Nine Wildcat wrestlers qualify for state meet

Ron Burtz
Nine Custer wrestlers—dubbed “The Fine Nine” by their fans—are bound for the state B wrestling tournament in Sioux Falls this weekend after placing in the Region 4B Tournament in Hill City last weekend. 
The nine who qualified for state and led the Custer squad to a second-place finish in the tourney are Logan Graf, Pierce Sword, Mikael Grace, Parker Noem, Jonathan Lewis, Brennan Hanes, Irail Griffin, Elijah Steele and Micaiah Grace. The Wildcats earned a team score of 191 points, beating out third-place Lead-Deadwood by 35 points. Philip Area was the victor in the tourney with 208.5 points. 
Among those leading the way for Custer with a first-place finish at the 170-pound weight class was senior Micaiah Grace, who scored 30 team points. In the first-place match, Grace pinned Greyson DeVries of Philip Area in 2:51. Going into the state finals, Grace’s season record now stands at 42 wins and only five losses. 
Noting that Grace wrestled well, head coach Jared Webster said Grace “will see some good competition come this week so we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Also placing first at 145 pounds was fellow senior Hanes, who scored 24 points. After winning his quarterfinal and semifinal matches by fall and 7-6 decision, Hanes won the first-place match by injury forfeit over Blair Blasius of Philip Area. Hanes’ season record now stands at 33-13. 
Back on the mat after a hand injury which led to surgery in January, sophomore Graf showed he was fully healed and ready to wrestle by taking first place in the 106-pound weight class. Graf, who has a near perfect 23-1 season record, scored 27 team points and won by technical fall over Chase Hanson of Stanley County in 5:08 in the match for first. 
Webster expressed excitement about having Graf back on the mat after his injury. 
“Logan’s back and we’re excited,” exclaimed Webster. “It’s fun to watch. It’s nice having him back on the mat.”  
Webster said Graf’s performance at regions proves he didn’t lose anything for all his time off. 
Two Wildcat wrestlers came in second in their weight classes to qualify for state. 
Griffin (38-10) placed second in the 152-pound weight class and scored 22 team points. Receiving a bye in round one, Griffin went on to pin his next two opponents before losing by 9-6 decision in the match for first place. Also in second was Steele (160), who scored 20 points for his team. He was bested by Weston Ireland of Bennett County in the first-place match. 
Webster called Steele a “major standout” in the regional tourney, adding, “He won in the semis against a kid he’s never beat before and made it to state right there.”
Third place in the 138- pound class went to 23-7 Lewis earning him 16 team points. Lewis won the third- place match by 3-2 decision over Tance Wagner of Lyman. 
The final three members of the Fine Nine all brought home fourth-place honors. That group included Sword (120) with 16 team points, Mikael Grace (126) with 11 points and Noem (132), who earned 14 points for his team. 
Among those adding points to the scoreboard for Custer but not placing were Dylan Beaver at 113 pounds (seven points), Ty Dailey at 220 (three points) and Dossen Elmore at 182 scoring one point. 
The 16 teams in the tournament stacked up as follows in the final scoring: First, Philip Area, 208.5; second, Custer, 191; third, Lead-Deadwood, 156; fourth, Bennett County, 125; fifth, Mobridge-Pollock, 111; sixth, Lyman, 110; seventh, Stanley County, 92; eighth, Hot Springs, 75; ninth, Hill City, 73; Harding County and St. Thomas More tied for 10th place with 62 points each; 12th, Newell, 48; 13th, Lemmon-McIntosh, 30; 14th, Faith, 27; 15th, Red Cloud, 20 and McLaughlin finished in last place with 14 points. 
This is the second year in a row Webster is taking nine of his wrestlers to state. (Last year he said he couldn’t remember the last time that many Custer wrestlers earned a ticket to the state tourney.) However, he says he was hoping to take an even dozen to Sioux Falls.
“The nine we’re taking are solid kids,” said Webster, “and everyone who wrestled this weekend, we were healthy and ready to go. I was pleased with everything and how it went.”
Webster admits there are still a lot of things the team has to work on and get fixed. 
“We’ve gotta keep drilling right now,” said the coach at Monday’s practice. “We’re not changing too much up. We’re gonna watch some video...on things we need to change in our stance and position. If we can fix those I think some good things can happen this weekend.”
In a season in which the Wildcats have been plagued with injuries and sickness, Webster says he is most excited about the fact that “the kids are healthy! That’s what we’ve been waiting for quite a while. They are ready to wrestle.” 
Following an all-school pep rally on Wednesday, the wrestlers were to board a bus for Sioux Falls and start wrestling on Thursday morning. The tournament will run through Saturday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
While in Sioux Falls, Webster says he will also have the honor of seeing his dad, Alan inducted into the South Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The elder Webster coached junior high and high school wrestling at   Harding County and Custer for many years and was inducted into the Custer High School Hall of Fame last year.

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