North Dakota Class A Individual Preview

TEAM RACE POINT TOTALS BASED ON SEED:

Teams are awarded points based on seeds for the tournament.  An unseeded wrestler gets zero points, a #1 seed gets the average number of points first place finishers received in 2015 (27).  The second place scoring average was 22, third 18, and so on down the line.  Credit to Dean Shearer for providing the average points scored for each placement position.

Points assigned to seed:  1: 27, 2: 22, 3: 18, 4: 14.5, 5: 13, 6: 9.5, 7: 8, 8: 6

  1. Bismarck:  241.5
  2. Minot 177.5
  3. West Fargo:  154.5
  4. Mandan:  122
  5. Valley City:  118.5
  6. Century: 108.5

With seventy points more than any other projected Class A team, Bismarck High has a high probability of bringing the individual team crown back to Bismarck after loaning to to Minot last season.  How big a favorite is Bismarck?  BIG, but really not that much bigger than Century was following their massive West Region haul last February.  Id Bismarck High beatable? Sure, but it will take the an effort like that of BHS and Minot from last year performances like that don’t happen very often.  Bismarck has five number one seeds in the tournament, and they are all heavy favorite who don’t have an in-state loss this season.  I expect one of them might lose because the law of averages says it’s likely (I made this up because it sounds good), but even that would only drop the Demons by five points.  Bismarck is a bit overseeded in some spots, so the recipe for a Minot High victory repeat will include Bismarck’s five wrestlers seeded in the 4-6 range to finish seventh or eighth.  Minot is really the only team with a chance to take down the Demons, and I fully expect the Magi to be within striking distance moving into the semifinal round.   Minot has two of the biggest tournament favorites in Kelby and Brody Armstrong, and a group of wrestlers underseeded enough to add thirty or so points.  Hunter Swartwout’s stock has fallen recently as a result of injury, but talent wise he is the second best wrestler at 220 and proved it all year long.  Can he get healthy in time to make a run at the finals and make up thirteen points on his own?  This is possibly the most important team race storyline of the Class A tournament.  West Fargo can catch Minot if things trend the wrong direction for the Magi, but I don’t think they have the number of mid range placers to hunt Down the Demons.

NDwrestle Class A Predictions:

  1.  Bismarck
  2. Minot
  3. West Fargo
  4. Mandan
  5. Valley City

Weight Class Breakdowns:

106

Kelby Armstrong of Minot has been the cream of the crop all season long, with his lone hiccup on the season coming at the Bismarck Rotary to a South Dakotan.  Armstrong isn’t just good by North Dakota standards, he also won the Rumble on the Red without a major test.  The big storyline here for me is Fargo South’s Jacob Thomas.  Thomas was a Bismarck Rotary place winner at 113, and hasn’t lost a match since moving down to 106 for the Metro Duals in mid-January.  His results are impressive, but he has yet to face a real test. Thomas is a home run hitter with the ability to pin anyone, but will that be enough to get by talented Century Patriot Hayden Johnsrud and then Armstrong?  It will be fun to watch and find out.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Frank Champan (Turtle Mountain)

113

#1 Reece Barnhardt and #2 Chase DeBlaere are 1-1 on the season, with Barnhardt winning the last bout in the Rotary finals.  Barnhardt lost a heartbreaking overtime match in the state finals last season at 106 where DeBlaere was also a placer.  Both matches between the two in the regular season were controlled early by Barnhardt, and made tight in the third period by frenzied DeBlaere comebacks.  If Barnhardt puts together six minutes instead of four as in the last two meetings, he will be hard to beat.  For DeBlaere, that potential state final will come down to keeping close with Barnhardt early, allowing for DeBlaere’s impressive gas tank to take the match over in the third.  Both of these two wrestlers are nails tough mentally, so the fur will fly.

