Wrestlers open season with strong showing
By Neal A. Shipman
After two gruelling weeks of practice, the Watford City Wolves wrestling team kicked off their 2014-15 season with a pair of competitions this weekend.
“We are expecting to have a good season this year with nine juniors and seniors on the roster, including one returning State place winner,” states Mitch Greenwood, Wolves’ head coach. “Plus we have six other wrestlers returning who were State qualifiers last season.”
And Greenwood is looking for those returning wrestlers to become the team leaders throughout the season.
“We have a great group of leaders who really bring a positive attitude and a great work ethic to practice every single day. They work so hard every day, pushing themselves and each other to keep getting better every single day,” states Greenwood. “They are a great bunch of role models for our younger wrestlers to look up to.”
In spite of a roster that is full of upperclassmen, it was the younger team members that got things going in the right direction for the Wolves on Friday when they traveled to Dickinson to compete in a seventh and eighth grade tournament against a mix of area teams from the Class A and B ranks.
Seven athletes competed in the event and they enjoyed a great deal of success. Jake Leppell, CJ Thacker, Jayden Ybarra, and Carlton Turnquist all went undefeated and won championships in their respective weight classes. Cameron Taylor was 2-1 overall and placed second, while Kaleb Shipman and Liam Shannon each placed third in their brackets.
The team split up on Saturday to travel to two different tournaments in Minot and New Town to compete.
Unfortunately, bus troubles prevented the majority of the team members from reaching Minot. However, five team members did compete in New Town and made an immediate statement that they are ready to make some noise in 2014-2015 as they all advanced to the championship round of the event.
Dakota Garmann went 2-1 on the day and claimed runner-up honors at 120 pounds.
“Dakota wrestled with a lot of confidence. He’s going to have a great season if he keeps doing what he has been so far this season,” stated Greenwood. “This was the first time he ever made it to the finals of a varsity event and he earned it! He’s been working hard and it paid off for him.”
At 126 pounds, Jade Hepper picked up two pins on his way to the championship round where he would square off against Standing Rock’s Tyler Keener, which would end up being the marquee matchup of the tournament.
Hepper was a third place finisher in the Class B State Championship last season, while Keener, who wrestled for Grand Forks Central a year ago, was a third place finisher in the Class A State Tournament.
After a back and forth battle for six minutes the score was tied 10-10, which sent the pair into a one-minute sudden death overtime. With just seconds remaining in the match, Hepper fought off a takedown attempt from Keener at the edge of the mat and countered for a two-point takedown of his own and a tournament championship.
“Jade had a great season last year, but didn’t allow himself to be satisfied with a third place finish at State, and continued working hard in the weight room and attending tournaments and camps all year in hopes of reaching his goal of a state championship,” stated Greenwood. “This was a huge win for him. When the state rankings come out next week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of these kids (Hepper and Keener) at or near the top of the list.”
Coleton Jore blitzed his way to the finals as well. He was in a six-man round robin bracket, which pitted him against all five of the other competitors in his weight class. He pinned his first four opponents, including three in the first period. In the final round, Jore met up with Beulah-Hazen’s Josh Snyder, a two-time State place winner, who was also 4-0 in the tournament at that point.
Snyder was able to score an early takedown, which would result in the only two points of the entire match to take the win.
“Coleton had a great start to the season,” states Greenwood. “He has made a huge jump from last year to this year. He’s definitely one of our hardest workers in the practice room and it’s paying dividends.”
At 152 pounds, Clay Jorgenson had the unique task of wrestling in the very first match called in the tournament, as well as the very last match in the tournament.
As the top-seeded wrestler in the largest bracket in the event, Jorgenson picked up three pins in order to punch his ticket to the finals. In that final match of the event, he cruised to a dominating 12-3 major decision over regional foe Tristan Miller from Beulah-Hazen.
“Clay’s offense was unstoppable,” stated Greenwood. “He just kept scoring from every position he was in and I can’t think of a time he was ever in any sort of trouble. He was just in a class of his own today.”
The win in the finals marked the first varsity tournament championship that Jorgenson has ever won in his career.
Jake Belland, competing at 220 pounds, had a dominating performance as well. Belland pinned his first two opponents before notching a 5-0 win in the championship round over Alex Kucera, a returning State qualifier from Stanley.
“Jake has come a long way in a short time,” states Greenwood. “I remember watching Jake go 0-2 in the New Town Tournament last year, his first high school wrestling event of his career. A year later he wins it.” Like Jorgenson, this was Belland’s first ever tournament championship in a varsity event.
In spite of having only five wrestlers competing in the nine-team event, the Wolves posted a combined record of 16-2 on the day, including 13 pins and two major decisions. The performance was good enough to earn a second place team finish in the event. Beulah-Hazen won the tournament, while Stanley-Powers Lake finished behind the Wolves in third.
The Wolves will open their home season action on Monday, Dec. 1, when Watford City hosts a triangular against Killdeer and Williston.v