Monday, February 26, 2018

A Calculated Race to the Class A State Wrestling Title

Its difficult for the novice wrestling fan to understand that the race to a state wrestling team title is better aligned with the strategy needed to win a marathon rather than a sprint.  If you look back at this weekends title race you come to understand that team standing throughout the four sessions of action are in constant flux depending on the composition of your team.  Teams with considerable talent in the lighter weights can take a commanding lead early, to only be overcome by those with solid wrestlers in the upper weights.  Teams with limited depth, yet four or five title contenders can hold on to build up points in the semifinal and championship round to catch an unsuspecting team and the inexperienced wrestling fans who can be fooled by the early reports on team scores.  This weekends Class A Wrestling tournament certainly resembled the marathon as two talented teams with considerable depth battled till the very last matches to determine who would come away with the state title in Sioux Falls.  While a more detailed blog post about the achievements of the various Governor wrestlers will be forthcoming, this initial post is designed to chart the path to victory that coaches sought to do in preparation for the final placing round late on Saturday afternoon. 

The Governor Wrestling team stands atop the podium after winning their fourth straight Class A State Wrestling Title

When wrestlers departed the Denny Sanford Center following the semifinal and consolation semifinal rounds, the Rapid City Stevens and Governor faithful each had their moments in the spotlight.  Early victories by Jack Van Camp and Cade Hinkle helped keep these two wrestlers advancing in the wrestlebacks, and Lincoln Turman, William Turman, and Michael Lusk each punched their ticket to the finals for the third and fourth straight year.  Stevens struggled in the lower weights despite victories by Cody Stockman and Logan Fischer in the wrestlebacks, where they lost four of their first five semifinal matches resulting in a significant lead by the Governors. However, when Austin Senger lost in overtime to Colin Haar, the tide slowly began to turn as that also triggered loses by Barry Browning in the wrestlebacks.  Up 6-2 late in the second period, Gage Gehring lost control of Joey Otta (Roosevelt) and was pinned with :01 seconds left to derail his championship title hopes.  A sliver of hope surfaced as Maguire Raske won by fall in the second period, but was soon diminished as Pryce Dyk lost 5-2 in an important head-to-head match with Patterson from Stevens at HWT.  Following the 145lbs loss in the semifinals, RC Stevens won consecutive victories at 152, 182, and 285 with the victory over Dyk to retake the team lead.  In the consolation semifinals, Stevens further extended their lead by winning four additional matches to push four of their wrestlers to compete for third, while the Governors only did so with wins by Raske and Gehring. As the last whistle blew mid-afternoon, Rapid City Stevens had established a 6.5 point lead over the Governors having generated 147.5 total team points.  

Pryce Dyk holds on for the 2-1 victory over Dagel (Roosevelt) during his 7th place match on Saturday. 

In anticipation of the final round, fans from both teams began to evaluate the critical matchups that remained.  A total of 20 matches (10 for Stevens, 9 for the Governors, and one head-to-head) would soon determine the next Class A team title, and based on preliminary projections the Governors could win four in the placing round compared to two for Stevens.  If matches went as projected, the Governors would then need to win all three finals matches including the critical head-to-head matchup between Turman and returning state champion Spencer Stockman since it was expected that Dante Colicheski would win at 182lbs.  These projections didn't include any potential bonus point (1 for a major decision, 1.5 for tech fall, and 2 for a pin), just pacing points for each victory(1 for 7th, 2 for 5th, 2 for 3rd, and 4 for 1st) .  "We told the team that we had ten chances to make up points," said head coach Shawn Lewis.  "Ten wrestlers that all had the opportunity to help close the gap.  It all comes back to the one match at a time focus.  Go out and look to secure a win but always be looking for bonus.  We knew we were favored at 152, 160, 195, and 285 in the wrestle backs and they had the best chance of looking for bonus.  Our focus was to get it as close as possible before the championship matches took place."  To some extent, the competition went close to how many projected it would.

Barry Browning works for a turn against Carr (Dell Rapids) during their 7th place match on Saturday evening.  Browning went on to win 9-2. 

