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DHS senior Irwin only Midget to earn semifinals berth

FARGO — Tom Irwin's summer workout partner — Mandan head coach Luke Mellmer — was sitting across the mat, shouting instructions.

They were not to him, however. The guidance was for Irwin's opponent, Braves junior Dylan Fleck, in their quarterfinal match at 152 pounds on Thursday at the North Dakota state wrestling tournament. Irwin, a senior at Dickinson High had faced Fleck just once prior this season, losing a 7-2 decision in December, but Irwin got the better of the rematch, a 3-2 decision.

"I wrestled with Coach Mellmer in the offseason, so he knows exactly how to coach his kid against me," said Irwin, a senior at Dickinson High. "I'm not super fast, (Fleck) is pretty fast and tall and lanky, so I had to make sure to shut him down on his feet. I got in some sticky situations on top, but this time I was able to correct instead of last time where he rolled me."

After a scoreless first period, Fleck chose the down position. Irwin rode him the entire second period, however, preventing the escape.

"Riding him in that one was definitely the turning point," Irwin said. "I'm not the best on top either. My best position is on the feet where I can beat on a guy and don't have to rely on my athleticism, so it's definitely my weakest spot. But as much as I'd rather not be there, I have to just push that away, focus on the task at hand and make sure to keep him down."

Irwin earned an escape of his own to open the third period, and he later secured a takedown for a 3-0 lead. Fleck earned two points back, but Irwin moved on. He had defeated Colby Rance of Devils Lake in the first round with a 13-8 decision. After a spotless Thursday, he advances to the semifinals for the first time in his career, guaranteeing him a spot in the top six.

"I've never gone 2-0 on the first day. I've always run into some — I won't say bad luck because wrestling's not about luck, it's about what you put up against the guy you're against — but it feels great to have worked this hard for this long," Irwin said. "I've wrestled for 12 years now, and it's finally coming to fruition."

Irwin, however, will be the only representative the Midgets send to the semifinals. Ten Dickinson wrestlers won in the first round, but the other nine took a loss in the quarterfinals, sending them to the wrestlebacks Friday morning.

"We came out like gangbusters and won 10 out of 13 matches in the first round, really wrestled well and wrestled with a lot of excitement," Dickinson head coach Pete Dobitz said. "I think what happened here in the quarterfinals was we showed our youth and our inexperience. ... A lot of it steamrolled. We kept losing close ones, lose another close one, and as much as you think they're not watching what their teammates are doing, they see that."

All told at the end of the first day, the Midgets had amassed 34 team points, putting them ninth in the Class A team standings.

Sophomore 113-pounder Brendan Johnson, the No. 5 seed, and senior 160-pounder Caden Haugen, the sixth seed, lost to familiar foes. Johnson — after picking up a fall in 3 minutes, 15 seconds against Ty Weber of Fargo Davies in the first round — lost via tiebreaker to fourth-seeded Alex Kaseman of Bismarck High, and Haugen started with a 23-second fall against Julo Seilo of Fargo South before suffering a 7-2 decision loss to Minot's Creighton Rudolph, the No. 3 seed.

Both of the latter opponents had been thorns in the side of Johnson and Haugen all year, and though Dickinson's pair had each shown they could win, they just didn't have it on Thursday, Dobitz said.

"They wrestled hard — a situation here, a situation there — and it's so evenly matched," Dobitz said. "It was that guy's day today."

Sophomore 106-pounder Jaren Berger, the No. 5 seed, won his opener via fall in 1:39 against Kellen Hoorneart of West Fargo Sheyenne but was pinned in the quarterfinals in 3:54 by Fargo Davies' Chase DeBlaere, the No. 4 seed.

Sophomore Matthew Meschke, seeded eighth at 132 pounds, lost a tough 4-0 decision to top-seeded Dawson Zerr of Turtle Mountain in the quarterfinals. He had previously won a 16-3 major decision in the first round against Alex Hettwer of West Fargo.

Sophomore Tate Nordby, the No. 7 seed at 145 pounds, lost a 7-0 decision to Isaac Berger of Mandan in the quarterfinals. In the first round, he won in sudden victory against Jordan Schmidt of Bismarck High, 4-2.

Tom Irwin's younger brother, Tod Irwin, started his day with a 9-5 decision against West Fargo Sheyenne's Lanier Karpeh. Tod Irwin, a junior and seeded seventh at 138 pounds, then lost in the quarterfinals to second-seeded Noah Wiek of Wahpeton, 8-1.

Seventh-grader Troy Berg earned a pin in 4:00 against Minot's Corey Hooker in the first round, making the most of his first state tournament match at 120 pounds. Berg, seeded fourth, then lost 6-4 in sudden victory to Williston's Quade Slater.

Seniors Austin Boswell and Sam England, also making appearances at the state tournament for the first time, each won their opening matches. Boswell won 3-1 in sudden victory against Tjaden Smith of Bismarck Century, and England won 8-6 against Inno Nsenguymia of Fargo Davies.

Both lost in the quarterfinals, though. Boswell was pinned in 3:30 by Williston's Coy Turnquist, the No. 3 seed at 170 pounds, and England lost a 13-3 major decision to Century's Jacob Rader, the No. 1 seed at 195.

"His height is probably a big part of it, but maybe also his experience," England said of his troubles against Rader. "This is just my third year of wrestling, and I'm sure strength has something to do with it, but it's also his experience. ... I just tried to go out there and do my best, and I did. I did my best."

Still, he was understandably excited following his initial win.

"I was ecstatic. Late in the match I was down a point and finally I got a takedown with seven seconds left. It was a great feeling," England said. "My first match, first win at state, that's unbeatable."

The aforementioned nine wrestlers — along with Caleb Usher (152 pounds), Jacob Alexander (145) and Kameron Clark (182), who all lost their first-round matches Thursday — will take part in the wrestlebacks Friday morning with a spot on the podium still in the realm of possibility. Dobitz said that is an important goal to keep in mind.

"Every single one of them is still alive — nobody's out of the tournament yet," he said. "You just go back to work with the same philosophy of 'It's one minute, one period, one match at a time.' You can't be looking for a third-place finish when you have to win four to get there."

West Region dominates duals

The West Region representatives in the Class A dual tournament swept through their East Region counterparts on Thursday.

The East's top seed in West Fargo lost a 41-32 dual against Mandan, the West's fourth seed, in what would be the closest dual of the day.

Bismarck Century, seeded second from the West Region, dispatched East No. 3 Wahpeton 64-14 to set up a semifinal dual with the Braves.

On the other side of the bracket will be No. 1 Minot against No. 3 Bismarck High in the semifinals. The Magicians defeated Valley City 66-9 in the first round, and the Demons won 53-18 against Fargo Davies.

The semifinals and finals of the team duals will be held today.

Parker Cotton

Cotton is the sports editor at The Press, where he covers the area's high schools. He came to The Press as the Multimedia Editor in May 2015 after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with his master's degree in Sociological Practice. He holds undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Sociology from UNC, as well. 

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