High School Boys Wrestling

Brookings Bobcats take different paths to state tournament

Team sending eight to Class A State Tournament in Sioux Falls this weekend

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BROOKINGS — At the beginning of the season, head coach Matt Hanson wasn’t sure what to expect from his team. The Brookings Bobcats were in a youth movement, turning to a stable of sophomores who had shown promise but needed to adjust at the varsity level.

After four months of duals, tournaments and training, the Bobcats have developed at a rapid rate and Brookings will send eight grapplers to this weekend’s SDHSAA Class A Boys State Wrestling Tournament in Sioux Falls.

“We knew we had some leaders that had been to state in previous years and we leaned on them all year,” Hanson said. “As the season wore on, the underclassmen got better and month-by-month, week-by-week, they improved and here we sit with eight kids going to the state tournament.”

While the Bobcats are sending at least eight wrestlers to state for the third straight year after sending eight a year ago and 10 to the 2022 tournament, each wrestler has had a unique path to get there.

For Nolan Miles, the state tournament has become a familiar setting as he’s qualified each of the past four seasons, finishing fifth at 106 pounds in 2021, sixth at 120 pounds in 2022 and was the runner-up at 126 pounds this year.

Miles is returning to state after having one of the best seasons of his career, posting a 29-2 record to earn the top seed at 132 pounds. With an opening match against Flandreau’s Brayden Wiese (31-21), Miles will be looking to win a state championship and put an end to a tremendous career.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Hanson said. “[There’s] one more week, but he has his goals in line with what he wants to accomplish his weekend. We’re just trying to stay on track for him to do so.”

The state tournament will also be a similar experience for Brookings senior Joey Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has qualified the past two seasons but hasn’t placed at the state tournament in either of his first two appearances. With a 27-7 record, Fitzpatrick is eager for his final opportunity at 190 pounds.

“He’s really worked hard this year to put himself in a position to earn a medal,” Hanson said. “He’s hungry. He’s talked about this since Christmas time. So he’s just going to keep working and hopefully everything works out this weekend.”

While Miles will be looking for a state title and Fitzpatrick will be looking to make the stand, the Bobcats have two wrestlers who also have state experience and are coming off of injuries a year ago.

Tate Helmbolt is making his fourth appearance at 106 pounds and qualified as a sophomore before an injury forced him to finish fourth at last year’s state tournament. While Helmbolt’s 32-3 record will have him as one of the top seeds at 106 pounds, his return was expected while Gabe Stern’s came as more of a surprise.

Stern was a two-time state qualifier as an eighth grader and a freshman but missed his entire sophomore season with a hip injury. While Stern came into the season as an unknown, he picked up where he left off, posting a 27-5 record in his junior year.

“We weren’t really sure what we were going to get with Gabe,” Hanson said. “This year, he came in and we weren’t really sure how he would respond with that injury but month-by-month, he’s gotten better and he’s won some big matches for us.”

Hanson also commended Stern’s work ethic as a reason for his success.

“Gabe’s one of those kids that just always has questions on how to get better,” Hanson said. “He figures it out and he improves match-to-match and he’s set himself up well for this weekend.”

Between Jacob Milliron, Levi Quam and Logan Straub, the process of getting to state has been a product of hard work.

Milliron qualified as an eighth grader and returns to state with an 18-16 record at 113 pounds. Levi Quam was wrestling in the middle school state tournament a year ago and will wrestle at the varsity state tournament as a freshman with a 19-22 record at 120 pounds.

Straub lost eight of his first 11 matches to begin the season but has gone 19-9 since, earning a spot at 157 pounds.

The stable of Bobcats competing in this tournament brings a level of excitement to the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center this year and one road could lead to an individual state title.

“It’s great for the program,” Hanson said. “It’s great for the community and it’s great for those kids. We met yesterday and talked about seeds and where they sit in the bracket but at the end of the day they’ve earned that right to sit in that bracket. We’ll practice for a couple more days and we get to go have fun. We’re going to have fun and just see what happens and hopefully, everything works out for us. They’ve worked too hard for it not to.”