Sioux Falls has lagged behind the rest of the state in wrestling more than any other sport. It’s been 43 years since a city school won a state title, when Washington accomplished the feat. In that span, West River squads including Sturgis, Rapid City Stevens and Rapid City Central set the bar, while programs at Pierre, Watertown and Mitchell combined for several state titles.
But the state’s largest city has made steady gains on the mat over the years, exemplified best by a Roosevelt squad that — coming off a third-place finish last year — carries legitimate championship aspirations.
“This group has a strong belief that they’re capable,” fifth-year coach Darrell Kortan said. “This group really does feed off each other. Avoiding injury is going to be huge.”
Of course, Kortan knows that staying healthy is easier said than done. Especially given the unpredictable nature of injuries.
Kortan’s oldest son, Brock, still is recovering from injuries sustained from being hit by a car in early December. That accident occurred on the eve of what would have been the senior’s return to the mat after breaking his ankle and tibia in a match at the regional tournament a year ago.
“All these wrestlers, by the time they get through the season they’re beat up,” Kortan said. “Unfortunately, Brock was just beat up at the beginning of the season.”
Roosevelt carried similar championship expectations last season, but injuries left the Riders without a third of their team and they qualified just nine wrestlers for the state tourney. Kortan’s team claimed three individual titles, finishing third in points.
This year’s Rough Riders, ranked No. 2 in Class A behind defending champion Aberdeen Central, have a different feel. Roosevelt now boasts the numbers and balance to make a run at the coveted team title.
“The pressure is divided among the team better, which makes the load easier to carry,” Kortan said.
Roosevelt returns defending state champions Brandon Carroll (106 pounds; now ranked No. 1 at 113) and Kahlen Morris (113-pound champ; now ranked No. 1 at 120), in addition to 2013 champion at 132 pounds, Kyle Yasgar, ranked No. 2 at 145. They’ve also got the top-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds, Zach Determan, and Brock Kortan, despite missing competition because of rehab, carries the No. 2 ranking at 138 pounds
In all, Roosevelt has ranked wrestlers in 11 of 14 weight classes. While last year’s team was top-heavy — entering the state tournament with three respective No. 1s — this year’s unit is solid across the board.
Freshman 132-pounder Carter Lohr is ranked fourth, 195-pound sophomore Carter Carstens ranked seventh, 106-pound Josh Vortherns and 220-pound Alex Capell — both juniors — are ranked ninth, and 160-pound Ibraham Diomande is 12th. Junior Dan Armstrong, a third-place finisher at 152 pounds at the Floyd Farrand Invitational in Dec., has bounced around at different weights and gives the Riders needed depth.
Brock’s younger brother, 126-pound sophomore Kobe Kortan, is ranked seventh and earned a title at the Farrand, where Roosevelt won it’s first-ever team championship.
In a season of relative successes, though, the heavy lifting still lies ahead. The region tournament is Dec. 21 at O’Gorman. The following week, South Dakota’s best will converge at the Denny Sanford Premier Center for the state tournament.
All indications point to a four-horse race between the No. 1 Golden Eagles, the No. 2 Rough Riders, state runner-up Pierre (ranked third) and No. 4 Rapid City Central.
Aberdeen has grapplers ranked in every weight except 132, boasting defending 170-pound champ John Frisco (No. 1 at 182) and 285-pound runner-up Sam Schaunaman. The Golden Eagles excel at the heavier weights, but have superb depth overall.
The Governors, meanwhile, have top-ranked grapplers in 126-pound Jebben Keyes (defending 120-pound champ) and 106-pound freshman William Turman. Pierre will be in the mix at several weights, and has the No. 2 wrestler at 182 pounds in Spencer Sarringar.
Not to be outdone, Rapid City Central has great balance with ranked wrestlers in 13 of 14 weights led by standouts Hayden Hansen, Martin Mueller and Tyler Pfeifle. Hansen, a runner up last year at 132, is ranked No. 1 at 145; Mueller is No. 1 at 195 after winning the title at 182 last season. Pfeifle is ranked No. 2 at 120 pounds.
In other words, Roosevelt’s competition the rest of the way will be fierce. Still, Kortan’s squad hasn’t lost track of the ultimate goal.
“For us, a team title is everything,” Brock Kortan said.
For the first time since the Watergate scandal in 1972, Sioux Falls has a chance to step out of its self-imposed loser’s circle on the mat. For now, that task belongs to the Rough Riders.
“People aren’t going to remember who won state at what weight a few years from now,” Brock said. “What people are going to remember is the team that hasn’t won a title in 43 years that comes back and takes it.”
Saturday at the Pentagon
Team points: Aberdeen Central 272, Roosevelt 204, Central Lyon (Iowa) 189, Brandon Valley 174.5, Pipestone (Minn.) 145, Harrisburg 132, Luverne (Minn.) 105, Lennox 101.5, Washington 97, Yankton 90, Lincoln 69, Tri-Valley 46, O’Gorman 38.
Championship, third-place matches
106 – Gable Siiperda (Central Lyon) d. Tyson Stoebner (Len) 8-5 for championship; Jacob Hanssen (Har) p. Caden Lamer (TV) 1:48 for third place. 113 – Brandon Carrol (SFR) d. Wesley Weischedel (Len) 7-6; Michal Kumlien (Har) p. Cody Vornhagen (Yan) :22.
120 – Michael Suda (Pipestone) d. Kahlen Morris (SFR) 10-4; Dawson Kremlacek (BV) over Jake Haugen (Luverne) forfeit. 126 – Spencer Huber (Yan) d. Josh Moor (AC) 7-3; Tyler Zebell (Len) p. Mitch Van Beek (CL) 1:54.
132 – Hunter O’Connor (SFW) d. Skyle Castilleja (SFL) 9-4; Carter Lohr (SFR) p. Madison Peterson (AC) :30. 138 – Chase O’Connor (SFW) d. Colby McIntire (CL) 4-1; Garrett Ploeger (Pipe) over Conner Rowbotham (BV) forfeit.
145 – Kyle Yasgar (SFR) d. Collin Haar (AC) 8-5; Connor Smith (BV) d. Jake Haubrich (Pipe) 13-6. 152 – Wyatt Winter (BV) d. Solomon Nielsen (Luverne) 4-3; Shea Krause (AC) p. Jordan Lucht (Yan) 4:30.
160 – Bradley Nelson (AC) p. Ibraham Diomande (SFR) 5:45; Chayden Fitzsimmons (SFW) d. Trevor Hallman (TV) 5-3; 170 – Braiden Nelson (AC) d. Zach Fugitt (CL) 4-0; Will Smith (Pipe) d. Luke Jamison (SFL) 7-4.
182 – John Frisco (AC) p. Lane Warzecha (Har) 4:15; Tim Monroe (CL) d. Patric Sproles (SFO) 7-5. 195 – Jake Flakus (AC) p. Jakob Olson (Luverne) 5:48; Chris Stokke d. Carter Carstens (SFR) 5-4.
220 – Travis Vander Streek (CL) d. Andrew Sorenson (BV) 5-3; Matt Schirado (Har) d. Matt Schlosser (AC) 5-0. 285 – Sam Schaunaman (AC) d. Blake Wolters (Pipe) 2-0; Clayton Ebright (BV) p. Alex Lorenzini (SFW) 2:18.