MOORHEAD, Minn. - Every season fans are reminded about commitment and perseverance. In collegiate sports, that happens on senior night. And for four seniors on the Minnesota State University Moorhead Dragons wrestling team, it’s their last chance to make an impression on the Dragon Nation.
For second year Head Coach Kris Nelson, who came to the Dragons after a stint as an assistant coach for North Dakota State, the knowledge of these wrestlers came long before he was asked to be the helm of Dragons’ wrestling. Coach Nelson was eager to share his thoughts about his seniors and their impact on Dragons’ wrestling.
After a brutal schedule had not steered the Dragons away from postseason success in 2009-10, Coach Nelson turned his sights on a full season with his new team and a lineup he could call his own.
“I was very comfortable with the senior class I had coming in with Brady Schneeberger as the returning regional champ, Tallen Wald as a 2009 national qualifier and captain, Evan Forde who had a full year of varsity experience under his belt and HWT Jon Swart getting to give 100% to wrestling now that he was done with football,” Nelson said. “I feel all these wrestlers have the ability to be national qualifiers and All-Americans when they are wrestling at their best.”
One thing each senior shares with one another is facing the best wrestlers in the upper midwest year after year. The mental and physical toll each wrestler has paid has meant a great deal to Nelson.
“It is great to see student athletes follow through with the commitment they made to be part of a program,” Nelson said. “Many times juggling academics and athletics gets to be too much and the individual begins to struggle in one area either athletically or academically and these four seniors have done a great job of balancing the two.”
“They are all very dedicated and committed to the sport of wrestling and it is very nice to see them all make it five years. Wrestling can become a real grind both physically and mentally and these four have continued to work hard day in and day out in the room to reach their goals. “
On any given night, each senior has sometimes less than seven minutes to show the fans how hard the hours of practice, weight-lifting and studying of opponents has paid off. While the fans watch intensely, or for Jon Swart‘s mother Cathy Swart very intensely, they see the product while Nelson see’s the end result of what so often goes unnoticed.
“What goes unnoticed is the hard work they put in everyday in the room and also staying on top of their diet plan, well besides Jon,” Nelson said. “These four lead by example and are also helping groom the younger wrestlers for their days when they become the starters. Outside of wrestling these four do a great job of getting the team together for outings and keeping the team comrade close.”
Among some of the unnoticed things fans don’t see is the personal struggles each wrestler faces on and off the mat. Nelson believes a big strength of this team is the support they give each other, especially this senior class.
“The nice thing about having seniors is that more than likely they have been through a similar situation or help deal with a similar situation that someone may be going through,” Nelson said. When asked what the toughest thing to replace about these four seniors, Nelson summed it all up in one word, experience.
“These seniors have all been in their starting position for two to four years and that will be hard to replace,” Nelson said. “Competing is the best way to get better at a sport and find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and all these seniors have wrestled in a lot of tournaments and dual competitions. We will be looking to see which of our younger wrestlers will step up and try and make a name for themselves.”
EVAN FORDE – FARGO, N.D. – 133 POUNDS
As a group there is no denying the impact of these seniors as a whole, but each wrestler in their own right has left his mark on an already historic wrestling program. Evan Forde is probably most known around the program for his leadership style, a style that makes coaching that much easier.
“Evan does a great job of keeping the team relaxed but at the same time is serious when it gets down to match time, Nelson said. “Evan is a very hard worker who is always looking to get better technically and does a great job of coaching and teaching the technique he knows onto the other wrestlers on the team. The team refers to Evan as Grandpa Forde.”
“I do not probably know all the reasons why they call him that, but I am sure some of them have to do with being a senior and having all the experience that he has not only had on the mat but off the mat. Some of the guys kid about how Evan is always giving advice and looking out for their well being. Evan is very easy for the wrestlers to talk with and for us coaches to talk with and he has been real fun to coach for the two years I have been with him.”
For each person who has gotten to know Evan, there are two who know his dad, Lynn. Both are known for making themselves heard, which for Nelson comes as no surprise.
“Doesn’t surprise me at all,” Nelson said. “Looking back on Evan’s career and watching him in high school he was even very vocal then. Evan could same day be a great coach if he decides to go in that direction, but I could see him getting a lot of warnings from the referee if he decides to go that route. Like Father like Son.”
BRADY SCHNEEBERGER – ELBOW LAKE MINN. – 141 POUNDS
Last year’s NCAA Super-III Regional saw nine of the 10 No. 1 seed’s claim the top spot, while Brady Schneeberger shocked many spectators as the No. 6 seed when he won the 141 pound championship.
