NCAA SEED: 26
#5 Matthew Kolodzik dec. Ryan Blees 8-2
#17 Christian Monserrat dec. Ryan Blees 4-1
#3 Mitch Finesilver dec. Ryan Blees 3-1
#3 Mitch Finesilver dec. Ryan Blees 4-0
#6 Austin O’Connor dec. Ryan Blees 2-1
The Weight Class
149 is probably the most wide open weight class in the entire tournament. When you get past #1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers) and #2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State), who I think are strong favorites to advance to the national finals, the weight is deep with wrestlers not separated by much. Blees proves this well in that he has ACC dual losses by two and one point to the #3 and #6 wrestlers in the country. If a wrestler is going to place from a seed lower than 20, I think this is the weight it most likely happens at.
Path to the Podium
How sad it is that one of the greatest North Dakotans in the history of the sport will have his career come to and end this weekend in Pittsburgh. Blees, a four-time North Dakota Class A state champion and two-time Junior national champion, needs no introduction in North Dakota wrestling circles. What you may not know, is that Ryan Blees is also one of the most high character young men I have have met in a sport. I had the pleasure of coaching in Bismarck (not at Bismarck) during Ryan’s high school career and Blees represented the state as well as a seventeen year old possibly could. Countless North Dakota high school wrestlers right now are doing doing great things because of the model set forth by Ryan Blees. These kids were in grade school watching Blees tear through state and national tournaments, and they now believe junior national freestyle titles are possible as a result. Blees’s college career hasn’t been smooth sailing. As with any college wrestler, injuries and other set backs have been the norm. After two seasons at Oklahoma State, Blees found a home when he transferred to Virginia Tech to wrestle for Kevin Dresser. After sitting for a year behind All American Sal Mastriani, Dresser left for Iowa State and Blees found his stride down a weight class at 149 pounds, Blees entered the NCAA championships last season the seeded twelfth and primed for an All American run but it was not in the cards.
Now the final chapter is upon us and Blees is under the radar to say the least. Seeded 26th with a 16-14 record, Blees is set to wrestle Oklahoma State’s #7 Kaden Gfeller in what is one of the greatest ironies that the bracket gods created this season. Gfeller was Big 12 champion two weeks ago and frustrates wrestlers with his technical savvy. Gfeller wrestles through positions as well as anyone in the country and is listed by some as a dark horse to finish higher than his seed if healthy. Health is a question for Gfeller, as he has reportedly been dealing with something since his loss to Iowa’s Pat Lugo on February 24. Blees’ seed is a reflection of the fact that he has not had the signature wins over ranked competition that he was able to muster last season. He has definitely improved since January 1, losing only to top ten wrestlers Justin Oliver (NC State), Mitch Finesilver (Duke), and Austin O’Connor (North Carolina) in that time. The bracket certainly didn’t do Blees any favors, as there is no easy path to All American status. That said, I don’t think Blees would want it any other way. Should Blees score the upset of Gfeller, he would move to Thursday night and a likely matchup with #10 Pat Lugo of Iowa. Lugo is another guy that Blees will wrestle a tight match with and can win. Lugo has been up and down all year long and while he has been strong recently (previously mentioned win over Gfeller is a prime example of this, there are a lot of hiccups spread over the course of this season. A loss to Gfeller in the first round would mean a first round wrestlback against Arizona State’s Josh Maruca, who has struggled this year but has the pedigree to get big wins. From there it would be the Justin Oliver (NC State) or Jeret Degen (Iowa State). Blees has two losses to Oliver this season. A win over Gfeller would mean a favorable first wrestleback match followed by Jared Prince of Navy and a blood round match with Matthew Kolodzik or Brock Mauller. This is an ideal spot to be in for Blees as though Kolodzik does have an head to head win, he has struggled of late. Mauller is a freshman form Missouri without the experience of an NCAA tounrnament.
No matter what happens with Blees this weekend, make sure to sit back and enjoy the end of the career of a North Dakotan who has contrbuted much to the sport. You should expect great results, too. Blees is capable and what better time to shine than the last rodeo.