The Minot State University wrestling program is entering its fourth season since being reinstated as a varsity sport and the Beavers are still struggling with overall depth.
Coach Robin Ersland said several expected additions either haven't qualified or never arrived on campus, which will force MSU to wrestle without a 125-pounder for at least the first semester.
But entering the team's season-opening tournament Saturday at South Dakota State, Ersland is pleased with the wrestlers he does have.
MDN File Photo
Minot State University 133-pounder Josh Douglas, top, works for position against a University of Regina opponent last season.
"We've had a lot of guys commit to us, and for whatever reason, they're not here and that hurts us a little bit. But I think the guys we've got are very good," Ersland said. "As far as conditioning and as far as technique and attitude right now, this team is way ahead of last year at this point."
Several MSU grapplers dealt with nagging injuries last season, contributing to a 1-15 record and 0-8 mark in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference - one of the top Division II wrestling conferences in the nation.
With limited numbers, the Beavers will have to stay healthy to improve dramatically in the win-loss column.
"Everyone's itching to go," junior 133-pounder Josh Douglas said. "We're all working really hard in the (wrestling) room, we're all lifting hard and everyone just wants to get out there and actually prove that we can do something."
Ersland said the Beavers are using early matches mainly to get mat time against unfamiliar opponents. Wrestling, in particular, is about building toward the postseason.
"In our sport, I hate to say everything's practice but everything is to prepare you for that regional tournament and that national tournament," Ersland said. "Unlike basketball or football - where everything counts - if you do well at the end, nobody remembers what you did before."
The Beavers compete in the Super Regional 3 at the end of February - arguably the most challenging region in the country.
"Last year coach was telling us if you make it out of the region, there's a 50-percent chance that you'll be an All-American because half the guys that were All-American came out of our region," junior 149-pounder Jon Wilson said. "So it's pretty tough."
Wilson, 157-pound junior Marcus Polak and 174-pound senior Matt Fetterley give the Beavers three
experienced wrestlers at the middle weights. Senior heavyweight Bobby Bartz - also a tight end on the football team - went 9-8 last season and led MSU with 42 team points.
Ersland said the Beavers are "probably a better tournament team than a dual-meet team," but added that his squad will likely be more competitive in head-to-head matchups than it was a year ago.
Provided everyone stays healthy.
"Even though wrestling is an individual sport, if you want to be good in dual meets you've got to have the same guys showing up time, after time, after time so you get some continuity in your lineup," Ersland said.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.