The South Dakota State wrestling team kicks off its 2021-22 season Saturday by competing at the Bison Open in Fargo, North Dakota. About 30 Jackrabbit wrestlers are entered in the day-long event.
Competition across four mats begins at 10 a.m. at Scheels Center on the North Dakota State University campus. Wrestlers from 13 programs, including Big Ten schools Minnesota and Wisconsin, are expected to compete.
The Jackrabbits are coming off a pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season in which they posted a 5-6 dual record and sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. SDSU finished eighth at the Big 12 Championship.
SEASON PREVIEW: The 2021-22 edition of the South Dakota State wrestling team will feature some new faces and some familiar faces in new places as the Jackrabbits attempt to improve their standing both within the Big 12 Conference and nationally.
“We have a good base to build upon,” said head coach Damion Hahn, who is entering his fourth season with the Jackrabbits. “We have a strong group of guys who are expecting great things and we’ve been building every year.”
The Jackrabbits, who finished eighth at the 2021 Big 12 Championship, are expected to field a lineup that features six wrestlers who have qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships, led by returning All-American Clay Carlson. A junior from Willmar, Minnesota, Carlson placed eighth in the 141-pound weight class at nationals and finished the year with a 20-9 overall record.
Two other returning NCAA qualifiers, Zach Price and Cade DeVos are expected to jump a couple of weight classes this season. A junior from Johnston, Iowa, Price is moving from 133 pounds to 149 pounds after a breakthrough 2020-21 campaign in which he posted a 17-6 overall record, including a 3-2 mark at nationals.
DeVos earned an at-large berth to the NCAAs at 157 pounds a year ago but is moving up to 174 pounds after a successful summer season in which he won gold in the 74-kilogram weight class of the junior men’s freestyle division at the Cadet and Junior Pan American Championships. During his 2020-21 collegiate season, DeVos compiled a 14-11 record and placed fourth at the Big 12 Championship.
Two-time 197-pound NCAA qualifier Tanner Sloan is expected to be sidelined by injury until the start of the calendar year. The junior from Alburnett, Iowa, turned in a perfect 11-0 mark in dual competition last season before finishing with a 17-4 overall record. He finished one win shy of All-America honors and brings a 38-10 career record into the season.
In the meantime, Nick Casperson is expected to hold down the starting spot at 197 after splitting time at 184 pounds in his first season in the Jackrabbit lineup last winter.
The Jackrabbit lineup is expected to be further bolstered by the return of 165-pounder Tanner Cook and the addition of A.J. Nevills, both of whom were national qualifiers two years ago. Cook sat out last season but made a splash during the 2019-20 campaign by recording a 21-4 overall mark that included 14 wins by fall. He placed third at the 2020 Big 12 Championship to earn a berth to NCAA Championships, which ultimately were canceled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevills is a transfer from Fresno State who made back-to-back NCAA appearances after runner-up finishes at the Big 12 Championship in both 2019 and 2020.
A couple other Jackrabbit starters from a year ago also are expected to shift to other spots in the lineup. Hunter Marko, who wrestled at 149 pounds last season, is moving down to contend for the starting spot at 133 pounds, while Cade King is moving up from 174 pounds to challenge incumbent 184-pounder Jacob Schoon. King notched a 10-10 record last season, while Schoon turned in a 6-13 mark en route to a seventh-place finish at the Big 12 Championship.
Tate Battani, a transfer from Iowa State, also is in the mix at 184.
Sophomores Trayton Anderson and Caleb Gross also are in contention for the 133-pound role, with Tanner Jordan taking over at 125 to replace 2021 national qualifier Danny Vega, who graduated.
At 157 pounds, second-year wrestler Jack Thomsen is expected to be in the opening day lineup, with veteran Kenny O’Neil another candidate to compete in that weight class.
Other wrestlers with competition experience include 149-pounder Daniel Kimball and heavyweight Bowen McConville could prove to be valuable backups for the Jacks this season, according to Hahn.
Hahn said the plan is to redshirt the entire freshman class, one that combined to make up the 10th-ranked recruiting class for 2021.
RABBITS RANKED: All six of South Dakota State’s returning NCAA qualifiers appear in the first installment of national rankings for the 2021-22 season.
Two-time NCAA qualifier Tanner Sloan holds the highest individual ranking by a Jackrabbit, checking in at No. 8 in the 197-pound rankings conducted by Intermat. He also is ranked 12th by both FloWrestling and The Open Mat.
Returning All-American Clay Carlson also is ranked nationally by the same three organizations. His highest ranking in the 141-pound division is 10th by FloWrestling, followed by 11th by Intermat and 12th by The Open Mat.
Tanner Cook is next in the rankings for the Jackrabbits with a 13th-place ranking by Intermat at 165 pounds. He also is ranked 20th by Intermat.
Zach Price (149 pounds), Cade DeVos (174), and A.J. Nevills (285) are all ranked by two services. Price holds rankings of 20th (Intermat) and 21st (FloWrestling), while DeVos is tabbed 18th by FloWrestling and 19th Intermat. Nevills checks in at No. 18 by Intermat and 20th by The Open Mat.
As a team, the Jackrabbits hold rankings of 25th by Intermat and 32nd from FloWrestling.
BIG 12 SUCCESS: Now in its seventh season as an affiliate member of the Big 12 Conference for wrestling, South Dakota State has proven it can contend in one of the top wrestling leagues in the country.
Since joining the league at the start of the 2015-16 season, the Jackrabbits have combined to post a 32-18 record (.640 winning percentage) in duals against Big 12 opponents, with seven of those losses coming during the 2018-19 campaign. SDSU posted an 8-0 mark in Big 12 duals during the 2017-18 season.
