Johnnies Begin Wrestling Season Saturday at Auggie Open

Saint John’s begins its 2013-14 wrestling season at the annual Augsburg Open this Saturday, Nov. 23. The tournament is scheduled for 9 a.m. at Si Melby Hall in Minneapolis.

Saint John's JohnniesA LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: The Saint John’s University wrestling team begins the 2013-14 season with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. For the first time in the last five years, SJU finished outside of the top 15 at the NCAA Division III Championships, claiming 18th out 62 teams in March.

The Johnnies, however, return three of the six national entrants from last year’s team: senior Ryan Arne (157 pounds; Orono, Minn.), junior Ryan Michaelis (197 pounds; Monticello, Minn.) and senior John Scepaniak (285 pounds; Avon, Minn./Holdingford), as well as four others that competed at the NCAA West Regional.

SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships 23 of the last 24 seasons. During that span, the Johnnies have produced 33 All-Americans and 45 Scholar All-Americans.

Here is how head coach Brandon Novak, who led the Johnnies to an 8-5 dual record last year and begins his 10th season in Collegeville, may pencil in his lineup:

LOWER WEIGHTS (125, 133, 141, 149)
Novak returns sophomore John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Milton), who posted a 10-7 record and finished fourth at 125 pounds in a very competitive bracket at last year’s NCAA West Regional. Senior Matt Hickerson (Ogilvie, Minn.), and sophomores Alex Rod (Vadnais Heights, Minn./White Bear Lake) and Ben Kollaja (Stillwater, Minn.) are expected to provide depth.

Junior Dalton Sowers (Long Lake, Minn./Delano) matched Wells’ fourth-place finish at 133 pounds at the regional and compiled an 8-6 record last season. A pair of sophomores from Forest Lake, Tyler Isaacson and Mike Pleski, are also expected to compete at 133 pounds. Pleski racked up a 9-7 record last season at 133, while Isaacson went 6-9 at 141. Classmate Andy Poster (Royalton, Minn.) could also see time.

Junior Evan Guffey (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt), seniors Aaron Padrnos (Brainerd, Minn.) and Alex Peck (Edina, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret’s), and sophomore Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) appear to be the top contenders for the 141-pound weight class in 2013-14. Guffey represented SJU at the NCAA regional and ended the year with a 5-12 record. Peck and Henle registered 7-5 and 12-7 records, respectively, at 133 pounds last season, while Padrnos missed the bulk of the season due to injuries.

Senior Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) starts the season as the front-runner at 149 pounds for SJU. He accrued a 15-10 record as a sophomore in 2011-12 but missed the end of the season and all of the 2012-13 campaign due to injury. Freshmen Max Carlin (Milwaukee, Wis./Whitefish Bay) and Branden Schorr (Mantorville, Minn./Kasson-Mantorville) will provide depth. Schorr was a three-time state qualifier and a member of Kasson-Mantorville High School’s 2013 Class AA Minnesota state championship team.

MIDDLE WEIGHTS (157, 165, 174)
Arne returns at 157 pounds following a strong performance at last year’s national tournament. He upset the fifth-ranked wrestler 6-3 in the first round before falling to the third-ranked wrestler and ended the season with a 10-6 record. Juniors Ochirbat Bayanjargal (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia/St. Benedict’s Prep, N.J.) and Devin Nanik (Murphys, Calif./Bret Harte Union) will also compete at 157 for SJU after registering 8-12 and 8-6 records last season, respectively.

Like Hessing at 149 pounds, senior Brandon Seppelt (Foley, Minn.) returns for the Johnnies after missing all of last season due to injury. He went 15-10 during his injury-shortened sophomore season (2011-12). Senior Aaron Brasket (Independence, Minn./Delano) and freshman Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) are expected to back up Seppelt at 165.

With Willaert expected to bump up to 184 pounds in 2013-14, seniors Brock Friesen (Oak Park, Ill./Oak Park and River Forest) and Dave Rademacher (Eden Prairie, Minn.) are expected to compete for the starting spot despite competing in limited matches last season. Rademacher went 2-5 on the mat before missing the bulk of the season due to injury, while Friesen had a 1-6 record.

UPPER WEIGHTS (184, 197, 285)
Willaert posted a 20-5 record as a freshman last winter at 174 pounds and, like Sowers at 133, just missed a trip to nationals with a fourth-place finish at regionals. Look for sophomore Kyle Spengler (Westminster, Colo./Holy Family) and freshman Glenn Castro (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Westlake) to provide the depth for SJU at 174.

Michaelis returns at 197 pounds after taking third at the regional to earn his first appearance at nationals in March. He lost both matches to finish the 2012-13 campaign with a 10-6 record. Junior Dino Saracco (Wilmington, Ill.) and sophomore Simon Liedtke (Excelsior, Minn./Minnetonka), who posted a 7-10 record last season, will likely back up Michaelis, who appeared in all 10 games for the SJU football team this fall.

Scepaniak became the first SJU heavyweight to reach the national tournament since 1997 (Matt Wentland) last season with a third-place finish at regionals. He went 1-2 with two one-point losses at nationals to finish with a 13-16 record. Sophomore Matt Kadrlik (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley) went 11-4 as a freshman last year, though two others will likely contend at heavyweight for SJU this season. Senior Paul Plombon (Rice, Minn./Sartell-St. Stephen), like Scepaniak, will have a late start in the wrestling room thanks to a successful football season. He went 8-13 last year on the mat. Freshman Colin Fisher (Eagan, Minn.), meanwhile, is expected to contribute right away for SJU. He won the Minnesota Class AAA state title in March and ended his senior season with a 40-2 record.

The Johnnies begin their 2013-14 season at the annual Augsburg Open Nov. 23 before visiting Division II power St. Cloud State for a dual Dec. 5. SJU is scheduled to host duals against Division II Southwest Minnesota State (Dec. 13) and Augsburg (Jan. 25), as well as the annual North Country Open Feb. 1. The Johnnies are also scheduled to attend four dual tournaments, including the elite NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals Jan. 11-12 in Des Moines, Iowa. The NCAA West Regional Tournament is scheduled for March 1 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, followed by the NCAA Division III Championships March 14-15 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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