The nationally-ranked Saint John’s wrestling team returns to dual competition with four at Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel this Saturday, Dec. 21. SJU is scheduled to face No. 4 SUNY-Cortland, No. 26 Heidelberg (Ohio), No. 14 Olivet (Mich.) and Pacific (Ore.).
A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: Saint John’s (2-3 overall) built a 10-6 lead through the first five matches but won only one more the rest of the way in a 22-13 home loss to Division II Southwest Minnesota State on Dec. 13 in Collegeville. The Mustangs accrued a 6-0 lead before the Johnnies rattled off three consecutive wins. Sophomore Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer) put SJU on the board with a 12-4 major decision at 141 pounds. Henle improved to 6-2 on the year. Junior Joe Hessing (Loretto, Minn./Delano) earned a 7-4 win at 149 pounds and senior Ryan Arne (Orono, Minn.) tallied a 15-9 victory at 157 to improve to 7-2 on the young season. Arne nearly pinned his opponent in the first two minutes of the match and registered nine points in the opening period, but could not earn a bonus-point win. Junior Ryan Michaelis (Monticello, Minn.) stopped the bleeding for SJU, which found itself down 19-10, with a 7-4 win at 197 pounds. Needing a pin for the tie at heavyweight, senior John Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) dominated the first two periods but came up short in a 7-4 loss.
NATIONAL RANKINGS: The Johnnies stayed at No. 18 in the latest National Wrestling Coaches’ Association (NWCA) Division III rankings released Dec. 17. Individually, Henle, like the team, stayed put at No. 5 in the 141-pound category. Arne, however, dropped out of the top 10 despite going 4-1 since earning the No. 8 ranking at 157 pounds Nov. 27. His lone loss was an 8-2 decision to St. Cloud State’s Clint Poster, ranked fourth nationally in Division II, Dec. 5.
THE LAST TIME IN VEGAS: Saint John’s went 3-1 the last time it participated at the Vegas Duals on Dec. 20, 2010. Then-No. 5 SJU posted a 44-3 win over the University of Chicago, and sandwiched an 18-13 loss to then-No. 27 Olivet with tough wins over top-ranked Wartburg (21-15) and then-No. 3 Coe (18-17). The Johnnies posted three pins, one technical fall and inherited two forfeits in the win over Chicago. In the second dual of the day, Wartburg jumped out to a 6-0 lead with a pair of decisions from nationally-ranked wrestlers. Chris Sandy posted an 8-6 win in overtime at 141 pounds and Minga Batsukh ’10 pinned his opponent in 3:38 to give SJU a 9-6 lead. The Knights’ Carrington Banks, ranked No. 1 at 157, tallied a 7-2 decision over Drew Larson ’10 to tie the dual at 9-9 before SJU rattled off two one-point victories to take a 15-9 lead. Matt Baarson ’10 held on for a 10-9 decision at 165 and Matt Pfarr ’11 followed with a 4-3 win at 174. Baarson, ranked fifth nationally, posted leads of 7-2 and 9-4 and held on for a one-point win due to riding time. Pfarr, meanwhile, was down 3-1 before he was awarded a stalling point and recorded a takedown with 10 seconds remaining for the win. Dustin Baxter ’11 lost a tough 3-1 decision in overtime to All-American Dylan Azinger. Byron Tate, the defending national champion at 197, tied the dual at 15-15 with a 12-6 decision over Tony Willaert ’10. Top-ranked John Helgerson, the previous year’s national runner-up, was ahead 2-0 on John Linn but was disqualified when he slammed Linn to the mat. The loss snapped Wartburg’s 29-match win streak at the Desert Duals.
The Johnnies dropped an 18-13 decision to Olivet in their third consecutive dual without a break. SJU and Olivet alternated wins from 125 thru 165 before the Comets took control with a pair of close wins. Pfarr lost a close 11-9 decision at 174 and Mitch Hagen ’13 suffered a one-point loss, 7-6, to No. 10 Jim Neal. Baxter bumped up to 197 pounds and earned a 6-4 win to cut the deficit to two, 15-13. Willaert jumped up to heavyweight but lost, 8-4. Arne gave Batsukh a rest at 149 and lost by two, 6-4. John Vaith ’10 wrestled his first match since cutting down from 165 and lost a close match of his own, 10-6. Batsukh went 3-0 on the day, including two pins and one major decision, with two wins against Nos. 6 and 7 in the nation.
