SJU Hosts Annual North Country Open Saturday

The SJU wrestling team hosts its annual North Country Open this Saturday, Feb. 5. The meet is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Donald McNeely Spectrum in Collegeville.

A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: No. 6 Saint John’s went 1-2 at the Minnesota Duals last Friday, Jan. 28, in Perham. The Johnnies opened the triangular with a 35-4 win over St. Olaf, but then dropped back-to-back duals to No. 7 Concordia-Moorhead (32-10) and No. 3 Augsburg (20-19).

Both the Oles and Johnnies forfeited the match at 125 pounds. In fact, SJU forfeited the weight-class in all three duals. SJU then started the dual with a 6-0 lead following St. Olaf’s forfeit at 133 pounds, before the Oles’ Ryan Timmerman earned an 11-2 major decision win. The rest was all Saint John’s, however. Senior Minga Batsukh (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia/St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) posted a technical fall at 149, followed by a major decision from senior Drew Larson (Willmar, Minn.) and a 4-0 win from senior Matt Baarson (Brooklyn Park, Minn./Champlin Park) at 165. Junior Matt Pfarr (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) pinned his opponent at 174, while junior Dustin Baxter (Fairbanks, Alaska/West Valley) and senior Tony Willaert (North Mankato, Minn./Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial) tallied back-to-back major decisions. Junior John Linn (Foley, Minn.) ended the dual with a 6-0 win at heavyweight.

Head coach Brandon Novak decided to rest all of his starters but one, including all five nationally-ranked wrestlers, in the Concordia dual. JuniorChad Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) cut the Johnnies’ deficit to 6-3 with an 8-5 upset win over No. 10 Daron Hohbein at 133 pounds. Following a last-second pin, freshman Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) recorded a 4-1 win at 149 pounds. Sophomore Chris Stevermer(Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) lost a heartbreaking 7-5 decision in overtime at 165. Freshman Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn./Totino-Grace) won SJU’s final match with an eye-opening 8-0 major decision of No. 5 Ross Dankers at 174.

The forfeit at 125 proved to be pivotal in the Johnnies’ nightcap, a 20-19 loss to Augsburg. The Auggies jumped out to a 10-0 lead before SJU rolled to four consecutive victories and a 15-10 lead. Senior Chris Sandy (Spirit Lake, Iowa) pinned his opponent in 1:20 at 141, while Batsukh posted a 6-1 upset of No. 3 Tony Valek. Batsukh was ranked fourth nationally. Larson posted a 4-0 win at 157 and Baarson proved his No. 1 ranking with a 7-3 win over No. 5 Orlando Ponce at 165. Pfarr, ranked fourth nationally, dropped a 6-1 decision to No. 2 Zach Molitor. No. 6 Brad Baus gave the lead back to Augsburg, 16-15, with a close 3-1 win over No. 7 Baxter. Willaert gave the lead back to SJU, 19-16, with a major decision at 197. The Auggies’ Zach Molitor, ranked second nationally, did not wrestle at 197. Chad Johnson, ranked 10th, gave Augsburg the one-point win with a 9-0 major decision at heavyweight.

LAST YEAR’S OPEN: Baarson and Willaert each posted 4-0 records to win their respective weight classes at last year’s North Country Open. Over 200 wrestlers from 17 different schools participated in the tournament. Baarson, who entered the weekend ranked No. 10 nationally at 165 pounds, tallied 7-1 and 5-4 decisions to begin the meet before recording a 16-0 technical fall in the semifinals. He then defeated Augsburg’s Orlando Ponce, ranked No. 6, 2-1 in the championship match. The victory was Baarson’s second over Ponce in a two-week span. Willaert cruised through the 197-pound bracket with major decisions in all four of his matches to take the title. Senior John Vaith (Hastings, Minn.) went 4-2 to finish third at 157 pounds, while Henle posted a 5-2 mark to claim fourth place in his first action at 133 pounds. Batsukh and Pfarr did not compete.

THIS YEAR’S MEET: The year’s North Country open is expected to feature well over 200 wrestlers from 18 different schools.