By Tom Berg
Braydon Ortloff’s season was coming down to less than 25 seconds.
The Minnesota State University Moorhead sophomore trailed Augustana’s Bailey Neises in the third period of the 165-pound third-place match at the NCAA Super Region V Wrestling Tournament. The winner of the match would advance to the nationals, while the loser would see his season finished.
“I’m looking at the clock (it’s) 15 seconds, in my mind, it’s over,” Ortloff said. “Then I took the kid down and cut him.”
After cutting Neises loose, Ortloff seized control again, got two back points just before time expired to clinch a 9-7 win. Ortloff’s win clinched his first-ever trip to nationals.
”He is in great shape and that showed on Saturday at the regional tournament when he scored four points with only about 20 seconds remaining in the match to qualify for the national tournament,” MSUM head coach Kris Nelson said. “Braydon had a tough draw at the regional tournament and lost first round to the champion but showed a lot of heart by coming all the way back through the wrestlebacks to claim third place.”
Ortloff will face top-seeded Nick Foster of McKendree in the first round of the 165-pound bracket on Friday at the Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Ortloff started the season at 157 pounds — he wrestled 160 at high school at Detroit Lakes — but made the move to 165 pounds in January. Cutting weight proved to be difficult and by wrestling at 165, he didn’t have to do that.
“Every day at practice, I don’t have to wear sweats and I don’t have to cut weight,” Ortloff said. “At 157, I’d have to lose 4-5 pounds at practice. Now, at 165, I just want to get better. I’ve got all this energy and feel better.”
“Braydon decided to make the jump up to 165 pounds from 157 pounds and it turned out to be the right decision,” Nelson said. “The weight cut to 157 was tough on him and made enjoying the sport hard. The coaching staff was behind him on his decision. He has been able to devote more time to strength and conditioning along with wrestling technique than worrying/watching his diet and is enjoying the sport much more at the 165-pound weight class.”
At one time, Ortloff was 6-7 this season. He is 6-2 since, including going 3-1 at the Super Region V meet. His confidence surged late in the season. He beat Augsburg’s Lucas Jeske — a two-time NCAA Division III national champion who was ranked second in the nation at the time — 6-3 at 165 during the dual between the two teams on Feb. 15.
“He was a two-time national champion; it showed I can compete with these kids,” Ortloff said.
Ortloff’s decision to attend MSUM came in part because of his friendship with current Dragon teammate Cole Jones. Ortloff and Jones grew up as best friends and stayed in touch once Jones and his family moved to Grand Rapids, Minn. He wrestled for the Northwest Wrestling Club for Mike Fiedler, a teammate of Nelson’s at North Dakota State
“Mike had always had nothing but good things to say about Braydon both as a person and as an athlete. I knew Mike was sending us an individual that could find success at the NCAA D2 level and that he had been coached well at the high school level to make a smooth transition to the college level. Braydon’s work ethic has been great in the wrestling room and you always know he is going to go hard for the entire practice and seven-minute match…I feel that Braydon has the opportunity to do really well at the national tournament and we are excited to see him compete this week.”
Ortloff wrestled at 157 pounds during his freshman season at MSUM. He finished 19-14 on the season, including 10-5 over his final 15 matches. He finished second at the Cobber Open in November.
His goal is to earn All-American honors, which would mean finishing in the top eight at nationals.
“I’ll probably do the same thing I did (at regionals),” Ortloff said. “The seed doesn’t matter, the kid doesn’t matter — I’m going to have to wrestle whoever to get that All-American status. I’ll have to beat all those kids at some point.”