The Saint John’s University wrestling team begins its 2015-16 season on Sunday, Nov. 1, at the Rochester Community & Technical College Open. The tournament is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Regional Sports Center in Rochester.
Tony Willaert ’11 is back as the Johnnies’ interim head wrestling coach for the second straight season. Willaert spent three seasons as an assistant coach to Brandon Novak before being handed the reins. He compiled a 74-49 (.602) career record for the Johnnies and was a national entrant as a senior at 197 pounds in 2010-11.
SJU’s most notable returnee is senior Ben Henle (Spicer, Minn./New London-Spicer), who posted a 26-10 record and made his second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III Championships in March.
SJU has qualified two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships 25 of the last 26 seasons. During that span, the Johnnies have produced 33 All-Americans and 49 Scholar All-Americans.
Here is a look at the Johnnies, by weight class:
LOWER WEIGHTS (125, 133, 141, 149)
Senior John Wells (Janesville, Wis./Milton) is back at 125 pounds, where he totaled a 7-9 record last season. Five of the nine losses were decided by two points or less. Wells claimed fifth at the NCAA Regional as a freshman and sophomore. Senior Ben Kollaja (Stillwater, Minn.) and sophomore Tevin Zavadil (Clearwater, Minn./Monticello) are expected to compete at 125. Zavadil finished sixth at regionals with an 8-12 record. Freshman Riley Drew (Hutchinson, Minn.) is expected to contribute right away this season. He placed fifth as a junior in Minnesota Class AA at 126 pounds.
The task of replacing Evan Guffey’s ’15 total of 14 wins at 133 pounds last season will be the task of seniors Mike Pleski (Stacy, Minn./Forest Lake) and Andy Poster(Royalton, Minn.), and sophomore Chris Ortman (Pierz, Minn.). Pleski and Ortman each saw limited action for the Johnnies last season, combining for eight wins on the season, with Ortman going 5-2.
Henle has 141 pounds locked down after another outstanding season in 2014-15. He made his second consecutive trip to nationals and posted a career-high 26 wins. Sophomore Austin Miley (Willmar, Minn.) will serve as Henle’s backup.
Junior Adam Sutlief (Browerville, Minn.) bumped up a weight class to 149 and is expected to compete with classmate Jake Hickerson (Ogilvie, Minn.). Sutlief posted a 7-11 record last season, while Hickerson appeared in only two matches in 2014-15.
MIDDLE WEIGHTS (157, 165, 174)
A pair of juniors, Brian McCann (Deerfield, Ill.) and Branden Schorr (Mantorville, Minn./Kasson-Mantorville), are expected to bump up to 157 pounds this year. The duo competed in a combined 37 matches last season and will use that experience this winter.
The Johnnies will have a number of wrestlers competing at, and between, the 165- 174-pound weight classes in 2015-16. Junior Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) went 10-15 a year ago, while sophomore Nick Hoff (Rushford, Minn./Rushford-Peterson) tallied a 10-8 record, including nine pins. A pair of newcomers should also leave an impression this season. Freshman Jack Barsody (Onamia, Minn./Milaca) collected a 31-10 record and was a Minnesota Class AA state entrant at 152 pounds last season, while sophomore Mike Wagner (Shakopee, Minn.) is a transfer from Division I North Dakota State. He posted a 20-9 record and was a Class AAA state entrant as a senior at 170 pounds in 2014.
Senior Kyle Spengler (Westminster, Colo./Holy Family) and junior Robert Tait (Faribault, Minn./Bethlehem Academy) are expecting to carry the load at 174 pounds this season. Spengler posted a 1-4 record and Tait managed a 7-9 mark last season. SJU will be bolstered by freshman Muqkadeen Poole (Newark, N.J./St. Benedict’s Prep), who earned All-America honors with an eighth-place finish at the National Prep tournament at 160 pounds this past spring.
UPPER WEIGHTS (184, 197, 285)
Aside from heavyweight, the Johnnies will be rather lean (no pun intended) at 184 and 197 pounds. Junior Glenn Castro (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Westlake) returns as the most experienced wrestler at 184 following a 2-13 mark last season. Freshman Luke Dodd (Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview), a two-time state qualifier, is expected to battle for matches in 2015-16. He accumulated a 41-5 record and finished runner-up as a senior in Minnesota Class AAA at 182 pounds in March.
The Johnnies’ lone wrestler penciled in at 197 pounds is sophomore Nick Pegelow (Eagan, Minn./Eastview). He went 12-17 at 184 pounds as a freshman last winter and recorded a 1-2 mark at the NCAA West Regional. Pegelow replaces Ryan Michaelis ’15, who posted a 12-4 record last season and was a three-time national entrant at 197 pounds.
All four heavyweights on the Johnnies’ roster are expected to make a delayed appearance in the wrestling room to due participation in football this fall. Senior Matt Kadrlik (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley) and juniors Colin Fisher (Eagan, Minn.) and Bryan Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) all return looking to build off experience gained last season. Fisher represented SJU at the NCAA regional and just missed a trip to nationals with a fourth-place finish. He ended the year with a 13-9 record, while Kadrlik and Scepaniak combined for a 3-11 mark on the year. Sophomore Noah Voight (St. Augusta, Minn./St. Cloud Tech) joined the wrestling team late in the 2014-15 season and is expected to help out immediately in 2015-16.
The Johnnies open the 2015-16 campaign Nov. 1 at the Rochester Community and Technical College Open in Rochester before traveling to Stevens Point, Wis., Nov. 7 for the Pointer Open.
SJU is scheduled to host four duals this season: Division II Southwest Minnesota State Nov. 18, Division II St. Cloud State Nov. 24, Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead Dec. 2 and Augsburg Jan. 24.
SJU hosts the annual North Country Open Jan. 30 and is scheduled to attend three dual tournaments, including the Wisconsin-La Crosse duals Dec. 5. The NCAA West Regional will be held Feb. 27 at Augsburg in Minneapolis, while the NCAA Division III Championships will be held March 11-12 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.