Johnnie Wrestling Primed for This Weekend’s National Duals

The seventh-ranked St. John’s wrestling team travels to the Illinois state capital for the 2012 NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 7-8. The elite two-day tournament will be held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. SJU is scheduled to begin the tourney against No. 24 Mount Union (Ohio) at 9 a.m., followed by No. 4 Wisconsin-La Crosse/No. 25 Centenary (N.J.) at 1 p.m. – Live Results (trackwrestling)| Bracket (p. 2)

Preview Video:
-Head coach Brandon Novak (1:05)

A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: Saint John’s finished fourth out of 16 teams at the two-day Citrus Invitational Dec. 29-30 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A pair of Johnnies, senior Dustin Baxter (Fairbanks, Alaska/West Valley) and junior Mitch Hagen (Sunburg, Minn./Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg), won their respective weight classes. Six Johnnies entered the final day of competition Friday in the semifinals and eight others remained alive in the consolation brackets (out of 25 SJU wrestlers). Baxter, the top-seed and second-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds, cruised through his first three matches via 17-2 technical fall, first-period pin (1:13) and a medical default. Baxter tallied a close 3-2 decision over Alex Coolidge of Luther (Iowa) in the semifinals before earning a 3-1 victory over Carl Broghammer of Upper Iowa, the top-ranked wrestler in Division II, in the championship match. Baxter is now 13-0 on the season. Hagen followed his opening-round bye with a pin and a 9-5 win over Ryan Swansen of Division II Colorado School of Mines. He started Friday with an eye-opening 20-5 technical fall against the top seed, Royal Brettrager, of Liberty (Va.), a Division I national qualifier from a year ago. Hagen defeated Upper Iowa’s Mitchell Schultz, the top-ranked wrestler in Division II, 7-2 in the championship bout at 184 pounds. He is now 10-2 on the year.

Senior Matt Pfarr (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson), on his way back down to 174 pounds, mirrored Hagen to the 184-pound semifinals and finished fifth. He won his first two matches before falling to Schultz in the semis. Pfarr lost to Shiheem Bryant of North Carolina-Pembroke, 6-5, and earned fifth due to a medical default. Brettrager eventually claimed third with a 6-3 victory over Bryant. Sophomore Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) claimed second at 149 pounds with a 4-1 mark. He gallantly progressed through the bracket despite his lack of seeding before falling to top-ranked Tony Valek of Augsburg in the championship match. Fellow sophomore Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) took seventh at 149 with a 4-2 record. Senior Chad Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) finished fifth at 133 pounds. He won his first three matches by straight decision before falling in the semifinals. Like Pfarr at 184, Henle lost a one-point decision on path to the third-place match. He earned fifth place via default.

Sophomore Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.) took fifth at 157 pounds with a 5-2 record, while junior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) claimed seventh. Sophomore Aaron Padrnos (Brainerd, Minn.) knocked off the fourth and fifth seeds on his way to the 141-pound semifinals, but lost to nationally-ranked Will Keeter of Augsburg and defaulted to sixth place. Junior Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn./Totino-Grace) was not seeded in the 165-pound weight bracket despite being ranked seventh and eighth in the and NWCA rankings, respectively. He fell to top-seeded Orlando Ponce (Augsburg) 13-7 in his first match before tallying a 15-0 technical fall in the first consolation match. Schuler ended Friday with a 7-5 loss to Noel Sweeney of Augsburg. He is now 12-5 on the season.

NATIONAL RANKINGS: SJU slipped one spot to No. 7 in the Brute-Adidas National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division lll poll released Jan. 3. Other members of the NCAA Great Lakes Region listed in the rankings include Augsburg (No. 2, up five spots from No. 7), Elmhurst of Illinois (No. 9, up one from No. 10), Concordia-Moorhead (No. 13) and North Central of Illinois (No. 29).

Baxter stayed at No. 2 at 197 pounds in the NWCA rankings and No. 3 on’s 197-pound list, while Hagen surprisingly fell out of’s top 10 at 184, but cracked the NWCA rankings at No. 6. Henle fell out of the NWCA rankings but is ranked No. 10 according to at 133 pounds. Pfarr and Schuler both fell out of the national top 10.

A LOOK AT THE PURPLE RAIDERS: Mount Union finished fifth, eight points behind SJU, at the Citrus Invitational last week. Senior Josh Malave, ranked No. 8/9 nationally, finished second at 141 and classmate Derick Hesson, ranked No. 2/4, placed third to headline the Purple Raider’s eight placewinners in the tournament. Saturday’s meeting is the first between the two schools on the mat in a dual format.

SECOND-ROUND MATCHUP: If the higher seeds survive their opening-round tests, SJU could find itself with a rematch against No. 4 Wisconsin-La Crosse in the second round. The Eagles defeated the Johnnies 20-15 on Dec. 9 in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. SJU found itself down 13-0 early before the Johnnies rattled off three straight wins. Sophomore Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) and junior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) recorded wins at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively, and Seppelt posted his second overtime win of the night at 165. Top-ranked Mike Schmitz defeated Schuler, who bumped up from 165 to 174, but wins from Hagen and Baxter brought SJU to within one point (16-15) heading into the final match. Billy Mayer tallied a major decision over sophomore John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) to give La Crosse the win.

LAST YEAR’S NATIONAL DUALS: The Johnnies finished sixth out of 16 teams at last year’s NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Johnnies defeated then-No. 26 Johnson & Wales (R.I.) 42-0 in the first round before losing two matches in overtime and forfeiting the heavyweight match in a 24-10 loss to then-No. 6 Ithaca (N.Y.) in the first day of competition. SJU bounced back with a 23-18 win over then-No. 25 Delaware Valley (Pa.) in the day’s finale. SJU defeated familiar-foe Concordia-Moorhead 22-21 to advance to the fifth-place dual, which was won by No. 5 Coe (Iowa), 23-18, on Sunday. SJU surrendered six points at the start of each dual due to a forfeit at 125 pounds. Pfarr went 5-0 with upsets over the Nos. 4 and 6 wrestlers in the nation.

RIDGEWATER: The rest of the SJU wrestling team travels to compete at the Ridgewater Open on Saturday. The tournament is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Willmar.

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