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Playing underdogs: Blue Hawks ready to take wrestling mat with high hopes for this season

Press Photo by Dustin Monke Dickinson State senior Jesse Hellinger, top, tries to turn Northern State’s Jeb Clay during their 184-pound match on Jan. 30 at Scott Gymnasium. Hellinger is the only returning All-American for the Blue Hawks.

There is a short window of time to achieve greatness.

Those words are preached by Dickinson State’s wrestling head coach Thad O’Donnell to his team every year as well as to treat every practice or match as a new opportunity.

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After being picked to finish third in the North Group region and 17th in the NAIA, the Blue Hawks have been given a great opportunity to turn heads and have another successful season.

“The first thing when they step into our program, when they leave they should never say I wish could have,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just a sliver of time in your whole life to be able to accomplish being an All-American, be in the regional championships or anything like that. If you take one match off or one tournament off, then you lose that opportunity and it’s something you don’t get back.”

Last season, DSU won its region and finished fourth overall in the national championships. Five wrestlers were named All-Americans and nine placed in the top four spots in the regional championships. However, four of the five All-Americans were seniors and their talent will be dearly missed.

“Last season we were blessed with guys who were just athletes the guys we have this year, not as athletic,” senior Jesse Hellinger said. “But what we lack in athleticism, they more than compensate in hard work. It’s nice to see the hard work but last year we came out and did well right off the bat. Last year, we never had a bad streak of anything.

“This year, I think we’re going to have to fight a little bit more just because we do lack the athleticism we did last year but overall I don’t see us doing anything different.”

O’Donnell isn’t worried about the reloading year either, since plenty of talented wrestlers have returned this season who he believes will make a big impact.

“We had some region champs that were unknown so to speak that are returning to the region,” O’Donnell said. “We had those two from being one match away from being All-American and we and five All-Americans and we have one back.

“The returners we got back we got a good core. We are excited about where our freshmen are at but everything’s unproven at this point.”

Six Blue Hawks wrestlers were selected to individual polls, seniors Hellinger and Mac Chambers, junior Tyler Brown and sophomores Jordan Delp, Sean Elkins and Skyler Carroll.

Hellinger was a national finalist and All-American last season and picked to finish first in the North Group for the 184-pound weight class, while Chambers was picked third in the 133-pound weight class.

Despite the hype for the individual polls, the team overall thinks their team rankings are lower than what they are capable of accomplishing.

“I think last year we were the same way, really underestimated,” Chambers said. “But they haven’t seen a lot of our guys this year and we’re going to go out there and show that we’re way above projections this season.”

Elkins added: “We’re highly underrated and that’s fine. Nothing wrong with being the underdog and I think we’re just going to make some noise at the end of the season and no one is expecting that.”

Saturday night was the team’s Blue-Gray scrimmage where the wrestler’s get its first chance to practice in front of a crowd as well as give the coaches a good look at the team’s potential before the first match. The returners were impressed with the quality of the wrestlers, particularly the freshman.

Hellinger said he was surprised to see how well-rounded they are and could compete with the veterans. In particular, freshman Cade Coles impressed Hellinger who thinks he will make an impact on the team.

“His movement, he doesn’t look like a true freshman,” Hellinger said “He’s a kid coming out of high school and he’s wrestling with grown men. He’s doing more than holding his own, he’s winning he’s beating guys up. It’s nice to see that.”

The seniors and freshmen are not the only ones who are expected to turn heads this season. Sophomore Sean Elkins, who was unseeded last year and won the region, has been picked to finish second in the 149-pound weight class. Elkins said being casted as the underdogs gives the Blue Hawks the chance to have more upsets this season.

“We train to peak at the end of the year and we just peaked at the right time and I did that too,” Elkins said. “I can see a lot of us doing that as well and because we’re not getting any love in the region, but that’s fine. We know we work harder than anyone in the country and that’s all that matters.”

The Blue Hawks’ first meet of the year is the Doane College Dual at 6 p.m. Friday in Mitchell, S.D. DSU has an illustrious history of producing top-caliber wrestlers and winning teams and the general consensus among the team and O’Donnell is great things can happen this year. The Blue Hawks’ first opportunity of the season is just days away and the team is ready to rip the win away from the Tigers.

“We just need to go out there and show them they don’t deserve to be on the mat with us,” Chambers said.

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.