1 day to determine DSU’s national squadThe Dickinson State wrestling team’s entire season has been building toward Saturday.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
The Dickinson State wrestling team’s entire season has been building toward Saturday.
That’s the only opportunity a dozen Blue Hawks have to earn their way into the NAIA national tournament.
For the first time, the NAIA has regulated its qualifying standards to a wrestler’s finish in one of four group tournaments. In previous years, any wrestler could qualify for the national tournament by either winning or placing high at regular-season tournaments.
“We’re coming to a point here and it’s fight-or-flight time,” DSU head coach Thadd O’Donnell said. “We definitely need to have guys with the right attitude and relax and not put too much pressure on themselves. It’s one of those things (where) we haven’t been in that situation yet this year. We’ve tried to mimic it, but we really don’t know what (to expect).”
Each of the Blue Hawks enter the North Group Qualifying Tournament at the Midland University Event Center in Fremont, Neb., with the primary objective of finishing in the top four of their respective weight classes, which would earn them a trip to the national tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, the first weekend of March.
“I figure if I don’t perform there, I’m not going to perform at nationals,” said DSU senior Brad Steele, ranked No. 1 in the North Group at 141 pounds.
Jesse Hellinger, a junior and top-ranked 184-pounder in the North Group, said he is looking forward to the tournament because of the competition he’s sure to see.
“Last year, there was a lot of guys who pre-qualified and they wouldn’t even come to regionals or sat out,” Hellinger said. “Personally, I like to see everybody. I’m going to be able to see the guys I have to beat at nationals and I have to beat them this weekend too. I like the new change.”
The Blue Hawks were ranked No. 3 behind Midland (Neb.) and Morningside (Iowa) in the North Group at the end of the regular season. Senior heavyweight Jose Lopez will have DSU’s other No. 1 seed in the tournament.
O’Donnell said the team’s strategy had to undergo a bit of a change in order for it to build to this point.
In the past, the Blue Hawks would travel the upper Midwest to as many tournaments as they could, even hitting two or three on the same weekend in an attempt to qualify several wrestlers. So, when the time came, DSU’s coaches held the final say in who would represent the team at the national tournament.
This season the Blue Hawks had 20 duals, finishing with an 18-2 record, and attended five tournaments.
“It kept them focused all year long,” O’Donnell said. “In the past, if you qualified early, it kind of took the pressure off. You didn’t have that big of focus. You knew you had that in the bag and you could just work on things. Here, it’s coming to a head at the end of the year, just to get qualified.”
Steele and Hellinger said they can see a change in attitude throughout the wrestling room.
The intensity has ratcheted up.
“I think it looks really good right now,” Hellinger said. “Honestly, we’re training hard. We come in every week and battle it out. … It doesn’t make anybody too nervous. I don’t see any nerves with the guys.”
O’Donnell said each group has an allotment of at-large bids for wrestlers who don’t finish in the top four at Saturday’s North Group Qualifying Tournament. Those at-large spots will be voted on and awarded by the North Group’s coaches following the tournament based on criteria such as a wrestler’s ranking and record against nationally qualified opponents.
Nevertheless, Hellinger hopes that doesn’t have to be an option for any of his teammates.
“We expect all 12 to go too,” he said. “It’s not like we’re bringing 12 just to fill up the lineup. We’re bringing 12 to bring 12 to nationals. We’re not bringing 12 to hopefully get 10 in. We want all 12 at the national tournament.”