Barnhardt should advance through the top side without much issue, but Century three seed Clay Radenz will be a huge test for DeBlaere in a potential semifinal.  Radenz has the goods to beat DeBlaere, but was pinned in their only meeting this year and will need to get on DeBlaere’s level mentally to get the win.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Hunter Hermanson (Sheyenne)

120

Lakin Boese is still undefeated against Class A competition, and won the Rotary over two-time defending champion Lincoln Truman of Pierre.  Since winning the state title at 106 last season, Boese has only gotten better.  The person with the best shot to take down the champ might be four seed Jaren Berger of Dickinson.  Berger and Boese have a history going back two seasons when at that time Berger pinned an undersized Boese and kept him from qualifying for the state tournament.  In the West Region finals, Berger was able to keep the match tight for 5:45 seconds before Boese score the winning takedown and won 3-1.  Bismarck High makes better adjustments than anyone in the state, so that match could be a lot different if it happens in the semis.  That said, Berger has to feel confident about his chance if he can get by Minot’s Samuel Goodman in the quarters.  On the bottom of the bracket, Jamestown’s Ethan Bowman is seeded second, with Will Kleinknecht (Mandan) and Devin Schulz (Century) seeded sixth.  Schulz is the six seed after what has been a bit of a perplexing season filled with strong wins and questionable losses.  If locked in, Schulz can make the finals for the Patriots.  Kleinknecht had a rough regional tournament, but there is no reason to believe he won’t rebound given his track record.  Schulz-Kleinknecht is probably the most anticipated quarterfinal of the Class A tournament.  Should Kleinknecht advance to the semis, expect a one point match with Bowman.  Bowman has had Kleinknecht’s number this season, but each match has been razor thin in margin.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Josh Isassi (Grand Forks Central)

126

This weight class is light on depth, but has three major storylines to follow into Thursday:

  1.  Ryan Ripplinger is going for his third state title.  His only losses on the season are to Hettinger/Scranton’s Kyle Burwick.  After Jared Franek graduates he will take the reigns as best wrestler in Class A
  2. Drew Steidler showed in the Rotary semifinal that on his best day, he can beat Ripplinger.  In that match, Steidler was beating Ripplinger with eight seconds left and Ripplinger was able to score a go-behind as time expired to get the win.  Stealer has also been out an with injury dating back to that tournament that could hinder his chances.  The word from my St. Mary’s friends is that Drew is good to go, so take that for what its worth.
  3. Parker Larson of Valley City made the cut to 126 and will make a run at the finals after a disappointing semifinal round last season.  Larson and Steidler have never met, so this is a potentially fire semifinal matchup.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Chase Hansen (Fargo North)

132

Brody Armstrong has the opportunity to stamp his name on the Minot High School record books if he can walk away with his third state title Saturday afternoon.  Armstrong, a Naval Academy commit, has had battles with Bismarck High #2 seed Adam DeBoer going back three year now, but you’d have to go back to December of 2016 to find a victory on DeBoer’s end.  It is certainly possible, but Armstrong is the strong favorite.  The more intriguing matchup here will be the SEVENTH meeting between DeBoer and #3 Ethan Fleck.  The two are now 3-3 on the season, with this match breaking the tie and dictating who makes the state finals.  At West Region, DeBoer scored early and was in control when Fleck went feet to back in the third period for five points.  Fleck went on to win 6-4. Koletan Hafey (Dickinson) and Izaiah Bitz (Century) should be an intriguing quarterfinal on the top side, and though I don’t expert either to upset Armstrong, both are capable of a run to third place as they have tight results with DeBoer and Fleck.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Ty Weber (Fargo Davies)

138

The weight class I have been most excited about all season got a bit weaker when Legacy eighth grader Chance Davis went down, but this is still the only class with a chance for two state champions to wrestle in the state finals.  JJ Harms of West Fargo is a two-time defending state champion at 106 and 133 the past two season.  I was very concerned about his ability to jump this much weight and win number three.  I was wrong.  Dawson Zerr was 132 pounds state champion for Turtle Mountain last season and is gunning for a repeat.  The two have wrestled one match this season, a win by fall from Harms at Sertoma duals back in December.  Harms has a cradle that can put anyone away, but he has also gotten stronger this season at every position.  Harms hasn’t lost a match since the Rumble on the Red.  Zerr has missed some time this year, but has also rolled through competition since his last loss; also at the Rumble.  It is worth noting that Harms was third at the Rumble on the Red while Zerr did not place, though it likely will mean very little in a potential state final.  There are some talented kids with upset potential.  Trevon MClaanahan is a fantastics three seed from Minot, and the wrestler Zerr beat in the finals last season, Bismarck High senior Jaden Schmidt, is seeded fourth on the  top side of the bracket.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Troy Berg (Dickinson)

