In the last two seasons, the Bishop Ryan wrestling program has seen vast improvement and each ensuing year the Lions raise their expectations.
Two years ago, the Lions' dual team qualified for its first Class B state meet since 2003, but failed to place after consecutive losses in their first two matches. Last year, Ryan again advanced to state and finished fifth, placing for the first time in 10 years.
This season, the Lions shift their focus to improving their individual showing at state. Ryan finished 14th last year and hopes to place in the top 10 for the first time since 2005.
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Bishop Ryan sophomore Aaron Sandy is one of three returning place winners for the Lions, who are looking to improve on their 14th-place finish at the individual state tournament.
"We didn't have as many kids place as I thought we were going to," Ryan coach Chase Lee said. "We had about three of four kids that were right on the verge of winning that next match to get into that placing round, but came up a little bit short. What we really need to do is make sure we learn how to finish. Win those matches we need to and put ourselves in good position to place."
The Lions return all three place winners from last year's team. Senior Mason Kramer - in his first year wrestling - finished as runner-up in the 285-pound class to top-seeded Cordell Schroeder of Carrington.
Lee said the progression from the first year to the second is exponential.
Meet the Lions
Seventh-graders - Kaleb Beeter, Hunter Johnson, Murphy Lipp, Cody Luck, Brenden Daves
Eighth-graders - Conner Ledoux, Merrick McMahon, Hayden Schall
Freshmen - Joseph Hulsey, Max Lipp, Jared Pfeifer, Bryan Baity, Konner Beeter, Colton Snyder, Keaton Smith, Jordan Will
Sophomores - Aaron Sandy, Jesse VerBruggen, Jesse Neerem, Nathan Lee
Juniors - Wyatt Ledoux, Corbin Manley, Carson Schell, Dakota Johnson
Seniors - Daniel Becker, Keaton Merck, Braden Kalamaha, Tyler Allers, Mason Kramer
November - 19, Harvey-Beulah triangular, 5 p.m.; 26, at Velva-Kenmare triangular, 5 p.m.
December - 7, at Velva tournament, TBA; 10, at Des Lacs-Burlington, 7 p.m.; 12, at Rugby-Rolla triangular, 5 p.m.; 13, at LaMoure-Linton-Kindred, TBA; 14, at LaMoure tournament, TBA; 20-21, at Linton tournament, TBA.
January - 2, vs. Stanley-Powers Lake-Tioga-Ray, 7 p.m.; 3, at Harvey tournament, TBA; 10-11, at Rugby tournament, TBA; 14, at New Town, 7 p.m.; 18, at Rolla tournament, TBA; 24-25 at East-West tournament, TBA.
February - 1, at regional dual team tournament, TBA; 8, at regional individual tournament, TBA; 13-15, at state tournament.
"Typically, for someone who's never wrestled before, you see a greater understanding between that first and second year," Lee said. "Now he's on his second year. He started at the beginning of the season this year, so he's not coming in late. He's been here every day that he can be. We've seen him pick up a lot and get a lot better."
Sophomore Aaron Sandy (106) and senior Tyler Allers (220) are the other returning placers. Sandy will wrestle at 113 this year after a sixth-place finish at state in the lowest weight class.
Sandy said the key to Ryan's success last year was based on believing in each other.
"We didn't really have much confidence in ourselves at the beginning of the season, but once we got into a couple duals we realized we're actually decent," Sandy said. "We started wrestling with more confidence and took that to the state tournament. We ended up being able to wrestle with everyone there. We didn't do too bad, so we're looking to do pretty good there again this year."
Allers placed eighth with a 2-3 showing. The Lions' strength is at the higher weights, with Allers and Kramer returning.
"Our upper weights are going to be very good for us and then we have experience at the middle weights," Lee said. "Definitely, our big guns are up in the heavy weights."
For the returners who didn't place, this season provides plenty of motivation.
"I want to get up on the podium," junior Dakota Johnson said. "I kind of had a chance to get close last year. I've been working hard all summer, so I want to be able to place and use last year as motivation."
Depth won't be an issue for the Lions. Lee said Ryan has at least two kids at every weight class, eliminating any chance of surrendering points to opposing teams via forfeits during dual meets. As for the dual team, Lee is looking for the Lions to win their opening round match at state and stay in the championship bracket.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot State University men's club hockey team and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.