St. Cloud State Wrestling continues NSIC competition with two key road duals
ST. CLOUD, Minn. – No. 5 St. Cloud State Wrestling begins a long road stretch this weekend with a pair of duals at MSU-Moorhead and No. 20 Northern State, visiting the Dragons on Friday at 7:00 p.m. CT with a 2:00 p.m. CT first bout against the Wolves on Saturday. The Huskies wrestle their next five duals on the road before closing conference competition against SMSU at home in mid-February.
SIZING UP THE DRAGONS
Minnesota State University-Moorhead enters the weekend 1-6 with an 0-5 conference record. The Dragons snapped a year-plus losing streak in their first dual of the season with a 23-16 win over Jamestown but have scuffled since, scoring no more than 15 team points in a dual while dropping their last six. MSUM features a blend of young grapplers and veterans, wrestling two seniors and five juniors with three underclassmen occupying starting spots. Head coach Kris Nelson is in his 14th season leading the Dragons and has spent nearly his entire coaching career with a Huskies conference rival, serving nine seasons as an assistant for North Dakota State with two of those years competing in the North Central Conference.
St. Cloud State has had great success in recent years facing the Dragons, scoring no less than 32 points in 12 straight duals against MSUM dating back to January 29, 2010 while winning each of the last 14 meetings. Last season the Huskies won nine of ten bouts with a whopping eight bonus-point wins in a 40-4 demolition of MSUM at Halenbeck Hall. Anthony Herrera scored a pin at 157, Kameron Teacher (HWT), Paxton Creese (125) and Nick Novak (149) added tech falls while Joseph Bianchini (141), Dominic Murphy (174), Billy Pitzner (184) and Noah Ryan (197) supplied major decisions.
SIZING UP THE WOLVES
No. 20 Northern State enters the weekend 7-3 with a 2-2 NSIC record, winning conference bouts against Southwest Minnesota State and Minot State while falling to Upper Iowa and UW-Parkside. Last weekend the Wolves enjoyed a 3-0 performance at the Midwest Duals in Kearney, upsetting the No. 3 Lopers 22-20 before blanking No. 17 Fort Hays State 40-0 and winning a 26-15 match with (RV) Central Missouri. SCSU and Northern shared the 2021 NSIC Championship with identical 5-0 conference records. Rocky Burkett leads Northern State in his eighth season at the helm and directs a lineup that features a pair of ranked wrestlers at 149 and 197.
Saturday’s dual features two huge ranked bouts as No. 8 Joey Bianchini and No. 7 Wyatt Turnquist meet at 149 while No. 10 Dominic Murphy gets his seventh ranked opponent of the season in No. 3 Cole Huss at 197. Bianchini has never faced Turnquist in his career but is no stranger to wrestling ranked Wolves, opening his NSIC dual career with a 7-2 decision over No. 8 Caden Moore in 2019 along with a pair of wins over Kolton Roth. Murphy likewise meets Huss for the first time on Satuday, entering the weekend 3-3 against ranked opponents.
“We’re excited to head out on the road and wrestle MSU-Moorhead on Friday and Northern State on Saturday. I kind of sound like a broken record, but I’m just really looking for some continued consistency out of our guys, continuing to improve in areas that we are working on in practice and building a little more self-confidence.”
“I think some guys are starting to heal up a little better than they were at the National Duals, starting to get into a little bit of a groove and build some confidence. It’s getting to be that time of the season, I think they’re sensing it a little bit as we’re in the grind here that we’re getting down towards the ending. We’re getting ready to get better each match and each week.”
“We grow closer together during these trips, as I’ve stated in the past chemistry is everything when you’re trying to win a championship. These guys coming together, forming great relationships and memories along the way – that’s what it’s all about. Even though we’re on the road, sometimes I look forward to them because these are times when we can come closer together and build those relationships.”
“I don’t think 133 or 184 have shaken out quite yet. We’ve still got about four weeks left, and we might take it all the way down to the wire before we make a decision. Certainly we’ve got some good options there and some guys who are wrestling really well right now. There’s certainly some competition and some guys going back and forth. We just want to make the right decision as we get closer to the end of the season, we want to do what’s best for the team and we want to be fair at the same time. There’s still a little bit of time left to make those decisions, still some competitions that these guys will compete in and hopefully get some things ironed out.”
“At this point of the season, I’m looking at all the matchups. I just want to make sure our guys are going out and doing what they’re supposed to do, stay consistent and continue to improve. At some of these weights where there’s a little bit of competition going on, we’re looking for that one guy to step ahead of the other right now. They’re all important matches, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
“I want to see our guys go out and compete hard for seven minutes. Consistency, show some toughness. Things aren’t always going to go your way, and sometimes there’s some adversity that goes with it. Are we able to handle that adversity? Those are the things that I’m looking for, and if we can do those things well, win or lose I can come out of here feeling good about where we’re at.”
