The Vikings’ wrestling team started its season ranked fifth in the nation in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Preseason Division II poll and second in the NSIC Preseason coaches poll, behind only St. Cloud State.
Along with the team ranking, six Viking wrestlers are individually ranked in their respective weight classes.
“We brought back a lot of starters,” head coach Jason Reitmeier said. “The team is probably not as deep because of some of the guys we lost, but the depth we’ve had the past few years has contributed to where we’re at right now.”
Reitmeier said the seniors they lost were leaders on and off the mat and could step in whenever needed. Even with these losses, the Vikings return six national qualifiers from last season and feel confident as ever.
“Our guys are finally realizing how good this group is and that we are more than capable of winning a national title,” senior Jack Huffman said. “We know that we can beat any team in the country and hope to peak at the right time when regionals and nationals come around to win that national championship.”
The Vikings competed in their first tournament of the season on Nov. 5 at the Yellow
Jacket Open in Rochester, Minnesota. At the competition, the team saw four podium finishes.
Junior Miles Fitzgerald placed second in the 157 class, senior Jacob Tvinnereim placed third in the 174 class, senior Steven Hajas placed third in the 285 class and junior Edward Hajas placed second in the 285 class.
Reitmeier said that the team was beat up a little bit during their first tournament. A couple of wrestlers went down with injuries, something that will test the team’s depth right away.
“Wrestling is a sport of resilience, and you’ve got to bounce quick,” Reitmeier said. “It’s no different than any other sport. When guys go down, it’s the next guy up. You hope they grab it and run with it so when the other guy comes back they push each other.”
In terms of performance, the team is looking to improve every step of the way on the journey to nationals.
“I feel like, as a group, everyone wrestled well,” Fitzgerald said. “There is room for improvement, and we had a few injuries, but nobody is peaking at the first tournament, and we’ll continue to build every week.”
Being able to build for the national tournament includes not only improving off of tournaments, but also working hard during training and practice.
“We didn’t have a couple of guys compete, and our focus is to make sure we stay consistent with our training and get better every single day,” Huffman said. “We are going to stick to our training and trust what we are doing to get us to where we want to be at the end of the year. I know this team has what it takes to win a national title, and it is going to be very exciting what this team is going to prove this year.”
Reitmeier said that training and adaptation from injuries could lead to a weight class shift for some wrestlers. Some of these changes have already happened, with Fitzgerald moving to the 157 weight class. Fitzgerald was a preseason top-10 in the 165 class.
Senior Tyler Wagener, a preseason top-10 at the 157 class, is swapping places with Fitzgerald and moving to 165.
In the team’s second tournament of the season on Saturday, Nov. 12, Tvinnereim was the only podium finish. He placed third in the 174 class.
Almost on the podium was Fitzgerald, who placed fourth in the 157 class and senior Kolby Kost also placed fourth in the 184 class. Senior Zach Peterson finished fifth in the 197 class.
“I’m pretty excited about the team that we have,” Reitmeier said. “I’m looking forward to us continuing to grow and get better every week. That’s difficult when you’re banged up, so we got to set that back a little bit and worry about the guys on the mat and make sure they’re growing and getting better. Hopefully, when everyone comes back, we’re hitting our stride.”
Seth is a graduate student at Augustana University. He currently serves as the sports editor.
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