145

Another weight class with a Bismarck Demon at the top.  Devin Steidler is is the lone Class A wrestler with an undefeated wrestler this season.  He has the motivation of missing the state tournament last season and losing a winnable semifinal as a sophomore.  Steidler is not a flashy neutral wrestler, but his mat wrestling makes him truly special.  The wrestler most likely to give Steidler a run in the finals is Wahpeton’s Gavin LeNoue.  LeNoue is arguably the most dangerous wrestler in the state.  He is unorthodox and can score reversals and back points from anywhere, but that style can also get him in trouble.  Steidler and LeNoue wrestled in the Rotary semifinals, and Steidler came away with a 17-10 decision.  Expect the same if they meet with a state title on the line.  A back and forth brawl with tons of points. The second seed is Williston’s Raif Horswill, who has a win over LeNoue but has struggled with Steidler.  The likely LeNoue-Horswill semifinals will be a clash of the strong positionally but low scoring Horwill vs. the wild LeNoue.  It should be interesting.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  James Fisk (Devils Lake)

152

There is a strong likelihood we see a rematch of last year’s 145 pounds state title match between Jaden Mairs of Fargo Davies and Isaac Berger of Mandan.  That match was won by Isaac Berger 6-0, and Berger has since created greater distance with a 11-0 win win the Rotary semifinals back in January.  Berger is quietly one of the best wrestlers in the state.  He was third at the Rumble on the Red, and could have won the thing had he not given up a weird pin in a 0-0 match.  There is some intrigue with the potential semifinal between Mairs and Minot’s Jacob Mortensen.  The two have yet to meet this season, and a Mortensen victory would be big for Minot’s team title aspirations.  The second tier of WDA wrestler seeded fourth through seventh will be an interesting follow.  They have essentially all beaten one another throughout the year, and each could make a run to the third place match and score some extra points for their team.

160

When Jared Franek graduates, North Dakota will send off one of its greatest of all time.  Franek’s list of accomplishments is long, and four North Dakota state title pales when Cadet national champ and Junior national runner-up are also on the list.  Since losing a shocker in the state finals as an eighth grader, Franek has only lost one match to an in-state competitor.  The young man from West Fargo falls into single legs like someone who has shot them a million times, because he probably has.  Watching him wrestle is truly a thing of beauty.   Franek is a generational talent in North Dakota.  A wrestler who took the baton from teammate Jordan Shearer and Bismarck’s Ryan Blees and represented North Dakota as well as they did on the national state.  No easy feat. Franek isn’t going far, so unlike Shearer and Blees, North Dakotans will have a chance to watch their native son consistently when he puts on a Bison singlet.  Lucky for us!

As for the rest of this bracket, Thomas Scheet (Legacy) and David Peterson (Valley City) have earned the right to battle it out for a spot in the finals, and it seems likely they won’t be upset.  Both wrestlers should be commended for the work they have done to get where they are.  Scheet especially has gone from relative anonymity last season to one of North Dakota’s most competitive only year later.  He is a strong testament to the work being done by the staff at Legacy.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Johnny Browning (Jamestown)

170

Parker Wahl was a state finalist last year, but was beaten by Cade Pederson of West Fargo 6-4.  This year, Cade Pederson is at 182, and Wahl is the clear favorite to put his name and picture on the wall of the Demon wrestling room. There is a log jam of talented wrestlers behind Wahl, starting with Minot’s Creighton Rudolph.  Rudolph has been injured all year and defaulted to Wahl in the region final, so it is anyone’s best guess as to the level of his health.  If healthy, he is far and away the second most talented wrestler at the weight. If unhealthy, it will still be difficult for the likes of #3 Jared Undem (Valley City) or #6 Branden Franchuk (St. Mary’s) to be a him.  That 3-6 matchup is interesting because Franchuk has two wins over Undem.  One by a single point and one by injury default. The 4-5 matchup is also very interesting as that is where West Fargo EDC champions Joel McIntosh ended up.  Macintosh has been the cream of the EDC crop recently, but took some early season losses that couldn’t be overlooked resulting in his low seed.  Im not sure that McIntosh will be able to roll with Wahl should he win his quarterfinal with Inno Nsengiyumva of Davies, but I do think the chances he finishes higher than fifth are strong.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Colby Rance (Devils Lake)

