Above the rest: Bon Homme's Peyton Hellmann is the Mitchell Republic's 2024 girls wrestler of the year

Mar. 27—TYNDALL, S.D. — Four posters lean against the wall of the Bon Homme High School wrestling room, each progressively larger than the other.

These posters are state tournament brackets that Bon Homme/Avon/Scotland girls wrestling star Peyton Hellmann has collected over the years, highlighting the path of each of her four state championships.

The first bracket, from her eighth-grade season, which came in the second year of sanctioned girls wrestling in the state, is about the size of printer paper. The medal that came with it didn't even have a ribbon attached.

In contrast, the bracket Hellmann received a month ago, when the junior concluded her commanding 38-0 high school season with a state title at 138 pounds, is massive. With it came a shiny medal with the ribbon looped in.

The notoriety of girls wrestling has increased, not just with the size of the tournament brackets, but with the number of schools and athletes taking to the mat. Through its growth, Hellmann has reinforced her standing as one of the state's top athletes. She has won state championships in each of her four varsity seasons, and reached All-American status in freestyle wrestling last summer. She's deeply invested in promoting the growth of the sport in her hometown while also setting her sights on personal success at a national level.

Amid it all, Hellmann has remained a humble superstar who appreciates her sport.

"I love wrestling," Hellmann said. "I love seeing how it grows through girls wrestling, and I just love what I do. And I love that I can accomplish what I have in front of me."

Hellmann has been selected as the Mitchell Republic's girls wrestler of the year for a second-straight season. The award was selected by the newspaper's sports staff via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top wrestler, three points to second on the ballot and so on.

Other wrestlers receiving consideration were Bon Homme/Scotland/Avon's Britney Rueb and McCook Central/Montrose's Alexis Bryant.

The beginning of girls wrestling in Tyndall involves the dynamic duo of Hellmann, and three-time state champion and sophomore teammate Britney Rueb.

Ben Hellmann, Peyton's father and a volunteer assistant on the team, calls Rueb "a true pioneer" of the program, as she has been wrestling since grade school. Hellmann and Rueb joined the varsity program at the same time, and both found immediate success. Rueb won titles as a seventh- and eighth-grader, then reclaimed the throne as a sophomore by winning at 120 pounds this season.

"They both push each other a lot. It's really cool to see," Ben Hellmann said. "And honestly, having those two push each other, it trickles down to the younger girls and the girls that have less experience to see what it takes to try to get to that next level."

Alongside two boys on the wrestling team, Peyton Hellmann and Rueb have been in the same practice group for their high school careers, sparring in drills and improving each other's abilities.

"It's amazing that we both push each other throughout the year and we both are there to help each other to warm up," Peyton Hellmann said. "It's great to have someone who can warm you up to the level that you want to be warmed up, and also to be able to help them and see them accomplish their goals."

Having a pair of perennial state champions in the same room has set the standard for a program that continues to grow.

In the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, Hellmann and Rueb were the only girls on the team. Last season, the program gained two more, and this year, the team grew to seven varsity girls and two sixth graders.

Hellmann has been instrumental in the efforts, by taking the initiative to hold open gyms for aspiring girls wrestlers. She also attends Bon Homme's youth AAU tournaments and has built a rapport with the up-and-coming wrestlers, who see her as a mentor.

"Peyton's always had a mentality of wanting to help people," Ben Hellmann said. "Even at a young age she was always wanting to take things on. She had a very good work ethic, no matter what it was. And when she's passionate about something, she takes it head on."

"It's great just to see how excited they get, and the potential that they have, starting out so young and having so many years in front of them to be able to become better than I am," Peyton Hellman said.

Hellmann's success isn't limited to the state level — she's already received national acclaim.

Last summer, she earned All-American status by finishing in fourth place at the under-16 women's freestyle national competition in Fargo. In February's USA Wrestling girls high school rankings, she was ranked 17th nationally at 140 pounds.

This past high school season, she looked to challenge herself by building up muscle and competing in higher weight classes. She wrestled in 10 competitions at 145 pounds, winning each of them, before dropping back down to 138 pounds for the state meet. She won her first three state matches by fall, and her championship match by major decision.

"It's something that I told myself I was going to do this year, and I accomplished it very dominantly," Hellmann said of her fourth title.

As the high school season turns back into the freestyle season, she has her sights set on even higher achievements.

Hellmann will compete at the U.S. Women's National Wrestling Championships on April 13 in Spokane, Washington. If she wins there, she will represent the United States in her age group at the world championship later in the year. If not, she'll turn her attention to the national meet in Fargo, and try to win it all this season. She'll also compete in national meets in Minnesota and Oklahoma this summer.

"She wants to do well at it and she wants to compete at the highest level she can," Ben Hellmann said.

Peyton Hellmann hasn't taken the preparation for the looming events lightly.

She works with a lifting trainer, Nathan Kloucek, three times a week to build up muscle in preparation for the competition in Spokane. Beginning April 1, she will resume going to the Berge Elite Wrestling Academy in Brookings once a week, where, alongside Harrisburg sophomore Regina Stoeser, she's coached by South Dakota State wrestling assistant coach Brady Berge.

"We've been so fortunate to be surrounded by so many great people that have allowed her to be able to push herself to be the best she can be," Ben Hellmann said. "From our high school room, the coaches they're great ... In the freestyle season, she has great club coaches and great partners."

Peyton Hellmann admits it feels a bit surreal not to be getting older and competing in major tournaments. Her success hasn't gone unnoticed, and she's getting recruited by college coaches. But the whole experience is something that she's fully embraced.

"I really appreciate the sport," Hellmann said. "It helps you really build your confidence in what you can do. And it helps you get your mindset straight, and it really helps you mature a lot mentally and prepares you for anything in life that is hard."

Here's a look at the other wrestlers who received consideration, with their point totals in parentheses:

Britney Rueb, Bon Homme/Scotland/Avon (15 points): Rueb won her third state championship in four seasons, winning at 120 pounds for BHSA. She capped a 28-2 sophomore season with a 5-2 decision over Lemmon/McIntosh's Quinn Butler in the title round. In four official seasons of sanctioned high school wrestling, she has a record of 103-6.

Alexis Bryant, McCook Central/Montrose (13 points): Bryant, a sophomore at 114 pounds, became the first girls state champion in MCM history with a 3-0 decision in the championship round over Pierre's Dani Ringstmeyer. Bryant finished 29-5 on the season.