SJU Begins Wrestling Season Saturday in Rochester

The Saint John’s wrestling team travels southwest to open its 2016-17 season at the Rochester Community and Technical College Open this Saturday, Nov. 5. The tournament is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. at the Regional Sports Center.

A LOOK AT THE JOHNNIES: The Saint John’s University wrestling team will look to the leadership of a newly-promoted coach to put up a strong showing in the 2016-17 season.

Tony Willaert ’11 takes over as head wrestling coach for the Johnnies after spending two seasons with the interim tag attached. A former Johnnie wrestler himself, Willaert posted a 74-49 (.602) record in his career and earned a trip to nationals at 197 pounds in the 2010-11 season.

sjulogoDespite a 4-15 dual record, SJU sent three wrestlers to the NCAA Division III Championships in 2015-16, one of which returns this season in senior Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) at 165 pounds. The Johnnies have sent two or more wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in 26 of their last 27 seasons. Seven of the 10 Johnnies that competed at the NCAA West Regional return.

Here is a look at the Johnnies, by weight class:

LOWER WEIGHTS (125, 133, 141, 149)
Senior Branden Schorr (Mantorville, Minn./Kasson-Mantorville) leads an inexperienced group of wrestlers at the lower weights into the 2016-17 season. Schorr notched a 7-22 record at 149 pounds, including four wins by pin. He just missed an appearance in the third-place match at the NCAA West Regional with a one-point loss in the consolation semifinal and finished sixth.

The Johnnies will set out to replace the production put forth by Ben Henle ’16 and Mike Pleski ’16, who both qualified for the national tournament in the 141 and 133 weight classes, respectively. A three-time national entrant, Henle finished his senior season with a 25-13 record, one win from All-America honors. Pleski, meanwhile, posted a 20-20 record.

The 125-pound slot is expected to be a battle between sophomore Riley Drew (Hutchinson, Minn.) and a pair of freshmen, Noah Becker (Browerville, Minn.) and Anthony Hennen (Cologne, Minn./Norwood-Young America). Drew went 0-2 in an injury-riddled season, while both freshmen were Minnesota state qualifiers in high school. Becker was a three-time qualifier and placed twice (fourth and third).

Junior Chris Ortman (Pierz, Minn.) is expected to lead the way at 133 pounds after posting a 0-3 mark as a sophomore, though a pair of freshmen, Graham Evavold(Minneapolis, Minn./Southwest) and Andrew Smith (Amery, Wis.), are expected to contend. Evavold was a 2016 state qualifier, while Smith was a four-time state qualifier in Wisconsin and placed fifth as a senior.

Senior Adam Sutlief (Browerville, Minn.) is expected to take the reins at 141 after his 0-4 mark a season ago. Freshman Jake Fernholz (Sartell, Minn./Sartell-St. Stephen), the son of former SJU assistant coach and All-American Scott Fernholz ’93, posted 105 career wins in high school, 75 of which were via pin.

MIDDLE WEIGHTS (157, 165, 174)
SJU returns several key contributors in the middle weights from last year’s team, particularly at 165 pounds. Senior Teddy Erickson (Annandale, Minn.) is the lone returning national qualifier for the Johnnies after compiling a 15-20 record and a team-leading 49 takedowns as a junior at 165 pounds. Sophomores Muqkadeen Poole (Newark, N.J./St. Benedict’s Prep) and Jack Barsody (Onamia, Minn./Milaca) also return at 165 pounds after gaining valuable experience as freshmen. Poole recorded a 10-15 record, while Barsody tallied a 9-23 mark.

The Johnnies’ only returning wrestler at 157 pounds is senior Brian McCann (Deerfield, Ill.), who competed in four matches as a junior. The team will likely look to a couple of freshmen, Jerod Novak (Aitkin, Minn.) and Colin Tate (Edina, Minn.), to add depth at 157. Novak was a two-time state finisher, including a second-place finish last year, and a five-time Great River Conference Champion. Tate, meanwhile, won 20 matches as a senior.

Senior Robert Tait (Faribault, Minn./Bethlehem Academy) returns for SJU at 174 pounds after just missing a trip to nationals with a fourth-place finish at last year’s regional (the top three advance to nationals). He ended the year with an 11-7 record. Juniors Nick Hoff (Rushford, Minn./Rushford-Peterson) and Mike Wagner(Shakopee, Minn.) are expected to provide depth. Hoff tallied a 4-11 record as a sophomore and seven takedowns, while Wagner went 6-10 with 10 takedowns and two victories via pin.

UPPER WEIGHTS (184, 197, 285)
The most experienced area for the Johnnies entering the 2016-17 season are the upper weights. At 184 pounds, the duo of senior Glenn Castro (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Westlake) and sophomore Luke Dodd (Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview) each return after competing heavily a year ago. Castro recorded 24 takedowns and four pins on his way to an 8-18 record and a fifth-place finish at regionals. Dodd, meanwhile, put together a 9-11 record.

The go-to man at 197 pounds for the Johnnies will once again be junior Nick Pegelow (Eagan, Minn./Eastview). As a sophomore, Pegelow posted a 9-25 record that included 18 takedowns and six pins. Freshman Daniel Davitt (Anoka, Minn.) compiled a 26-6 record as a senior at Anoka High School in 2012 and enrolled at SJU this fall after serving the past three years in the United States Air Force.

The heavyweight group is expected to look pretty similar to what it did in 2015-16. Senior Colin Fisher (Eagan, Minn.) led the way for SJU last season, recording the second-most takedowns on the team with 25. He registered a 13-17 record with two victories via pin. Senior Bryan Scepaniak (Avon, Minn./Holdingford) gained valuable experience as a junior by wrestling in eight matches, putting together a 2-6 record that included two takedowns. Freshmen Dominic Skawiniak (Rogers, Minn.) and Quincy Spiering (Mounds View, Minn./St. Thomas Academy) are also expected to compete at heavyweight.

The Johnnies open the 2016-17 campaign Nov. 5 at the Rochester Community and Technical College Open in Rochester before traveling to Decorah, Iowa, Nov. 12 for the Luther Open. SJU takes on St. Olaf for a neutral-site dual Jan. 5 at Cretin-Derham Hall High School and is scheduled to host three duals this season, but none until after semester break: Division II MSU-Mankato Jan. 11, Concordia-Moorhead Feb. 1 and Division II Mary (N.D.) Feb. 10. SJU hosts the annual North Country Open Jan. 29 and the NCAA West Regional will be held Feb. 25 at Concordia in Moorhead. The NCAA Division III Championships will be held March 10-11 in La Crosse, Wis.

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