WILLMAR and HUTCHINSON, MN – Four Ridgewater Warriors have wrestled their way to the National Junior College Athletic Association competition set for March 4-5 in Iowa.
Tristian Lang (Hutchinson), Richard Jones (DeGraff), Sawyer Varpness (Brownton), and Wilhem Yasseri (Rogers) earned their spots on Sunday, February 20 when the Warriors hosted the NJCAA Region 13 national qualifying tournament in Willmar. Five teams competed.
“I’m pumped,” said Warrior Coach Joey Brown. “Ridgewater represented the field well by putting two wrestlers into the finals and three more into the true second-place matches.” (True matches occur, for example, when maybe a third-place finisher and a second-place finisher have not wrestled each other in the tournament; they may wrestle to establish who is the true second-place winner in the tournament.)
Wrestling at 133 pounds, Lang, who previously wrestled for the Hutchinson Tigers, entered the tournament as the #1 seed after earning a 12-5 record during the season. On Sunday, he advanced to the finals but lost a close 6-3 decision. He finished in second place, qualifying for nationals.
At 141 pounds with an 8-7 season record, Glencoe-Silver Lake graduate Varpness wrestled his way to a third-place finish and national spot.
In the middleweights, hitting the mat at 157 pounds with a season record of 11-6, Yasseri pinned his way to the finals but ran into the #4 nationally-ranked wrestler from Rochester. Yasseri gave his opponent a run for his money but fell by a score of 10-7. The former Rogers Royal now Ridgewater Warrior still finished in second place and is heading to Iowa.
In the upper weights at 197 pounds from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School, Jones finished in third place and will advance with a 10-10 season record so far. Maple Grove native Johan Rodvik (285 pounds) also finished third but just missed advancing.
“We’re in a good spot,” Coach Brown said. “Our wrestlers really put it together at the right time.” He’s looking forward to helping them take it to the next level.
Brown said it has been a challenging season with injuries, COVID, and weather-related cancellations, but he’s excited for his team of 13. He anticipates that 11 of them will return next year.
“Two years ago, we only had one wrestler on the team, the pandemic canceled our season last year, and this year we qualified four for the national tournament,” Brown explained. Three of the four qualifiers were state qualifiers at the high school level in the past but didn’t place. “As a team, we have a lot to prove and are excited for the opportunity to show what we can do on the mat. Our Warriors just need to stick to what got them here and they will find success.”
Brown is thankful that most of his team competed at the high school level last year so few experienced a gap year. “We could not be happier with the result and the direction our program is headed. All of our qualifiers are Minnesota young men who are not only representing Ridgewater, but are also representing the greater west-central Minnesota wrestling community as a whole!”