Expectations are again very high for the 2021-22 Watertown High School wrestling team.
The Arrows return five state place winners off a team that went 13-5 overalls in duals, shared the Eastern South Dakota Conference dual team championship with a 6-1 record, won the Region 1A championship, qualified for the state Class A dual team tournament and finished fourth in the individual portion of the state Class A tourney.
“They’ve got some very high goals, that’s for sure,” said Watertown head coach Chas Welch. “Being ESD champions is a big deal in Watertown, so that’s certainly a goal. We’ll just take things day by day and see what we can get accomplished.”
Watertown is one of two area high schools that compete in the state’s Class A wrestling ranks. There are nine area teams competing in Class B.
Below is a preview of the Arrows along with wrestlers and other things to watch for area teams this winter:
• Head Coach — Chas Welch.
• Assistants — Aaron Althoff, Scott Stone, Dexter Gaikowski and Nate Althoff.
• 2020-21 Summary — Many of the team’s highlights were mentioned above, but it was definitely a unique season for the Arrows last winter. Watertown had a two-week COVID shutdown in December and still was able to share the ESD title with Brandon Valley (7-1), despite not being able to make up a dual against Brookings that was called off during the shutdown.
The Arrows suffered a 39-28 first-round loss to Harrisburg in the dual team portion of the state tournament.
• Returning State Place Winners — The group of returnees is led by sophomore Sloan Johannsen, who capped a 33-1 season by winning the 106-pound championship and senior Ben Althoff, who went 30-7 and finished second at 152 pounds.
Senior Connor Hanson went 20-10 and placed fifth at 120, senior Mac Young 30-10 and placed six at 160 and sophomore Brock Eitreim 27-15 and sixth at 195. Junior Weston Everson was a state place winner in 2020.
• Other State Qualifiers — Senior Carson Hansmann and junior Ian Johnson each also competed in last year’s state tournament.
• Others to Watch — Senior Draven Bau; juniors Jax Kettwig, Mason Krause, Jackson Maag, Braden Le and RJ Nichols; sophomore Derek Hanson; freshmen Nate Briggs, Leo Stroup and Micah Hach; and eighth-grader Markus Pitkin.
• Teams to Watch — Welch lists Brandon Valley, the defending state individual tourney champion and a semifinalist in the dual team tourney, as the team to beat. The Class AA field should again be strong with Rapid City Stevens, defending dual team champion Pierre, Sturgis, Harrisburg, Mitchell and Tea Area. Brandon Valley, Pierre, Harrisburg and Mitchell are all ESD foes.
Tea Area, Brookings, Dell Rapids and West Central will look to challenge Watertown in Region 1A.
• Coach’s Comments — “We have six place winners back and two other state qualifiers along with a whole bunch of other guys who have paying their dues for the last couple of years,” said Welch.
“Staying healthy and getting everyone in the right weight class will be the key to success for the Arrows. We have an excellent and busy schedule that will prepare us to be at our best at the end of February.”
• Schedule — Watertown kicks off its season Thursday by wrestling Beresford/Alcester-Hudson and Yankton in a triangular at Yankton. The Arrows make their home debut on Saturday by hosting the newly-named Marv Sherrill Wrestling Dual Tournament at 10 a.m. in the Civic Arena. The only other home appearance for Arrows will be Dec. 16 when they host Brookings in a dual.
Watertown will compete in regular-season tourneys at Rapid City, Sioux Falls (2), Bismarck (N.D.), Mitchell, Sioux City (Iowa), Aberdeen and Yankton.
The Region 1A tournament is set for Feb. 19 at O’Gorman High School, followed by the three-day state tourney Feb. 24-26 at Sioux Falls.
Other area teams include Milbank in Region 3A and Britton-Hecla, Clark-Willow Lake, Deuel, Hamlin-Castlewood, Kingsbury County, Sioux Valley, Sisseton, Tiospa Zina and Webster Area in Region 1B.
Milbank finished 19th out of 29 teams in the state Class A individual tourney last February with 26 points.
In the Class B tourney, Clark-Willow Lake was 15th (35 points), Kingsbury County 19th (23), Sisseton 20th (22), Webster Area 22nd (21.5) and Sioux Valley 29th (12). Hamlin-Castlewood scored 3 points and Britton-Hecla 1.
Canton and Winner Area are again expected to be among the teams to beat in Class B. Canton has won the past four state individual titles and has won both dual team title since it was re-started in 2020. Winner Area has been second in the individual tourney each of the last three years and lost to Canton in the dual team championship each of the past two years.
Returning Area State Place Winners
• Brayden Christensen, Milbank — The junior went 26-17 and placed eighth at 132 pounds in the state Class A tourney.
• Barrett Schneck, Milbank — The junior went 29-13 and finished eighth at 152 pounds in the state Class A tourney.
• Holden Hawkins, Sisseton — The eighth-grader compiled a 35-7 record on the way to fourth-place finish at 106 pounds in the state Class B tourney. He reached the semifinals.
• Gannon Gilligan, Kingsbury County — A freshman, Gilligan went 26-8 and placed sixth at 106 pounds in the state Class B tourney.
• Ian Metz, Sisseton — Metz, a freshman, is coming off a 28-17 season that included a sixth-place finish at 113 pounds in the state Class B tourney.
• Gunnar Kvistad, Clark-Willow Lake — The Cyclone senior also reached the semifinals in last year’s state Class B tourney before finishing fifth at 120 pounds. The two-time state place winner went 39-5.
• Dylan Zell, Kingsbury County — Also a two-time state Class B place winner, the junior went 23-9 and took eighth at 126 pounds last February.
• Cael Larson, Webster Area — The Bearcat senior is looking to put the finishing touches on a stellar career that has already included being a three-time place winner in the state Class B tournament, including a third-place finish at 132 in 2021. He compiled a 32-5 record.
• Russell Sheets, Sioux Valley — The senior is coming off a 19-7 season that included a seventh-place finish at 152 pounds in the state Class B tourney.
• Gage Burke, Clark-Willow Lake — Burke is a five-time state Class B place winner who went 38-5 and finished fourth at 182 last February. He missed most of the football season with a knee injury but is listed on the Cyclones’ roster. He reached the semifinals last winter.
• Lucas Kannegieter, Clark-Willow Lake — Another Cyclone senior, he did not place in the state Class B tourney last winter but took fifth at 126 pounds as a sophomore in 2019.
The 2020-21 season was the first official season of high school girls wrestling in South Dakota and 13 wrestlers (seven in Class A and six in Class B) won individual championships in the state tournament.
The group of champions included Sisseton’s Hannah Goodhart, a senior last winter who went 8-0 to win the Class B 275-pound division.
Seven area girls — two each from Britton-Hecla, Clark-Willow Lake and Webster Area and another from Tiospa Zina — are listed on rosters on the South Dakota High School Activities Association web site for this winter.
The group of area wrestlers includes Clark-Willow Lake junior Abi Reil, who went 2-6 and finished third in the 275-pound Class B division.
This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Prep Wrestling: Expectations high again for Watertown; a number of area state place winners return