“He wrestled hard and never gave up in any of his matches in last years regional tournament,” Nelson said. “He continued to put points on the scoreboard and never stalled or coasted in any of his matches. Brady went into the tournament last year unseeded and showed that seeds do not matter. He knows that whoever steps out on the mat against him he needs to beat in order to be the regional champ, you are going to have to beat a tough guy somewhere along in the tournament and it doesn’t matter to Brady if it is in the first round or in the finals.”
After becoming the champion, pinning the eventual national champion in the finals, Nelson spared no words in backing his champion.
“Brady has the ability to beat anyone in Division II wrestling when he is at his best,” Nelson said. “I have told the wrestlers all season long that the regional and national tournament is what matters most and that the season isn’t measured by the how you start but is by how you finish. Brady proved last year that he is a gamer and I see him doing it again this year!”
Nelson has remarked that keeping Schneeberger out of the lineup when he was less than 100 percent was his most difficult decision, but Nelson still notes it was harder on the Elbow Lake native.
“It has been really hard keeping Brady out of the lineup, not only has it been hard on us as coaches and teammates but it has been a lot harder on Brady,” Nelson said. “Brady is a competitor and is a dangerous wrestler, and wherever he ends up seeded in the regional tournament I have full confidence in him.”
TALLEN WALD – MONTEVIDEO, MINN. – 157 POUNDS
With out a doubt, the one wrestler opponents, fans, coaches, spectators, officials and statisticians all have to keep their eyes on is Tallen Wald. Wald has what some may call a “controlled frenzy” style, a style that has grown on Nelson.
“Tallen is a brawler and I always know that he is going to be very physical when he steps out on the mat,” Nelson said. “Him and I have had a few occasions where we were not seeing eye to eye about being a little too physical on the mat. There have been times where I have told him to cool it but as a coach you want your wrestlers to be intense and have a presence and that is something Tallen definitely has.”
“Tallen is the guy that if you were in trouble you would want him in your corner or on your side. Off the mat Tallen is a pretty laid back guy in the two years I have known him.” It is clear when Tallen speaks, people listen. One reason Tallen is a captain and he is not afraid to call out teammates if they are not working hard and doing their part to make the program better.
Tallen has shown that anything can and will happen. Wald showed last year that when opponents are not allowed to slow up, he can handle anyone, which led him to the national tournament in 2009.
JON SWART – FARGO, N.D. – HEAVYWEIGHT
Of the seniors, the comeback story belongs to Jon Swart. Swart made a name for himself as a four year football standout. While he gained recognition on the field, on the mat he suffered for it, going 3-15 last year at 197 pounds. Nelson knows that this year Swart has shown how perseverance pays off.
“I think having Jon wrestle at 197 last year was a coaching mistake and that heavyweight is a much better weight class for Jon’s style,” Nelson said. “Instead of struggling to maintain his weight this year Jon has been able to concentrate on getting better at technique and concentrate on wrestling. Jon is very athletic and well conditioned and as a wrestler he wins a lot of matches on his conditioning alone.”
Conditioning pays off, especially when fans are treated to Jon’s matches, which on occasion have been known to need more than the standard seven minutes. Nelson has preached to wrestlers to score early and often, while Swart prefers the end. For Nelson, it’s a style that has made him uneasy at times.
“Jon has got most of his takedowns in the 3rd period or in OT this year, which has really provided the crowd with some exciting, matches but drove me nuts,” Nelson said. Swart has taken on the best that Division-II has to offer, going toe to toe with the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked heavyweights in the nation.
For these wrestlers, Senior Night is more than hearing their name called or handing flowers to parents, it’s a chance to show once more what they are made of. For Coach Nelson, it’s a chance to recognize one final time his appreciation for all they have done.
“These four seniors have been great to coach and I hope they finish off their careers feeling good about everything they accomplished,” Nelson said. “I hope they have been working their hardest and can look back on their senior season and not have any regrets and wish they would have set more goals or been more dedicated.”
“Something I always tell the freshmen is that college goes by pretty quick and you need to take advantage of every opportunity you are given. Most people are done with sports after high school and not given the opportunity to compete in college if you are one of the lucky ones who have been given that opportunity you need to take advantage of it and do the best job you can. I hope these seniors feel that they did the best job they could do and the only person that knows that for sure is themselves.”
“I believe these seniors will always be supporters of the program and hope to continue seeing them in the future at duals, regional tournaments and national tournaments. The sport isn’t always about winning and losing but making memories, creating relationships with families, teammates, fans and opposing wrestlers that will last a lifetime. If you can win and do this then you will really have fun!”