Posted 11/25/15 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
The Watford City Wolves varsity wrestling team opened its 2015-16 season on Saturday with a second place finish at the New Town Early Bird Tournament last Saturday. The tournament featured a mix of nine teams, all from Region 3 and 4.
“We had 14 wrestlers compete in 12 different weight classes,” stated Mitch Greenwood, Wolves’ head coach. “All 14 placed in the event with five of our wrestlers making the finals and we ended up with two champions.”
Considering that this year’s Watford City varsity wrestling team has only four seniors, Greenwood was pleased with the Wolves’ finish.
“I’m not too concerned with our youth,” states Greenwood. “We do have a lot of young wrestlers on this squad, but our senior leadership is outstanding and we have a big group of freshmen and sophomores and most of them have varsity experience.”
Leading the Wolves onto the mat this year are seniors Dakota Garmann, Jade Hepper, Kyle Cook, and Jake Belland, who all come into the season with State Tournament experience.
“All of these wrestlers qualified for the State Tournament two seasons ago as sophomores,” stated Greenwood. “While Cook took a season away from the mats last year, the other three seniors all returned to the State Tournament as juniors and all finished as State place winners.”
Also returning this season for the Wolves are sophomore Connor Dennis and freshman CJ Thacker. Both were State qualifiers last year, as well as freshman Liam Shannon, who qualified for State as a seventh grader, but came up just shy of a return trip last year.
The Wolves will also benefit with the return of Braedon Gumke who was forced to sit out last season due to a knee injury. According to Greenwood, when Gumke returns to the mat later this season, he should make an immediate impact on the varsity roster.
The remainder of the Wolves lineup will be made up of inexperienced wrestlers, but Greenwood is hopeful he will be able to field a very competitive team.
“We have some kids who are not at the weight classes that we think they’ll end up at for the end of the season,” states Greenwood. “But we should have a very nice looking lineup.”
According to Greenwood, the team will only be able to fill 12 of the 14 weight classes until after the Christmas break.
“Even with our youth, I think that we will have one of the top 10 teams in the state if everyone spreads out by tournament time,” predicts Greenwood. “Region 4 might be the toughest region in the state from top to bottom.”
According to Greenwood, Hettinger and Beulah/Hazen are going to be considered the favorites, but he says the Wolves should be in the mix with those top teams with Bowman County and Killdeer also fielding good teams.
Watford City’s first dual action of the season will be on Dec. 2 in Killdeer when the Wolves take on the Cowboys and the Williston Coyotes.
New Town Tournament
Watford City had five wrestlers make the finals with two emerging as champions as the Wolves took second place at the New Town Early Bird Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 21.
Jake Belland and Connor Dennis earned championship titles for the Wolves in the 220 and 182-pound weight classes for the Wolves. Trstyn Rutkowski, 220 pounds, Jade Hepper, 138 pounds, and CJ Thacker, 120 pounds, finished in second place.
Competing for the Wolves at 106 pounds was Liam Shannon, who picked up a pair of pins on the day, but was defeated by two Region 4 opponents to finish 2-2 overall on the day to end up in third place.
Jake Leppell, 113 pounds, finished with a 0-2 record.
Leppell is really a 106-pounder,” stated Greenwood. “He bumped up today to fill a hole in our lineup and he competed very hard. His two losses came against a junior and a senior, one of which is the returning State runner-up from a year ago.”
Wrestling at 120 pounds for the Wolves, CJ Thacker cruised through his first three opponents picking up three straight pins to advance to the championship round against Bowman’s Alex Madrigal. While the title match was close throughout, Madrigal, a State place winner a year ago, scored late takedowns to take the championship by an 11-7 score.
Austin Wood, a 7th grader, started his Wolves’ debut at 126 pounds with a bang with a 7-5 decision before losing his next three matches.
At 132 pounds, the Wolves entered two competitors, senior Dakota Garmann and sophomore Antonio Garcia. Garmann finished up 2-2 overall for a third place finish, while Garcia was 0-4 on the day.
“This was a tough weight class,” stated Greenwood. “Four of the five competitors were state qualifiers last year. I thought both of our guys wrestled hard, but we have some work to do.”
Jade Hepper, who wrestled at 138 pounds, had hopes to repeat as champion in this year’s tournament pinning his opponents in the first two matches to advance to the finals. But Hepper was pinned in the third match by Velva’s Jeseb Mogen in the title match.
Hunter Schwartzenberger made his Wolves’ wrestling debut at 145 pounds, but because there were only two wrestlers at that weight class, he competed at the 152 weight class. Schwartzenberger dropped his first match, but then pinned Jaiden Bauer, a senior from Velva. He then lost his next match to finish the tournament in sixth place.
“Hunter did some very good things on the mat,” stated Greenwood. “You wouldn’t know he was a first-year wrestler by watching him. He’s going to be pretty darn good by the end of the season.”
After a year absence from wrestling, Kyle Cook went 3-1 and finished in third place at 160 pounds.
“All of Kyle’s wins were by pins,” stated Greenwood. “I’m excited to see what Kyle can accomplish this season. It’s tough to come back after a year layoff but he came out looking good.”
Also making his debut on the Watford City varsity team was Carlton Turnquist, who finished 1-3 for sixth place.
But it was Watford City’s upper weight classes that shined at New Town as the Wolves’ four heaviest wrestlers flexed their muscles on Saturday going a combined 10-3 overall record.
At 182 pounds Connor Dennis was a perfect 3-0 with three pins including a 40 second fall in the finals against Velva’s Garrett Dove to claim the championship title.
Watford City entered two wrestlers, Jake Belland and Trstyn Rutkowski, in the 220-pound weight class, with both picking up two quick pins to advance to the title match. Belland, a returning state place winner, would pin Rutkowski to become a two-time champion at the New Town Tournament.
Jackson Faller, wrestling at heavyweight, rounded out Watford City’s lineup. Faller picked up the fastest pin of the day for the Wolves with a 22 second pin in his first round match. He then lost to eventual tournament champion Denzel Sanders. In the consolation semifinals, Faller picked up a hard-fought 10-9 win against Velva’s Nick Hodges before falling, 13-6, to Standing Rock’s Steven Harrison in the third place match.
“Faller has made huge strides since last year,” stated Greenwood. “He went up against two of probably the top five heavyweights in our state and was right in both of those matches.”