182

The most perplexing weight class in Class A is 182.  Jaden Haugen (Red River), Logan Erlandson (Valley City), and Jacob Boehm (Mandan) traded the number one ranking back and forth all season long before Turtle Mountain’s Trevis LaRocque returned from a football injury in mid-January and Cade Pederson made the move up a weight.  LaRocque and Pederson won the region titles and the top two sesds as a result.  Haugen is seeded third, and Boehm and Erlandson will wrestle in the quarters for a spot in the semifinals.  Pederson is the returning state champion and most talented wrestler of the bunch, but he was at 170 all year and I can’t imagine he is a full 182 pounds.  Opponents could seize on this advantage as the tournament wears on.  LaRocque was great last season and had a lot of solid wins, but with only a few matches, he may also be unprepared for the three day state tournament run.  Haugen lost a two point decision to Pederson in the EDC finals, and has shown the ability to turn losses into wins the second time around.  Never count out the Erlandson, who is the epitome of a Valley City home run hitter and could pin everyone and no one would be too surprised.  The question marks for everyone make this weight one I will be paying close attention to throughout.

195

At 41-1 Matt Kaylor is ready to take the next step in his already impressive career, and based on his results this season, he is likely to do it in a big way.  Should Kaylor win the state title this weekend, he would become Legacy’s fist state champion.  For four years now, Kaylor has impressed on the varsity level, placing as an eighth grader and steadily moving up the podium.  The bottom line is that beating Kaylor is going to be nearly impossible for anyone in the Class A bracket.  The second seed, Turtle Mountain’s Ronald Wilkie III, has wrestled Kaylor four times resulting in three pins and a major decision. From there, Kaylor holds a technical fall victory over #3 Jake Tangen of Valley City and has pinned the fifth seed-Connor McGregor of Bismarck High-three times.  The matchup to watch in this one is the potential semifinal between Tangen and Wilkie III.  Wilkie defeated Tangen at the Rotary 4-1, but both have been solid all year long. Bismarck High will look to push McGregor through to the semifinals with a win over #4 Joe Masumbuko of West Fargo.  The Demons always seem to register a big team performance in the quarterfinals, and guys in McGregor’s position usually benefit from the wave.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Johnson Jones (Fargo Davies)

220

An injury to Minot’s Hunter Swartwout before the West Region tournament tipped this bracket on its side.  Swartwout was forced to medical forfeit out of West Region after qualifying and had to take all the losses that went along with that to the seeding meeting.  The end result is the sixth seed for a guy that was third at this weight last year and hasn’t lost a contested bout to anyone in-state with the exception of Bismarck’s #1 Chase Dockter.  As I stated in the team race portion, Swartwout could give Minot a huge bump if he is healthy this weekend.  His quarterfinal matchup with Riley Kringlie of West Fargo is the one to watch.  Kringlie was East Region champion and should be ready to roll Thursday night.  Can Swartwout put together a full match and advance?  Mandan’s Adam Boehm benefitted most from Swartwout’s default, as he moves into the two seed in spite of a 10-4 loss to Swartwout right before the West Region tournament.  The top dog at the weight is Chase Dockter of Bismarck High.  He was a state finalist last season and hasn’t had much of a problem with anyone in the class A bracket this season. In the WDA finals, he defeated Boehm 9-5.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch: George DeMarce Devils Lake

285

Brandon Metz is gone and that makes the North Dakota Class A heavyweight bracket interesting for the first time in three years.  This weight class feature five or more wrestlers that could win the weight if the momentum rolls in their favor.  The most consistent wrestler all year long has been Andre Baguma of Davies, and he gets the one seed as a result.  Baguma and #2 Jaden Oestern of Valley City have wrestled five times, with Oestern winning only one.  Entering this season, I expected Eli Huff to be the alpha.  Huff has certainly been strong all year, but he has taken two losses to Baguma and as a result is the three seed.  He and Jaden Oestern, a potential semifinal match, have yet to meet this season.  Other 285 contenders include Riley Roesler of Century, Koby Brunelle of Turtle Mountain, and Nolan Hintz of Bismack.  Both Hintz and Brunelle are light on matches this season, but have a past record of success at the state tournament.

Unseeded Wrestler to watch:  Isaiah Gates (Fargo South)

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