After a successful 2019-20 season, the Dickinson State wrestling team prepares continue its success in the '20-21 season with its strong roster of wrestlers with the willingness to take down its opposition.
As a team, the Blue Hawks were left off the early NAIA Wrestling Coaches' Preseason Top 20 Poll. The team did earn 20 votes; however, individually the team managed to have three athletes ranked at the national level. Senior Payson Dirk, junior Caden Haugen and first-year Clay Gerhardt.
"We’re working hard and plugging through the challenges of the season and the adversity of the season and I think we’re making progress every day," head coach Justin Schlecht said. "The guys are up to the challenge, accepting the challenge of what it’s going to take and the policies of the seasons of the year. They’ve done a really good job of that."
Dirk, is currently the highest-ranked athlete on the squad at 10th in his weight class of 197 pounds and will be viewed as being a strong leader on this Blue Hawks roster. Schlecht gave credit to the senior for the amount of work he has put in leading into the season.
"He did a great job this offseason in setting a goal to punch his ticket to be that next-level kind of scenario. We’re excited about that for Payson," Schlecht said.
Haugen is currently ranked 18th overall in the 174-pound weight class. Schlecht said there was a lot to look forward to from the junior competing in his hometown of Dickinson.
"(Haugen) has gotten a lot bigger, stronger and done some great things since last year," Schlecht said. "We’re excited about what Cayden’s doing and Cayden’s got some great drilling partners around him and working on the little details. We’re excited about his opportunity as well."
As for Gerhardt, the first-year athlete coming out of New Salem, N.D., the four-time North Dakota state champ is looking forward to making a name for himself in the college level by taking on the challenge of owning the 133-pound weight class, the class that was held by former senior Gresh Jones. However, Schlecht said the first-year athlete had a lot of help from Jones himself to get him prepared for the upcoming season.
"Clay is a great kid," Schlecht said. "Clay’s been working hard with Gresh. He’s a very skilled kid. He’s a hard, hard working kid — good hard-nose kid. He does all those things right."
While these three are the ones who are projected to be the early dominators for the Blue Hawks, Schlecht said there are some underneath the cracks that are ready to shake the ground and rise to be some of the best prospects in wrestling.
"Zach Myers, Ethan Goss-Dickie at heavyweight, wrestling and drilling with Payson. I think they’re knocking on the door and given the chance to get some national exposure and getting some matches.
"Konrich Speelmon came in weighing 157 pounds; now he looks like a grown man (at 174 pounds)," Schlecht added. "Given some matches, he’s learned a lot, he’s figured out college wrestling. He’s really going to flourish this season and have a chance at getting into the rankings as well."
While the Blue Hawks have the potential to be great, Schlecht said the word can only take the team so far; it's up to the athletes to show how much they have.
"Potential is a dangerous word," he said. "I would agree we have a lot of potential, but potential only gets you to the front door. You have to do the work to open the door, and that’s exactly kind of where we’re at … there is a lot of potential with this group, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The good thing about that is this team realizes that."
As with every winter sport team in the country, the thought of COVID-19 potentially putting a pause to the season, or the fear of having the season canceled, lingers in the back of everyone's mind. While that could be the case for the Blue Hawks wrestling team, Schlecht said the team will take everything day by day and will control what they can.
"We’ve talked a lot about that with the guys. They don’t need to worry about two weeks from now; they don’t need to worry about any of those other things. That’s the coaching staff’s job," he said. "It’s our job to worry about those things. It’s their job to come in, work out and get better and improve. Make sure they’re healthy and safe, they’re getting their schoolwork done and then making sure they are improving in the practice.
"This year is going to be tricky. The guys are going to have to make a lot of adjustments and we’re going to see their character and where they’re going to stand on things and how mentally tough they can be, and with this particular year how they can be in communication," Schlecht added. "We’re not just going out there just to wrestle; we wrestle because we love it. We love the sport. We’re passionate about it and we want them to have fun with it too, so that’s really what we’re focused on. That’s really what we want them to do."
The Blue Hawks have a scrimmage set for Friday at 5 p.m. but are scheduled to have their first official match on Dec. 5 at the Missouri Valley Duals.