The Jackrabbits also turned in back-to-back third-place efforts at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship in both 2017 and 2018, after a fourth-place finish at their inaugural league meet in 2016. SDSU posted another fourth-place finish in 2020, improving six spots in the team standings from the previous season.
NEW FACILITY ON THE HORIZON: Ground was broken in September for a new $4 million on-campus wrestling training facility.
The nearly 16,000-square-foot Kurtenbach Family Wrestling Center is being constructed on the southwest corner of the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex. Former SDSU wrestler and coach Frank Kurtenbach provided the lead gift for the facility, which will feature four competition mats, plus a strength and conditioning area, locker rooms, team room, coaches’ offices, and spaces for academics and nutrition.
“The approval from the Board of Regents to break ground on a state-of-the-art wrestling facility will forever change the landscape of SDSU Wrestling,” SDSU head coach Damion Hahn said. “I can’t thank our Jackrabbit family enough for the contributions that have been made toward this endeavor. I would like to make a special thank you to the Kurtenbach family for their vision and support of the project.”
The South Dakota Board of Regents approved plans for the project in December 2020. The facility is expected to be completed in the fall of 2022.
ZILVERBERG, MUELLER JOIN STAFF: Former South Dakota State standouts Luke Zilverberg and Martin Mueller have returned to the Jackrabbit wrestling program in support roles, head coach Damion Hahn announced.
“It’s great to have two guys who know what it takes to be successful on the mat stay connected with our program,” Hahn said. “I’m excited to have our whole staff together as we work to continue to elevate Jackrabbit Wrestling.”
Zilverberg will fill the role of recruiting coordinator. A native of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, he was a four-year starter from 2015-18 and was a two-time NCAA qualifier. He completed his career with a 99-48 overall record and earned All-America honors at 157 pounds as a senior, placing eighth.
Mueller joins the staff as a graduate assistant. The Rapid City native was a two-year starter at 184 pounds and earned a berth to the national meet during the 2017-18 season. He completed his career with a 46-34 record..
COACH HAHN: Damion Hahn is overseeing a successful rebuilding of South Dakota State University wrestling as he begins his fourth season at the helm of the Jackrabbits’ program. Hahn holds a 20-22 career dual record entering the 2021-22 campaign.
During the 2019-20 season, the Jackrabbits returned to the winning side of the ledger in dual competition by posting a 12-6 overall record, including a 6-3 mark in the Big 12. Included in the dual victories were wins over nationally-ranked Northern Iowa and Stanford.
SDSU also improved by six spots in the Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championship, finishing fourth in the team standings at the 2020 competition. Four Jackrabbit wrestlers earned automatic qualifying berths in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, with another receiving a bid as an alternate. The NCAA Championships were later canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the National Wrestling Coaches Association selected 149-pounder Henry Pohlmeyer, 184-pounder Zach Carlson, and 197-pounder Tanner Sloan as second-team All-Americans.
In his first season at SDSU, Hahn faced a rebuilding task as the Jackrabbits featured new starters in six spots in the lineup. SDSU finished with a 3-10 dual mark, including a 2-7 record against Big 12 foes. Pohlmeyer was the lone NCAA qualifier.
Hahn was hired at SDSU on April 9, 2018, following more than a decade of success as a member of the coaching staff at Cornell (N.Y.).
“Damion represents everything we are looking for in being able to take our wrestling program to the next level,” said SDSU Director of Athletics Justin Sell in announcing the hire. “His success both as a collegiate wrestler and coach, along with his ability to recruit high-achieving student-athletes on and off the mat, made him the ideal candidate. He is a tremendous ambassador for the sport who will work tirelessly to ensure wrestling thrives both on our campus and across the country.”
Hahn spent 12 years as an assistant coach and later the associate head coach at Cornell in Ithaca, New York. During his tenure, the Big Red recorded 11 top-10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, including consecutive runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. He mentored 50 All-Americans, 12 of whom were individual NCAA champions. Cornell also won 12 straight Ivy League dual championships and 11 consecutive Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association team titles.
In accepting his first head coaching position, Hahn made a return to the Midwest. As a collegiate wrestler at Minnesota, Hahn won NCAA individual national titles as a junior and senior. A four-time All-American, he also was a three-time Big 10 individual champion and was named the Jesse Owens Big 10 Male Athlete of the Year in 2004.
The Golden Gophers won team NCAA championships during both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He finished his collegiate career with a 118-21 record.
Hahn was inducted into the University of Minnesota’s M Club Hall of Fame in 2018.
THE ROSTER: The 2021-22 SDSU wrestling roster features 36 student-athletes from 13 different states. Of the 36 wrestlers, 10 are from Iowa, followed by seven from Minnesota and six native South Dakotans. Two Jackrabbit wrestlers hail from Ohio, Wisconsin, and California, while seven states — Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington — each are represented by one wrestler.
By class, two are seniors, 10 are juniors, 11 are sophomores, one is a redshirt freshman and 12 are incoming freshmen.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits are scheduled to open the home portion of their schedule with a pair of events at Frost Arena next weekend.
Next Friday (Nov. 19), SDSU is scheduled to host a triangular against in-state NCAA Division II programs Northern State and Augustana. The Wolves and Vikings are slated to square at 4:30 p.m., followed by the Jackrabbits taking on Northern State at 6 p.m. and Augustana at 7:30 p.m.
The weekend concludes Sunday, Nov. 21, with the Jackrabbits hosting the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open. Action begins at 9 a.m. and will feature regional Division I programs from SDSU, North Dakota State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northern Iowa.