High School Girls Wrestling

Brookings' growth continues leading into state tournament

Bobcats have five wrestlers heading to tourney in Sioux Falls


BROOKINGS — The growth of girls wrestling in South Dakota has continued this season and in few areas has that been more apparent than in the Brookings Bobcats wrestling program.

The Bobcats are taking five girls to the state tournament after taking eight one year ago. But the lack in numbers is more about the level of competition across the state than the progress that has been made on the mat this season.

“Girls wrestling is getting to a point where it’s no longer a novelty,” assistant coach Eric Toft explained. “Girls are taking it seriously, they’re training in the offseason and the skill levels and depth of all the weight classes is improving. So in the past, we would have taken all the girls but there we had a lot of first-year girls that are going to have a real hard time qualifying.”

To make the cut, the Bobcats have had to grow and adapt and each of the five qualifiers has shown their form of progress this season.

Johanna Steinlicht qualified for last year’s state tournament with a record of 25-9 and made her way to the semifinals and the third-place match before settling for fourth place due to an injury. Steinlicht made her way back this year with a perfect 29-0 record and is the tournament’s top seed at 145 pounds.

“She’s an exceptionally hard worker and she’s consistent,” Toft said of Steinlicht. “She’s put in hours and hours outside of the [wrestling] room and really year-round with her strength. It’s mostly just consistency and the outside-of-the-room training that most people just don’t see that is paying off on the mat.”

Mathis also makes a return to the state tournament after finishing as a runner-up at 170 pounds last year. After making some adjustments, Mathis has posted a 21-2 record this season and is the top seed at 165 pounds.

“I think more than anything, she’s just become more confident,” Toft said. “She’s always been very talented but…she’s more comfortable in her own skin. She’s comfortable with her own style. She’s more comfortable being the No. 1 and also realizing that they’re going to be adversity along the way and that’s OK and that she can get through that.”

Toft also believed that last year’s appearance would help Mathis realize her goals this time around.

“That’s just something she had to learn by going through it,” Toft said. “You can’t just teach or tell somebody that, she just had to go through it and she matured into it.”

While all of his team members have had adversity, Cierra Strand faced a different level after qualifying for the state tournament a year ago.

Strand suffered a significant knee injury in the leadup to the tournament and the Bobcats were unsure whether she would be able to wrestle this season.

After rehabbing the injury, Strand returned to go 23-10 and earn a tournament spot at 132 pounds this season.

“Making it through the season after last year’s injury and qualifying again is honestly a victory in itself,” Toft said. “I didn’t know if we were going to get her back at all considering how bad the injury was but she worked hard in the offseason to rehab and has been laser-focused on getting back to where she was last year and then passing that. Now, we just want to get her on the podium and I think she will get there.”

Bailey TeKrony is making her second straight appearance after qualifying at 106 pounds and picking up a win in the consolation bracket one year ago. TeKrony has competed well at 114 pounds this year and her 16-7 record has been a testament to her improvement.

“Bailey is strong and aggressive,” Toft said. “She has a tough bracket and she’s had tough competition all year but she’s wrestled through it. This is what she has earned and how she made her way to the tournament.”

Lily Toft is the final qualifier for the Bobcats and has made the state tournament as an eighth grader. While she’s worked on her aggressiveness, Toft believe she has found her groove as she enters this weekend with a 14-6 record at 107 pounds.

“Once she is in her groove … that’s when she’s at her best,” Toft said. “That’s what she’s been doing in practice and has been doing more in competition lately. I’m hoping we can go out and that’s all she has to do. If she does that she’ll be dangerous because she’s an underdog and she’s got nothing to lose.”

For each of these girls, the state tournament will be the final step to reward a season of hard work. While the road to qualify has gotten tougher, the key for the Bobcats will be to enjoy the experience.

“When we’re at the tournament, we can just let it fly and make some memories,” Toft said. These girls are wonderful. I love them and they’re absolutely stupendous people. I just want to see them achieve their goals and get as far as they can.”