Saint John’s begins its 2012-13 wrestling season with a 7 p.m. dual against Northwestern (Iowa) this Friday, Nov. 16, at the Old Gym (Guild Hall) in Collegeville. The Johnnies then travel to compete at the annual Augsburg Open Saturday, Nov. 17. The tournament is scheduled for a 9 a.m. start at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis. – Live Results (Saturday)
SEASON PREVIEW: You don’t get a ring for finishing among the top 15 teams in the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.
If they did, however, Saint John’s University would be vying for “one for the thumb” in 2012-13.
The Johnnies finished 11th out of 62 teams at the 2012 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. The top-15 finish was SJU’s fourth consecutive.
SJU will attempt to continue that streak thanks to three returning stalwarts who both won over 20 matches last season. Senior Mitch Hagen (Sunburg, Minn./Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg) made his first career national-tournament appearance and ended the 2011-12 season with a 23-8 record at 184 pounds. Senior Chris Stevermer (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake) lost both of his matches at 157 pounds at the national tournament to end the season with a 25-12 record. Junior Nick Schuler (Roseville, Minn./Totino-Grace) returns for the Johnnies at 165 pounds after posting a 27-8 record last year, including 20 bonus-point wins. Unfortunately, he suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice days before the 2012 NCAA Great Lakes Regional.
SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships 22 of the last 23 seasons and has sent at least one individual in 26 of the past 27 seasons. During that span, the Johnnies have produced 32 All-Americans and 43 Scholar All-Americans.
Here’s how head coach Brandon Novak, who led the Johnnies to an 8-7 dual record in 2011-12, might pencil in his lineup, by weight:
LOWER WEIGHTS (125, 133, 141, 149)
A trio of freshmen looks to provide much-needed depth at 125 pounds this season. Mike Pleski (Stacy, Minn./Forest Lake), Andy Poster (Royalton, Minn.) and John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Milton) are all expected to compete for the spot that sophomore Brian Waldron (Lake Zurich, Ill./Carmel Catholic) filled in 2011-12. Waldron is expected to bump up to 133 or 141 pounds this season. Wells produced a career record of 169-33 at Milton High School and won the Wisconsin Division I state title as a sophomore. He also earned second- and sixth-place finishes as a senior and junior, respectively. Poster compiled a 122-51 career record at Royalton High School, while Pleski claimed third at the Minnesota Class AAA State Tournament last spring. Junior Matt Hickerson (Ogilvie, Minn.) is also expected to vie for the starting spot this year after seeing limited action in his first two seasons due to injuries.
Four Johnnies are looking to replace Chad Henle at 133 pounds this season: junior Alex Peck (Edina, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret’s), sophomores Evan Guffey (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt) and Dalton Sowers (Long Lake, Minn./Delano), and freshman Tyler Isaacson (Forest Lake, Minn.). Peck compiled a 10-14 record last year at 141, while Guffey totaled an 11-9 record as Henle’s backup. Sowers posted a perfect 12-0 record as a freshman during the fall portion of the 2010-11 season and missed the entire 2011-12 season.
Senior Charlie Kirscht (Garfield, Minn./Alexandria), junior Aaron Padrnos (Brainerd, Minn.) and senior Jay Woiwor (Becker, Minn.) appear to be the top contenders at 141 pounds this season. Woiwor went 1-2 for SJU at the Great Lakes Regional and Padrnos compiled a 10-4 record before missing the second half of the season due to injury.
Novak will look to senior Cody Goldschmidt (Waconia, Minn./BOLD), juniors Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) and Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano), and sophomore Ochirbat Bayanjargal (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia/St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) to compete at 149 pounds this winter. Hessing had a record of 15-10 last season but missed the end of the season due to injury. Arne, meanwhile, had a 19-10 record and finished sixth at the Great Lakes Regional.
MIDDLE WEIGHTS (157, 165, 174)
Junior Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.), sophomore Matt Rogers (Dillingham, Alaska/Mt. Edgecumbe) and freshman Rusty Grisim (Lake City, Minn.) are expected to provide depth for the Johnnies at both 157 and 165 pounds. Seppelt tallied a 15-10 record last season and Rogers, who may also bump up to 165 this year, went 12-9 as a freshman. Grisim led all incoming SJU freshmen with 170 high-school wins and placed fourth at the 2012 Minnesota Class A State Tournament.
One of the biggest obstacles facing SJU this season is the need to replace two-time All-American Matt Pfarr at 174 pounds. Fortunately for the Johnnies, they seem to have found a suitable replacement in freshman Josh Willaert (Le Sueur, Minn./Le Sueur-Henderson), who was a two-time Minnesota state champion and totaled a 154-45 prep record. Junior David Rademacher (Eden Prairie, Minn.), sophomore Brian Schlichting (Royalton, Minn.) and freshman Kyle Spengler (Westminster, Colo./Holy Family) are expected to supply depth.
UPPER WEIGHTS (184, 197, 285)
Junior Brock Friesen (Oak Park, Ill./Oak Park and River Forest) and freshman Aaron Baker (Lakeville, Minn./North) are expected to serve as backups to Hagen at 184.
Another challenge for SJU this season is to replace Dustin Baxter, who finished second at 197 pounds at the NCAA Championships last spring. A four-time national qualifier and a three-time All-American, Baxter finished the season with a 30-3 record.
Junior Riad Abu-Smail (Branchburg, N.J./St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) and sophomore Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) will attempt to fill the void left by Baxter. Abu-Smail went 3-7 at heavyweight last season but lost 60 pounds over the offseason to contend at 197. Michaelis, meanwhile, went 2-3 as a freshman. He posted a 107-39 career record in high school, including a 42-3 record as a senior in 2010-11.
Junior John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) returns at heavyweight for the Johnnies after a 15-18 record last year. Classmate Paul Plombon (Rice, Minn./Sartell-St. Stephen) and freshman Matt Kadrlik (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley) will also compete for time at heavyweight. Plombon posted a 3-5 record last year, while Kadrlik enters the collegiate ranks after boasting a 105-30 career record in high school and a fifth-place finish at the 2012 Minnesota Class AA State Tournament.
The Johnnies begin their 2012-13 season with a dual meet against Northwestern (Iowa) Nov. 16 in Collegeville and host three duals throughout the season: Dec. 6 against St. Olaf, Dec. 12 against St. Cloud State and Feb. 16 against Concordia. The annual North Country Open is set for Feb. 2 in Collegeville. The inaugural NCAA West Regional Tournament is scheduled for March 3 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, followed shortly by the NCAA Division III Championships March 15-16 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With the new NCAA six-region format, the top three at each weight class advance to the national tournament.