WILLMAR and HUTCHINSON, MN — Six Ridgewater Warrior wrestlers are headed to nationals this week for the March 3-4 wrestling championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa. They qualified at the February 19 Division III Region 13 Tournament at Northland College, Thief River Falls.
Freshman Cole Holien, from Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School, became the 141-pound regional champion and the Warrior qualifier with the best individual record this season at 26-7, including 15 pins and eight straight wins. One of his regional pins came at just 2:14 into the first period.
Five teammates who took second at regions will join Holien at nationals, including his twin brother Brady Holien (at 149 pounds), freshman Taedon Nichols (157) from Siren, WI (Siren High School), sophomore Wil Yasseri (165) of Otsego (Rogers High School), sophomore Rick Jones (197) of DeGraff (Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School), and freshman Austin Schlangen (285) of Watkins (Eden Valley-Watkins High School).
“Taedon, Wil, and Rick all had true second matches (at regions) that determined whether they qualified,” first-year Warrior Co-Coach Logan Peterson explained. “Their winning all three says a lot about how hard they train and the determination they have to become All-Americans.”
“Our team has dedicated a lot of time, effort, and focus this season,” said fellow first-year Co-Coach Travis Deegan. “We are very excited to coach them at nationals this weekend.”
The last time Ridgewater qualified six athletes was in 2016, when Coach Deegan qualified as a Warrior. “Nationals is the culmination of the collegiate wrestling season,” Deegan said. “It’s an opportunity to display your skills and all the hard work you’ve put in all year.” Now he’s excited to see it from the coach’s lens and help his athletes succeed.
“It surprised me at how fast all of our wrestlers have developed since our first practice,” said Peterson. “Most of our competitions throughout the year have been at open tournaments,” he explained, “so we have been wrestling NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), Division III, and Division II opponents, and our schedule has been tough.”
Although not all Warriors had winning records this year, their dedication paid off when it mattered, and now six are heading to the National Junior College Athletic Association competition. “We have had freshmen and sophomores competing against older wrestlers all year, so a losing record is, by no means, an indication of an average season,” Deegan said. “If you can earn a winning record in college, you’re doing very well.”
Schlangen will take some confidence to his 285-pound bracket with the second-best Warrior season record of 22-10, including 12 pins. Other qualifier records include Brady Holien at 16-12 (9 pins), Nichols at 16-13 (4 pins), Jones at 14-16 (9 pins), and Yasseri at 7-9 (4 pins).
In 2022, Ridgewater sent four qualifiers to nationals, including returning Warriors Jones and Yasseri. That experience and their results at regions no doubt will make them hungry for national success. At regions, Jones pinned one of his opponents from Itasca Community College in 1 minute, 35 seconds, and Yasseri proved his ability with a 16-1 match also against an Itasca opponent to advance to nationals.
“It’s been a great regular season,” Deegan said. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to coach some very talented and very respectable young men. Their efforts and work have paid off thus far, and we are excited to see them go out and accomplish their goals at the national tournament. We’ve focused all year on developing good wrestling habits and practicing moves that will score on the best competition. Our team is well prepared going into this weekend.”