Season Preview: Nationally-Ranked SJU Opens Schedule Saturday in Wisconsin

The No. 6 Saint John’s wrestling team begins its 2011-12 season at the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Open this Saturday, Nov. 5. The tournament is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Stevens Point Area High School in Stevens Point, Wis.

Preview Video:

SEASON PREVIEW: Three All-Americans return to the mat for the first time in the history of the Saint John’s University wrestling team, which enters the 2011-12 season with high expectations.

The Johnnies produced the second-most All-Americans (five) to finish in a sixth-place tie at the 2011 NCAA Division III Championships. Both the number of All-Americans and the team’s finish were program bests.

Senior Dustin Baxter (Fairbanks, Alaska/West Valley) begins the 2011-12 season ranked No. 1 at 184 pounds according to multiple rankings. A three-time national qualifier and two-time All-American, Baxter finished third at the NCAA Division III Championships with a 26-8 overall record.

Senior Matt Pfarr (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) earned All-America honors at the NCAA Championships with a seventh-place finish and ended the season with a 29-9 record at 174 pounds. A two-time NWCA Scholar All-American, Pfarr is a biology major (pre-medicine emphasis).

Chad Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) returns for his senior season after finishing seventh in the 133-pound weight class at last year’s national meet. He ended the year with a 26-10 overall record.

Head coach Brandon Novak led the Johnnies to a 13-6 dual record in 2010-11. SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships 21 of the last 22 seasons and has sent at least one individual to the national tournament 25 of the past 26 seasons. During that span, the Johnnies have produced 30 All-Americans and 40 Scholar All-Americans.

Here’s a preseason look at the Johnnies, by weight:

LOWER WEIGHTS (125, 133, 141, 149)
Sophomore Matt Hickerson (Ogilvie, Minn.) and freshmen Evan Guffey (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt) and Brian Waldron (Lake Zurich, Ill./Carmel Catholic) are expected to compete for the vacancy at 125 pounds this season. Hickerson posted a 126-26 record in high school but saw limited action last year as a freshman last season. Guffey tallied a 164-21 record and placed at the Michigan state tournament three times. Waldron earned a berth to the Illinois state tournament and finished with a 38-7 record as a senior last winter.

Senior Scott Padrnos (Brainerd, Minn.) and sophomore Alex Peck (Edina, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret’s) are expected to provide depth behind Henle at 133 pounds this season. Padrnos collected an 8-10 record with five pins last season for SJU.

Four Johnnies will take the first crack at replacing Chris Sandy at 141 pounds: junior Alex Boosalis (Dellwood, Minn./Mahtomedi), sophomores Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) and Aaron Padrnos (Brainerd, Minn.), and freshman Jesse Rodgers (Dillingham, Alaska/Mt. Edgecumbe). Hessing put together a strong 16-4 record as a freshman at SJU last season, while Boosalis was 5-5. Rodgers was a two-time Alaska state champion and a three-time state finalist. He accumulated a 104-20 career record.

Novak has the steep task of replacing Minga Batsukh, the 2011 National Wrestler of the Year, at 149 pounds. Batsukh finished his collegiate career as a three-time NCAA Division III champion, winning the 141-pound title in 2009 and 2010, followed by the 149-pound title in 2011. He became the first three-time individual national champion in school history, regardless of sport, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. Batsukh compiled an 88-19 career record, which included a 28-12 record as a freshman and a 60-7 mark his final three seasons.

To do that, Novak will look to junior Cody Goldschmidt (Waconia, Minn./BOLD), sophomore Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.), and freshmen Ochirbat Bayanjargal (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia/St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) and Devin Nanik (Murphys, Calif./Bret Hart Union). Arne and Goldschmidt combined for a 10-8 record last year for the Johnnies. Arne recorded a 203-39 career mark in high school. Bayanjargal continues the Johnnies’ pipeline from St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, where he was a two-time state finalist and placed all four years with the Bees. Nanik, meanwhile, earned a berth to the single-class California state tournament at 152 pounds last year.

MIDDLE WEIGHTS (157, 165, 174)
Junior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) and sophomore Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.) are expected to be the leading contenders to replace Drew Larson and John Vaith at 157 this season. Freshmen Jamie Brazil (Crystal, Minn./Robbinsdale Cooper), Luke Newgaard (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Matt Rodgers (Dillingham, Alaska./Mt. Edgecumbe) will provide depth. Brazil was a two-time state entrant for Robbinsdale Cooper H.S., while Rodgers, a twin brother to Jesse, won the Alaska state championship last year. He placed all four years and ended his career with a 109-27 record.

Junior Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn./Totino-Grace) is expected to succeed All-American Matt Baarson at 165 pounds in 2011-12. Schuler posted an 11-2 record for the Johnnies last season. Sophomore Aaron Brasket (Independence, Minn./Delano) is expected to provide depth.

Sophomore David Rademacher (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and freshmen Luke Ramos (Slinger, Wis.) and Josh Willaert (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson) are expected to back up Pfarr at 174 this winter. Willaert was a two-time Minnesota state champion at Le Sueur-Henderson H.S. and totaled a 154-45 career record.

UPPER WEIGHTS (184, 197, 285)
Including Pfarr at 174 pounds, SJU is expected to boast one of the top lineups of upper weights in the country: Baxter at 184, junior Mitch Hagen (Sunburg, Minn./Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg) at 197, and junior Cody Socher (Delano, Minn.) at heavyweight. Baxter and Hagen are expected to show their versatility and split time between the two weight classes this season.

Sophomores Brock Friesen (Oak Park, Ill./Oak Park and River Forest) and Tyler Walsh (Miltona, Minn./Parkers Prairie) are expected to serve as backups to Baxter at 184, while sophomore Riad Abu-Smail (Branchburg, N.J./St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) and freshman Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) will add strength to the depth chart at 197. Michaelis posted a 107-39 career record in high school, including a 42-3 record as a senior in 2010-11.

Look for sophomores Paul Plombon (Rice, Minn./Sartell-St. Stephen) and John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford), and freshman Teddy Kline (Vadnais Heights, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) to also see some action at heavyweight this winter. Kline wrestled for SJU All-American and three-time Scholar All-American Dan Willaert ’06 at Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

The Johnnies officially begin their 2011-12 season at the Wisconsin-Stevens Point Open Nov. 5. SJU’s lone home dual is scheduled for Jan. 14 against NCAA Division II opponent Augustana (S.D.). The annual North Country Open is set for Feb. 4 in Collegeville, followed by the 2012 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Feb. 25 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The 2012 NCAA Division III Championships are scheduled for March 9-10 in La Crosse, Wis.

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