By CONOR NICHOLL
HAYS – Beloit 170-pound senior Hunter Prochaska delivered a short laugh when discussing his back-to-back Class 3-2-1A wrestling titles. As a junior, Prochaska was ranked third entering the state tournament at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum. It’s highly rare for a wrestler ranked outside of the top-two to win a state title.
At 152, Prochaska finished 29-7 and defeated Eureka’s Brennan Lowe, 6-3, for the 2020 state championship. Before state, Lowe and Hoxie’s Aidan Baalman were the favorites.
This season, Prochaska was sixth entering sub-state. He was aware of the ranking. Prochaska moved up to third after he took runner-up to Southeast of Saline junior Matthew Rodriguez. In the sub-state final, Prochaska lost, 8-4.
At 3-2-1A state, Prochaska delivered back-to-back falls in the quarterfinals and finals versus Wellsville’s David Signs and Plainville’s Ben Hansen. For the championship, Prochaska beat Rodriguez, 17-9. Prochaska finished 31-6, and Rodriguez went 34-2 with a pair of second place state showings.
“Just believing in myself really,” Prochaska said at state. “Last year, no one really thought I’d win. This year, I mean, no one but my own crowd thought I’d win.”
Kansas has 14 classes in boys’ 3-2-1A, 4A, 5A and 6A for 56 total champions. This season, 36 of the 56 titlists entered state as the top-ranked wrestler, per Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association archives and SIK research. Ten other champions entered state ranked second.
Overall, 10 wrestlers, including Prochaska, were ranked third to sixth and won a state title. Prochaska’s six losses tied for the second-most among any champion for any classification. Marysville freshman Gable Fredrickson, ranked sixth at 113, won the 3-2-1A state title and finished 26-10.
In 2020, eight No. 1-ranked wrestlers and two No. 2-ranked wrestlers combined to win 10 of the 14 titles in Class 3-2-1A. Norton’s Kolton Field was ranked sixth at 32-15 and won at 120. Prochaska had the second-most losses among the champions. He and Osage City’s Dane Whalen were among three No. 3-ranked wrestlers to win a ’20 title. Field, Whalen and Prochaska all repeated this winter.
This year, Prochaska was not considered the state favorite since late December. He was ranked fourth in the Dec. 23 poll behind Rodriguez, Wichita County’s Jesse Gardner and Ellis’ Konnor Pfeifer.
In the Feb. 2 poll, Prochaska was unranked. That week, Rodriguez, Hoisington’s Cole Steinert, Gardner, Silver Lake’s Daigan Kruger, Hansen and Pfeifer rounded out the rankings in arguably the best 3-2-1A top-to-bottom weight class.
Steinert eventually suffered injury and didn’t qualify for state, while Gardner was also beat out before the final eight. Rodriguez, Pfeifer, Kruger and Hansen all finished top-five at state.
Prochaska defeated Gardner and Pfeifer at sub-state.
“I wanted to go out being a two-time state champion instead of being a runner-up my senior year,” Prochaska said.
This marked the third time in the last calendar year that Prochaska has significantly exceeded rankings/expectations.
Last fall, Prochaska helped Beloit, a 2-6 squad in the regular season, deliver a surprising run to the Class 2A semifinals. In 2018, KSHSAA re-did the postseason format for the smaller 11-man classes and qualified four teams from each district.
Beloit became the first No. 4 district seed to reach the state semifinals. Prochaska, a talented fullback and outside linebacker, was one of the few seniors for Beloit.
He helped Benson Berndt clear 1,300 rushing yards and collected a team-high 63 tackles, along with three sacks. While Berndt was a first team all-league player, Prochaska was not named to the first or second team all-conference at any position. This spring, Prochaska is listed on the Trojan track roster. Beloit is expected to be a 3A contender. Track opens Thursday against Republic County.
In wrestling, Prochaska lost to Rodriguez, 8-4, at the regional final, and then by the same score at the sub-state final.
“Last week, I wanted to win, but it didn’t matter as much as today,” Prochaska said at state.
Because of COVID-19 protocols this year, state was moved to just one day and eight per weight class instead the normal two days and 16 per weight class. Prochaska came in feeling strong.
“I got eight hours of sleep,” Prochaska said. “I woke up. I was feeling good. We came here. I wrestled my first match. That was not so good, and then my semis, that’s when I really got warmed up, and I was feeling all right. Ending up pinning him. Yeah, just good routine.”
Prochaska thought Rodriguez wrestled better at sub-state than state. However, Prochaska believed he still “would have” won at state because he was “feeling good.” Prochaska twice put Rodriguez on his back for five-point moves.
Prochaska became Beloit’s first two-time state champion since Chas Spangler in ’08-09, per the Kansashswrestling.com database. From ’87-19, Beloit has three multi-time wrestling champions, including Prochaska.
“The last time I wrestled him, he was really clubbing my head, and I would get off balance, and he’d shoot,” Prochaska said. “This week, I didn’t let him do it as much. And if he did, I countered and got a shot in.”
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