BURNSVILLE, Minn. – The Southwest Minnesota State wrestling team was picked to finish eighth in the annual 10-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Preseason Coaches’ poll released on Thursday.
St. Cloud State was the choice to win the league earning 79 points with seven first-place votes (coaches cannot vote for their own team). Augustana earned one first-place vote and finished second overall with 65 points, while Parkside, the defending NSIC champion, was selected third with 62 points, including two first-place votes. The University of Mary was fourth with 58 points with Northern State rounding out the top five with 52 points.
Minnesota State was selected sixth with 41 points, followed by Minot State in seventh with 35 points, SMSU in eighth with 25 points, MSU Moorhead in ninth with 18 points and Sioux Falls was ninth with 15 points.
SMSU third-year head coach Chayse Jackson returns six individuals who competed in last season’s Super Region V tournament and has a roster featuring a total of 24 athletes, including five seniors, five juniors, one sophomore, four redshirt freshmen and nine true freshmen.
“This year’s team is filled with returners who have a wide breadth of experience. Eight of 10 starters are returning, along with a transfer and nine freshmen who are all looking to make an immediate impact,” Jackson said. “It is likely we will see some fresh faces in the lineup, and everyone in the room is hungry to prove themselves the top dog. I can truly say that this team is driven. They have a chip on their shoulder and are out to prove they are a force in the NSIC and the country. That attitude alone makes me excited to show up to practice every single day. I can’t wait to see them hit the mats against other opponents.”
Headlining the list of returners is senior Caden Steffen, who was named as an NSIC ‘Wrestler to Watch.’ A two-time NCAA All-American at 184 pounds, he is projected to compete at 197 pounds this season. Steffen recorded a mark of 16-2 last season before suffering an injury and missing the final month of the season. He has racked up 49 victories in his three seasons for the Mustangs.
“Caden is a once-in-a-career athlete. He works hard, does the right things, is driven, and is a leader in all the right ways for our program,” Jackson said. “Throughout his career, he has achieved greatness on the mat, seen defeat and injury, graduated with his undergrad, and began his master’s, all while serving as a leader. Caden exemplifies what it means to be coachable and wrestles a dynamic and explosive style that makes him fun to watch.”
Also returning is Jacob Dykes, a senior heavyweight who finished last season 13-10 and was nationally-ranked during the season. He was named the NSIC Wrestler of the Week on Jan. 16, 2023, after defeating the reigning national champion from Minnesota State.
Junior Sean Howk returns at 157 pounds after placing sixth at last season’s NCAA Super Regional and recording 15 victories during the season. Another returning starter is junior Elijah Stern, who also placed sixth at the 2023 NCAA Super Regional at 174 pounds.
Other veterans returning include senior Hunter Pfantz at 141 pounds, who has amassed 45 career victories, Luke Peterson at 149, who finished 10-5 last season and junior Lucas Hodges at 184 pounds, who also recorded 10 victories a season ago.
SMSU has added nine freshman and one transfer who could make an impact this season, including Adam Sylvester, a 174 or 184-pounder, who racked up 30 victories in two seasons at Augsburg University.
Fans will get their first look at this season’s SMSU team this Saturday with the program’s annual Brown & Gold intra-squad dual starting at 6 p.m.
SMSU opens the 2023-24 season on Nov. 4 with several individuals competing at the RCTC Yellowjacket Open in Rochester, Minn. The team will also compete at the Dakota Wesleyan Open on Nov. 11 and the Nebraska-Kearney Open on Nov. 18. SMSU’s first dual match is slated for Dec. 1 at the University of Mary.