The wrestling programs at Nebraska and Northern State and wrestling fans in this area became intertwined in a 13-plus hour day in Brookings Sunday.
Three Cornhuskers won titles at the prestigious 21st annual Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open at Frost Arena. Two of them are native South Dakotans as is their coach, Mark Manning (Vermillion).
Nebraska freshman Collin Jensen of Mobridge won the heavyweight title. His junior teammate Robert Kokesh of Wagner won the 174-pound title. Both men have had their own shares of wrestling successes in Aberdeen, as Jensen won a title at the 2012 Lee Wolf Tournament, the largest annual high school wrestling event Aberdeen hosts during the regular season.
At Brookings Sunday, Jensen pinned his first opponent in 2:46 before a major decision in the quarterfinals. He won back-to-back decisions to cap his championship run, including a 7-3 victory over Devon Mellon of Missouri in the finals. Kokesh tore through the bracket at 174 pounds with two pins, one technical fall and two major decisions.
I always will remember Kokesh for his act of sportsmanship in 2007 at Wachs Arena in Aberdeen when he was a Wagner High School freshman.
In the 135-pound State B semifinals, Elk Point-Jefferson senior Tyler Chicoine was trailing Kokesh 4-3 in the final seconds of their match.
However, Chicoine got a last-second reversal, which was worth two points, a 5-4 victory and a spot in the state finals. After a split-second of "what just happened?" some observers in the full-house crowd of 5,500 thought it was the wrong call.
Some started booing while the wrestlers hugged in the middle of the mat. When Kokesh heard the booing, he waved to the crowd to calm down. He then pointed to Chicoine, and started clapping. The crowd followed his lead and started clapping. The wrestlers hugged again.
That is one of the best displays of sportsmanship I have witnessed in my more than 35 years of covering the South Dakota sports scene.
Speaking of the wrestling past in Aberdeen, Coach Manning and Watertown wrestling coach Bob Hirsch won state wrestling titles for Vermillion at the Aberdeen Civic Arena in 1979 to lead the Tanagers to the state title. Hirsch would go on to become a two-time All-American wrestler at Northern State.
In his 14th season at the helm, Manning is the second winningest coach in Husker history. He has a dual-winning percentage of .703 and a record of 175-71-3 at NU.
Meanwhile, Division II Northern State faced eight Cornhuskers and a number of other Division I wrestlers on the mat Sunday. The Wolves went 1-7.
Two matches that stood out the most for me was when NSU captain and junior Anthony Bruno (Madison, Ala.) lost to Nebraska’s Tim Lambert in the semifinals. After a great, long day of wrestling to make it to the semifinals, Bruno would lose two more matches to Division I competition to finish sixth.
However, on his way to the semifinals, Bruno defeated Barlow McGhee of Missouri, Redfield native Ben Gillette of South Dakota State and Watertown native Alex Burghardt of Augustana. Burghardt is the older brother of NSU freshman wrestler Brady Burghardt.
The other memorable match came when Blake Lundgren got NSU’s lone win against the Cornhuskers at 174 pounds. The senior from Amery, Wis., another NSU captain, defeated Eric Engler of Nebraska 8-4.
Class 9A playoffs
The Class 9A football semifinals on Saturday is full of area tams.
In the semifinal at Leola, Wolsey-Wessington (10-0) will battle Leola/Frederick (10-0) at 6 p.m. In the other semifinal, Potter County (9-1) will play at Howard (10-0) at 5 p.m.
A trip to the State 9A championship game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion at 11 a.m. Nov. 14 awaits Saturday’s winners.