The Augustana wrestling team is going into the 2018 season with several advantages: leadership, youth, talent and grit.
The Vikings will have to use these strengths as they take on some of the biggest teams in the region with one overarching goal—to win a national title.
“The team’s goal is a national title, no doubt about it,” senior Colin Ayers, who wrestles in the 157-pound class, said. “We’ve been emphasizing the word ‘national title’ about every day during practices and we’re saying it a lot more each day, so it gets ingrained in our mind that our team is capable of winning a national title.”
With its mix of experienced players and young ambitious ones, Ayers believes that it’s possible for the team to accomplish this lofty goal.
Overall, there will be eight starters and 14 letter winners returning to the mat from last season, when the team placed sixth at the Super Region 3 Championship.
Senior Clayton Wahlstrom is currently ranked eighth in the NCAA DII Wrestling Coaching Association Top-12 at 197 pounds, while junior Lukas Poloncic is ranked 11th at 174 pounds. Sophomores Daniel Bishop and Keaton Schorr are each ranked 12th at 184 and 141, respectively.
According to head coach Jason Reitmeier, it will be hard for the team to fill in the gap created when Aero Amo graduated last year.
“Losing Aero Amo, the two time All-American in 184—that’s a tough loss,” Reitmeier said. “You can’t replace a kid like that.”
But with several young wrestlers ready to prove themselves, Reitmeier is optimistic that the team will ultimately succeed, even if it faces some obstacles along the way.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that are going to be stepping into the lineup, which is exciting, but at the same time you know they’re going to make mistakes,” Reitmeier said. “We’re going to have a lot of learning and a little bit of heartache there.”
Ayers said that it is really motivating for upperclassmen like him to see the ambition of the younger members.
“You don’t have to teach them the ways because they’re already jumping right in,” Ayers said. “It’s making them more competitive, it’s making guys better each and every single day practicing.”
Wrestling is a strenuous sport and the team is sure to face plenty of physical and mental challenges, Ayers said.
“Wrestling is a long season,” Ayers said. “Like our coaches describe, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ It’s from September to March, just constantly beating up your body, trying to recover and just stay focused and ready to go every single day.”
The brutality of the sport can be especially hard to deal with when players get injured. According to Bishop, there are already team members that have been forced off the mat due to injuries.
“Right now, we have a couple really good kids who are injured and who are going to be injured throughout the season,” Bishop said. “Having them gone is going to be rough.”
But Bishop said that many of the younger players have the ability to step up to fill in these spots.
The Vikings have already seen success at the Daktronics Open in Brookings on Sunday, Nov. 4. Both Wahlstrom and Bishop took home fourth in their respective weight classes and Poloncic and Bailey Neises, a junior who wrestles at 165 pounds, took home fifth place.
The NSIC conference will provide a number of challenges for the team to overcome. The conference is home to No. 1 ranked St. Cloud State, as well as No. 6 ranked Upper Iowa and No. 8 ranked Minnesota State.
“It’s college wrestling so you want to beat everybody on every given day, but those three teams are the main teams,” Wahlstrom said.
The Vikings will travel to Mitchell on Saturday, Nov. 10 to compete in the Dakota Wesleyan open. The meet will start at 9 a.m.