High School Girls Wrestling

After state title, Johanna Steinlicht continues pursuit of perfection

Brookings wrestler still looking to improve after victory on Saturday

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BROOKINGS — When the referee’s hand hit the mat, Johanna Steinlicht was a state champion.

The Brookings wrestler had just won the SDHSAA state championship at 145 pounds, pinning Pierre’s Ireland Tempelton in sudden victory. While similar scenes at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center produced outbursts of emotion on Saturday afternoon, Steinlicht remained stoic and even looked somewhat disappointed as her hand was raised.

“It felt pretty good [but] I felt like I could have wrestled a lot better,” Steinlicht said. “ …I didn’t really get to my offense. I didn’t take a lot of shots. I just overall wrestled like I didn’t want to lose and not like I wanted to win.”

Analysis like that could be surprising, especially coming from a high school junior who posted a perfect 33-0 record on her way to her first state title. But that’s not how Steinlicht operates. She’s always looking to get better and her pursuit of perfection is what could make this title only the beginning.

Steinlicht grew up competing in gymnastics and track but shifted her attention to wrestling just over a year ago. With girls wrestling becoming a sanctioned sport, she decided to take on a new challenge and went 25-9 in her first year finishing fourth at 132 pounds in the state tournament.

Steinlicht spent the following summer looking to improve and took part in a training group run by South Dakota State assistant coach Brady Berge. Going three times a week, Steinlicht worked on her craft against some of the top wrestlers in the state such as Harrisburg’s Regina Stoeser, who won this year’s title at 126 pounds and Payton Hellmann, who won the title at 138 pounds last weekend.

According to Brookings girls wrestling coach Toft, it’s the extra effort that makes Steinlicht so successful on the mat.

“She really is a student of the sport,” Toft said. “Not only does she work hard, but she works purposefully. When we’re going through repetitions in practice, most kids just go through the reps to kind of complete the reps. But Johanna, you can just tell because if she makes a mistake, she is focused on doing it correctly and getting better each day and perfecting her techniques, not just getting through practice.”

Steinlicht’s pursuit continued when the season began as she went into the 145-pound weight class and worked with her practice partner, Maizy Mathis and volunteer assistant coach Cherish Strand.

Steinlicht mentioned that Mathis and Strand both helped her work on her strength and power in practice and both delivered some knowledge that helped her become a more complete wrestler.

“With Cherish, she’s been wrestling for a long time and she’s got a lot of techniques that I haven’t learned yet,” Steinlicht said. “Maizy…she’s just a powerful and aggressive wrestler and she’s really good. They both helped me with different kinds of things.”

Steinlicht began the year focused on working on her technique but started to rack up the wins. By mid-January, Steinlicht was beating some of the top wrestlers in her weight class and realized that a state title and an undefeated season was in reach.

“At the beginning [of the season], I just focused on improving my wrestling skills instead of winning matches,” Steinlicht said. “When I realized I was winning match after match and I hadn’t lost yet, it was just like ‘I could be undefeated’ and that was kind of cool.”

Going undefeated in a season is a major accomplishment in wrestling but Steinlicht was making it look easy. When Steinlicht won the ESD Tournament earlier this month, she entered the state tournament as the top seed in her bracket and was ready to face some of the best in the state.

“You have to be consistently excellent,” Toft said when asked what it took to go undefeated in a season. “In wrestling, as in all sports and just in life, people have off days. When you’re the winner and you’re the undefeated wrestler like she has been or being ranked No. 1 like she had been all year, you get a target on your back. So everyone is gunning for her and they have nothing to lose because they’re not the No. 1. So she has to be mentally strong every time knowing that these people are coming for her and consistently outperforming. It’s really, really difficult.”

But Steinlicht’s mentality helped propel her on and off the mat. Toft believes that she brings the same attitude to be as great as she can be in other areas of life which not only makes her a great wrestler but a great student.

“The quality of her time is higher than the average kid because she’s not doing it for anyone other than herself and all of the right reasons to get better,” Toft said. “So when she goes to practice, she goes in with a goal of getting better today. A lot of kids say that and we preach that at coaches, but it’s a lot of practices and a lot of kids just don’t do it. If every kid did what Johanna did, we would have a team full of state champions. …It would be a waste of her time if she didn’t do it to the best of her ability.”

Steinlichts’s season ended in the same way it had begun picking up four pins to win the state title. While Steinlicht was disappointed in her performance in the title match, she saw it as another chance for improvement and is focused on another off-season of getting better.

“The goal for next year is to actually find my offense and be able to do it against everyone,” Steinlicht said. “In my state title match, I didn’t really find it the way I wanted to and it took me a long time to get a shot that I could actually finish. Next year, I just want to be able to do that against everybody and not in sudden victory. Then I want to wrestle in college and see where that takes me.”