little bit harder. We’ll try to take advantage of that in January.”

Injury forces Breen to sit out championship match

Jhett Breen’s time on the championship mat only lasted a few seconds.

He walked onto the mat, with a huge cast on his right arm, at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center for the 120-pound championship match against Canton’s Ayson Rice. But he wasn’t able to try to pull an upset over No. 1 Rice. Instead, Breen forfeited and took second place due to a dislocated right arm he suffered in the semifinal match.

“I went in the last seconds of the (semifinal) match and the guy wizard me,” Breen said. “I posted my arm and it went over, dislocated it.”

Breen upset Clark/Willow Lake’s second-seeded Gunnar Kvistad, 4-1, to qualify for the championship. But he knew right away his arm likely wouldn’t be well enough to wrestle the next day.

“I looked down and my arm was pretty bent, so I figured something was pretty wrong,” Breen said.

The idea of wrestling for a state championship turned into hope that his arm was only dislocated and not broken, as he already eyed the track season and wrestling offseason. Breen said he’ll get the cast off in “a month or two.”

The dislocated arm forced a premature end to his 32-9 campaign, which included two major decision wins to open his state tournament. His second-place finish helped the Red Raiders earn 13th place.

He also got a taste of success at state, but next time, he wants a chance to finish.

“I’m happy (about my season), but I’m ready for next year,” Breen said.