Back in February Wilfried Tanefeu wasn’t favored to win the North Dakota Class A 113 pound state championship. Today, in what is one of the most improbable national title runs in memory, Tanefeu is U16 113 pound national champion. During the North Dakota High School season, talented defending state champion Kelby Armstrong of Minot had beaten Tanefeu three times including 5-2 in the region final the week before the state tournament. In fact, Tanefeu didn’t win a single tournament during Bismarck High School’s regular season schedule. Seventh in Rapid City, second in Valley City, third at the Bismarck Rotary, and fourth at the Rumble on the Red were some of the highlights. Tanefeu would avenge his three losses to Armstrong and win the 113 pound state title. Today, he is national champion. Tanefeu’s ability to forget about the past and battle on served him well last February, and it served him well again over the course of the last three days in Fargo. Behind 4-4 on criteria to Ohio’s Ben Cernus in the quarterfinals, Tanefeu found a leg and put Cernus to his back for the win with seven seconds on the clock.
“Wilfried’s confidence continued to grow throughout the tournament,” noted Bismarck High co-head coach and North Dakota national team coach Mark Lardy. “He is an extremely talented kid that continues to get better.”
Getting better seemed to be a match-to-match occurrence for Tanefeu, because after three consecutive 8-4 victories in earlier rounds, his last two opponents didn’t stand a chance. In the finals, Tanefeu was the perceived heavy underdog to Flowrestling’s tenth ranked wrestler in the country; Gabe Whisenhunt of Oregon. Tanefeu promptly scored a technical fall in 1:29. This was no fluke technical fall. Tanefeu began with an attack that became his go to through the tournament; elbow pass single leg for a 2-0 lead. When pressed to the edge thirty second later, Tanefeu showed what Flowrestling’s Willie Saylor deemed “unteachable” when he countered an attempted Whisenhunt pushout with a four point throw on the edge. You don’t become national champion after less than three years of mat experience without a little bit of natural feel and athleticism, and Tanefeu showed it with that four point maneuver. Even better, it extended his early lead to 6-0. Tanefeu then finished the job by chasing down a another single transitioned immediately into the match winning gut wrench.
When draws were revealed for the tournament Friday evening, NDwrestle spoke to Bismarck High assistant and North Dakota national team coach Chad Renner about the matchups of some of our Cadets. “Wilfried will have the top seed in the tournament second match,” Renner noted. “But would you want to wrestle Wilfried second if you were the top seed?”
“No”, was my response. Tanefeu would win that second match via first period technical fall.
In that respect, maybe this wasn’t terribly unexpected for those that know what Tanefeu is capable of. Mark Lardy emphasized Renner’s confidence after the tournament when asked if expectations changed as the tournament continued.
“Not really,” Lardy reflected. “We know the skills Wilfried has and were confident if he wrestled his style he could beat anyone in the bracket.”
Believe it or not, Tanefeu is the first U16 (formerly Cadet) Freestyle champion in the storied history of the Bismarck Demon program. Tanefeu joins Jared Franek (2016), Scott Owens (1993), and Mike Seeger (1990) as the only North Dakotans to bring home Fargo Cadet Freestyle titles.Bismarck’s Isaiah Huus was the only other All American for Team North Dakota. Huus finished sixth in the 182 pound weight class after an 11-0 loss at the hands of Oklahoma’s Harley Andrews in the fifth place bout.