SJU wrapped up the Vegas Duals with a big 18-17 win over Coe. The Johnnies erased an early 5-0 deficit with three straight wins to take a 10-5 lead. Chad Henle ’11 posted a 4-2 win at 133 to go 3-1 on the day. Sandy tallied an upset win, 8-5, over No. 6 Chris LeClere to give SJU a 6-5 lead. Batsukh padded the lead to 10-5 with a major decision over No. 6 James Locke. The Kohawks clawed back to take a one-point lead with wins from nationally-ranked wrestlers at 157 and 165. The resilient Johnnies answered with major decisions from Pfarr and Baxter to take an 18-11 lead. Pfarr posted a 15-3 win, while Baxter recorded a 12-4 win over No. 6 Seth Rehn. Both Pfarr and Baxter went 3-1 on the day. Coe net a pair of decisions in the final two weights, including a high-scoring 19-14 win at heavyweight, but SJU held on for the one-point victory. Comparative scores out the window, Coe defeated Olivet 28-9 earlier in the day.
A LOOK AT THE RED DRAGONS: SUNY-Cortland (1-0 dual record) enters the weekend ranked fourth nationally and boasting four nationally-ranked wrestlers by the NWCA, all of which are listed in the top five at their respective weights: senior Brian Bistis (11-5 record), No. 3 at 141; sophomore Bobby Dierna (10-3 record), No. 1 at 149; junior Lou Puca (16-4 record), No. 2 at 174; and junior Lance Moore (10-1 record), No. 5 at heavyweight. Dierna earned All-America honors with a third-place finish at 149 pounds as a freshman last March and Puca reached the podium with a sixth-place finish at 174 as the Red Dragons finished ninth nationally.
A LOOK AT THE STUDENT PRINCES: Heidelberg (3-3 dual record) is ranked No. 26 by the NWCA and touts one nationally-ranked wrestler by D3wrestle.com: junior Jason Russell (9-2 record), No. 9 at 197 pounds. Senior Jeremy Stepp and sophomore Damon Cheek are both 13-5 at 174 and 149 pounds, respectively. Junior Richard Dowdley (5-3 record) and senior Delian Schneider (0-0 record) qualified for nationals last season but have seen limited time on the mat so far this year. The Johnnies are 3-0 all-time against Heidelberg. The first meeting was a 24-9 decision on Dec. 31, 2001, as part of the Citrus Duals in Florida. The other two wins were recorded 11 months apart in consecutive seasons at the January 2009 NWCA/Cliff Keen Division III National Duals (22-10) and December 2009 Duals at the Dells (26-9), respectively.
A LOOK AT THE COMETS: Olivet (4-2 dual record) has defeated SJU in each of the last two head-to-head meetings. This year’s squad is ranked No. 14 nationally and has two nationally-ranked wrestlers. Senior Gage Pederson (19-3 record) is listed No. 10 at 149 pounds by the NWCA, while classmate Jeff Holm (12-7 record, 9-1 vs. Division III) is ranked No. 7 at 184 by D3wrestle.com. The Comets compiled a 32-10-1 dual record with a pair of 31st-place finishes at nationals from 2010-12, but went 10-9 in duals and finished in a tie for 46th last year.
A LOOK AT THE BOXERS: SJU and Pacific (2-1 dual record) end the Vegas Duals with a head-to-head matchup Saturday. Although the two campuses are nearly 1,700 miles apart, the two wrestling programs know each other fairly well. The Boxers were members of the old NCAA Great Lakes Region and continue to send wrestlers to the annual North Country Open in Collegeville. Senior Caleb Malychewski (10-2 record), a national qualifier last season, is ranked No. 8 at 184 pounds by D3wrestle.com. Though he is unranked, junior Eric Harder is 11-2 at 133.