Prior to the start of the season, junior Mason Kramer sat down with a friend and jotted a list of pros and cons of joining the wrestling team. Among those listed under cons was that he didn't believe he was going to be any good.
Kramer has proven himself wrong in his first year with the Bishop Ryan wrestling team and has helped lead the Lions to their second consecutive Class B state dual tournament - which begins today at the Fargodome - and their first Region III title since 2003.
"Mason, being a first-year kid, he's picked up a lot of stuff moves-wise throughout the year," Ryan coach Chase Lee said. "He's looked really good. He's tough, he's strong, he's got real good balance."
Bishop Ryan’s Aaron Sandy, top, attempts to roll over Kenmare’s Branden Burtch during the Region III dual tournament earlier this month.
Despite this being his first year on the wrestling mat, Kramer hasn't watered down his expectations at state.
"Some wrestlers are happy with just placing and happy with all that," Kramer said. "I don't want to take anything less than first. As a first-year wrestler, I'm just happy to be there and try my best to take first."
Ryan's region championship was just the beginning of the team's success as 13 wrestlers qualified for the Class B state individual tournament and the Lions won the Region III individual tournament last weekend in Stanley, finishing 19.5 points ahead of second-place Velva. Ryan's 13 wrestlers in the individual brackets is tied for the most of any team with Region I-power South Border.
Class A wrestling glance
Minot High's first-round dual with East Region power West Fargo isn't the most forgiving matchup the Magicians have ever encountered.
On the flipside, Minot, the No. 4 seed out of the West Region, can prove it's leaps and bounds better than the 63-12 loss it suffered to the Packers during the regular season.
The Magicians are 11-7 in duals this season while the Packers are a perfect 18-0 and feature four wrestlers with No. 1 seeds in the individual tournament.
"West Fargo is a tough draw," Minot coach Nolan Spooner said. "They've got some tough, salty kids. But we've got a few tough kids, too."
The winner advances to take on the winner of the Century-Grand Forks Red River match in the semifinals. First-round losers are eliminated.
Of the 14 weight classes, Minot starts seven seniors.
"We have a good group of seniors," MHS senior Cody Haugen said. "It's pretty big to have that many that (contribute)."
Top area seeds
Haugen (145 pounds) isn't the only area Class A athlete expected to challenge for an individual title, as far as seeding goes.
Minot's Dayne Haman (195) and Nick Nesdahl (heavyweight) and Turtle Mountain's Grant Laducer (126) and Waylon DeCoteau (220) are seeded 1-4 respectively in their brackets.
All four claimed West Region titles last week.
Top-seeded Haman (38-6) opens up the tournament with Valley City's Dustin Lindgren (5-11) and third-seeded Nesdahl (28-2) faces Grand Forks Central's Dan Spah (23-13).
Nesdahl, who made it the title round last year, is expected to finish in the same neighborhood this season.
"He's come close (to winning state)," Spooner said. "I'm expecting a big tournament out of him."
Coming into the season, Minot's Demetreus Roby (220) was ranked No. 1, but he took fourth at the West Region tournament and is seeded sixth. Roby (24-10) will face Chris Mann of Williston (11-8) in the first round.
Roby was a runner-up last season.
"He's No. 6 but is capable of wrestling higher than that," Spooner said.
Minot also has capable wrestlers in fifth-seeded Jesse Hoffart (132) and Jorey Bartsch (120).
"Our seniors are going to have to step up," Spooner said. "This is it for a lot of them, so now is the time."
- Ryan Collingwood
"We have a roster that has 10 kids who qualified last year so they know what it takes to get there," Lee said. "Unfortunately, our placers from last year both graduated. We need someone else to step up. They know what it takes to get to the state tournament and they have to go to that next level and place."
Among those seeded in the individual tournament are Kramer (285 pounds) at No. 2, freshman Aaron Sandy (106) at No. 3, junior Tyler Allers (220) at No. 7 and junior Keaton Merck (138) at No. 8.
"I'm thinking we can place at least three people there and maybe have a few other kids under-ranked leak in there too," Sandy said. "Overall, do well as a team."
The Lions hope to carry the momentum from the last two weeks into its first-round dual against Region II runner-up Central Cass and put last year's performance at state behind them. Ryan lost lopsided duals to Lisbon (64-12) and North Border-Cavalier (61-12) in 2012.
"Central Cass is good," Kramer said. "They have a heck of a 106er and Aaron (Sandy), he's one of the best wrestlers I know. I think he'll do fine, but that kid is ranked No. 1 in the state. As a dual team, they're tough so we're going to have to wrestle our best dual to go on to the next round."
Kramer is referring to junior Austin Rust, who sports a 25-1 record this season. His only loss was to an out-of-state opponent.
Sandy has lost just four times in 29 matches, but three losses have come against South Border's Tyler Toepke-Floyd. The freshman attributed this year's success to hard work in practice and staying focused on the task at hand.
Lee said Sandy - as well as the rest of the lower weights - will need to give the Lions some key match victories if they want to get past Central Cass.
"They have some really good kids," he said. "Their lower weights up to their middle weights are going to be really tough. We have some good kids at the top of our lineup that will get some matches for us, but we have to wrestle really well from 106 to at least 152."
The Lions are sure to stand out in Fargo as their athletes continued the long-standing tradition of bleaching their hair prior to state.
Carrington seniors eye individual titles
The Carrington High School wrestling team has just three seniors on its roster, but two of them have great opportunities to capture their respective weight class titles at the state individual tournament beginning today at the Fargodome.
Austin Schuldheisz (195 pounds) and Cordell Schroeder (285) both earned No. 1 seeds and are four wins away from a state title.
"They're seniors and they're experienced," Carrington assistant coach Josh Kerbaugh said. "It's just their time. Cordell is very dominating. He's never been a heavyweight until this year. He has skills that bigger guys don't have. Austin's a very good athlete. When he opens up, he can do things that are hard to stop. If he opens up he can live up to his No. 1 seed."
The Cardinals placed second at state individuals last year, finishing 5.5 points behind Oakes. Schroeder - then at 220 pounds - and Lucas Brown (106) won their respective weight classes and Schuldheisz placed second.
"It's a roller coaster," Kerbaugh said. "You learn that teams can get hot and start rolling. It was in our favor at times and it was against us at times."