SURVEYING THE RANKS
St. Cloud State enters the weekend ranked No. 5 by the NWCA and No. 3 by the The Open Mat in tournament formats, No. 5 by Intermat and at No. 4 in duals by The Open Mat. 10 Huskies are currently ranked, with seven receiving notice by the NWCA: No. 7 Paxton Creese (125), No. 11 Sam Spencer (133), No. 11 Alyeus Craig (141), No. 8 Joey Bianchini (149), No. 2 Nick Novak (157), No. 1 Abner Romero (174) and No. 10 Dominic Murphy (197). The Open Mat has 10 Huskies recognized: No. 5 Paxton Creese (125), No. 11 Sam Spencer (133), No. 10 Alyeus Craig (141), No. 5 Joey Bianchini (149), No. 2 Nick Novak (157), No. 16 Anthony Herrera (165), No. 1 Abner Romero (174), No. 16 Shaeden Scheidt (184), No. 8 Dominic Murphy (197) and No. 9 Elijah Novak (HWT). Intermat’s January rankings place No. 7 Paxton Creese (125), No. 11 Sam Spencer (133), No. 8 Joey Bianchini (149), No. 2 Nick Novak (157), No. 1 Abner Romero (174) and No. 10 Dominic Murphy (197).
LAST TIME OUT
For the first time in their storied rivalry that began in 1951, St. Cloud State shut out (RV) Minnesota State-Mankato with a 40-0 drubbing at Halenbeck Hall on Saturday afternoon. The Huskies won all nine bouts wrestled at the dual with two pins and a major decision, adding a forfeit win at 125 pounds. SCSU thoroughly dominated Minnesota State, giving up just three total takedowns while scoring 20 of their own. SCSU added four nearfalls and never gave up back points.
NO NONSENSE AT THE NORTH COUNTRY
St. Cloud State earned six titles at the North Country Open in Collegeville on Sunday. 20 Huskies in total earned top six finishes, 14 placed in the top three and nine were finalists. In the Gold Division, Blake Legred went 3-0 at 157 with two decisions over DI wrestlers to earn the Huskies’ first title of the day. Legred did not give up a point in his three matches, outscoring his opponents 9-0. Bryce FitzPatrick made it two SCSU titles in the upper division, winning the 184 class with a 3-0 performance. The Mahtomedi product recorded falls in under a minute in each of his first two matches before winning a 4-1 decision in the Finals. Four Huskies earned titles in the Silver Division. Aoci Bernard and Luke Studer earned co-champion finishes at 149, with Bernard going 2-0 and scoring a major decision. Studer enjoyed a 3-0 performance featuring three bonus point wins: one major, one tech and a fall. Owen Herbst won the 165-pound class thanks to a 4-0 day, scoring a major decision and a fall with three wins over NSIC opponents. Sebastian Zamorano closed out the day with a title at 174, recording one tech fall and outscoring his opponents by a 32-12 margin.
TRICKY NICKY EARNS NSIC NOTICE
St. Cloud State sophomore 157-pounder Nick Novak was named NSIC Wrestler of the Week by the conference office following his 4-0 weekend at the 2023 NWCA National Duals. Novak served a critical role in St. Cloud State’s National Duals Championship, going 4-0 at 157. The New Prague, Minnesota product earned three of his wins against All-Conference opponents, two against NCAA Qualifiers and two against wrestlers nationally ranked by the NWCA. The sophomore earned major decisions over All-PSAC foe Max Stedeford of Mercyhurst and Jackson Rolfs of Upper Iowa on Day One of the Duals, then won a 5-2 decision over two-time NCAA DII All-American Braydon Huber of Mary in the Semifinal. Novak closed out his performance with a last-second 6-5 decision over No. 2 Gabe Johnson of Central Oklahoma in the Final to help the Huskies earn their seventh NWCA National Duals Championship.
True freshman heavyweight Elijah Novak earned his first ranked win of the season with an upset of reigning NCAA Champion and National Wrestler of the Year Darrell Mason on Saturday. Novak grappled with Mason through the first three minutes, fending off his opponent’s ties and keeping the action moving around the mat. Mason chose down in the second and earned his escape before the two battled through ties the rest of the period. Elijah had choice in the third and started down, withstanding three huge mat returns by Mason. With the ride time climbing near 50 seconds and only 20 to go in the match, Novak rose to his feet and pulled off an incredible switch, gaining the wrists and turning around to face Mason. Novak snagged the single and turned into a double, driving through Mason and putting him on his back. The first ever nearfall scored on Mason at the NCAA level gave Novak a 7-1 decision over the national champ, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Both Caleb Meekins and Sam Spencer have seen time as the Huskies’ starter at 133, splitting the starts with five and four respectively. Meekins is 11-5 this season with a 2-3 dual record and a pin of returning NCAA fourth place finisher Reece Barnhardt of Mary while Spencer has gone 13-5, 4-1 in duals, and owns a win over defending Super Region V Champion Jack Huffman of Augustana. Both wrestlers have been ranked this season, with Spencer currently the unanimous pick at No. 11.
MILESTONES TO WATCH
Three Huskies are on the cusp of reaching significant win milestones entering conference duals: Anthony Herrera is two wins away from his 75th collegiate victory while Joey Bianchini and Abner Romero are both two wins away from No. 70. Caleb Meekins just won his 50th collegiate match at the North Country Open.
UNDISPUTED TOP DOG
2021 NCAA DII 174-pound Champion Abner Romero is the unanimous No. 1 wrestler at 174 pounds entering the weekend, beginning his Huskies career 12-0 with four wins over ranked opponents. Romero joined St. Cloud State this season for his final collegiate campaign after three years at Lindenwood.
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