Stevens opened with a loss at 106lbs as Declan Malone lost by pin for his 5th place match, which was then followed by losses for Cody Stockman (113lbs) and Logen Fischer (120lbs).  Stevens increased their lead by 8.5 points with wins by Cody BeVier in overtime, while Jack Van Camp also lost to Coyle (Watertown) who he had lost two twice earlier this year.  Stevens secured an unexpected victory at 138lbs when Branden Sharkey defeated #2 seeded Tyson Stoebner with a late takedown, and an expected win by Voorhees at 145lbs helped to extend a 10.5 point lead.  "Sharkey beating Stoebner was the only match that we had figured the wrong way which made things tighter heading into the finals," said Lewis.  Cade Hinkle then lost to Tigh Hight (O'Gorman), but Governor coaches expected to win four of the final five matches to help close the gap that was being generated.  Austin Senger earned a 5th place finish and two additional bonus points with a pin in his final match as a Governor to bring it within 8.5.  This was followed by a decision for Barry Browning in his 7th place match to bring things within 7.5.  Stevens proceeded to lose each of their three remaining matches while Maguire Raske lost to Shirado (Harrisburg) who had defeated him earlier in the tournament.  However with a pin at 195 for Gage Gehring over Reiger (Huron), and a decision by Pryce Dyk at 285 the additional five points narrowed the Stevens lead to 2.5 points going into the finals. "Without Austin and Gage getting pins in their last matches it would have been really hard for us to win" noted assistant coach Travis Heasley.  "It took some of the pressure off the finalists.  As a coach, I was so proud of those two coming back when we needed them to get those wins.  It goes to show you the character of them both."  

Austin Senger prepares to turn Bien (Milbank) during his 5th place match and with the eventual pin, generated four team points for the Governors.

For the final's the head-to-head matchup for William Turman would prove to be critical, since a win would secure an additional four points for the Governors, but a loss would mean four points in their favor making it difficult to win the tournament if Colicheski won at 182lbs as was expected.  "Before finals started and we had a chance to recalculate the scores we knew we needed 132 as it stopped them from scoring," said Lewis. With that win, just one additional victory from Lusk or Lincoln Turman should have ensured a victory for the Governors if Colicheski didn't' pick up a pin in the final.  Unfortunately, much of the burden was placed on both Will Turman and Michael Lusk after Lincoln suffered a hamstring injury early in the first period of his match against Klinkhammer and wasn't able to secure his third straight state title following a 3-0 loss. 

Lincoln Turman works to hold off a takedown by Klinkhammer (Brandon Valley) late in the first period of their championship match.  Turman went on to lose 3-0 and finish his career as a runner-up. 

"I think the only thing I said to Will and Lusk was 'Go Get It," said Heasley.  "Those two have ice in their veins and don't need a big pep talk.  Its hard to find two individuals that always perform under pressure as well as they do every time.  I remember Will just smiling at both of us coaches before he went to the center of the mat to tell us he's got this."    Still trailing by 2.5 points as a team, William Turman went to work scoring a late takedown in the first period against Stockman.  He then escaped in the second period and gave up a reversal with :20 remaining in the final period.  Stockman gave Turman the escape with a goal of taking him down in the closing seconds to tie up the score but Turman was able to hold him off and win his fourth straight Class A wrestling title.  "Michael beams with confidence no matter what the situation is.  He gave that same smile when I said: "Go Get It'  and I knew I didn't need to worry about him putting the team on his shoulders." With a 1.5 point lead for the Governors, Michael Lusk took to the mat one last time competing in his fourth state finals match.  A scoreless first period then led to an escape for Lusk in the second, followed by an escape by Trey Hage (Vermillion) early in the third.  With :50 second remaining Lusk earned a takedown on the edge of the mat, and despite giving up an escape was able to hold on for a 3-2 victory resulting in his third straight Class A wrestling title and producing a 5.5 point lead for the Governors.

Michael Lusk looks for the takedown against Hage (Vermillion) late in the third period of their finals match and with the score he helped to secure the 3-2 victory and third straight individual title. 

When the Governors had won the state title over Aberdeen in 2014, they had found themselves in a very similar position.  With a pin at 285lbs for Aberdeen, the Golden Eagles would defeat the Governors by .5 points.  With only a decision at 285lbs, the Governors came home with their third state title in four years and began the current run of three straight Class A championships.  Colicheski took the mat against cross-town rival Bridger Kraye from RC Central intent on bringing the team title back to west river.  From the outset, it appeared he had the horsepower to do just that when the opening feet-to-back takedown produced a roar from Steven's fans.  Kraye was able to roll through and avoid back points, and for the final six minutes was able to lose only a 9-2 decision.  Despite achieving a personal goal of an individual state title, his victory was not enough to also capture the team title for the rest of his team.  After the match, Lewis noted about Colicheski's effort "He went after it.  I was only able to stomach watching a portion of it but it was a max effort.  You could tell from the first whistle he was a man on a mission for his team.  It was a very honorable performance."  

William Turman finishes his wrestling career with his fourth straight wrestling title. 

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