Blue Hawks wrestling opens challenging season

There's only so much that can be done in practice.First-year Dickinson State head wrestling coach Justin Schlecht has been spending the school year trying to develop his young athletes in practice. Now he just hopes that's revealed in competition...

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Dickinson State wrestler Deshun Haynes, left, competes during the Tyler Plummer Classic Jan. 24, 2015, at Weinbergen Gymnasium. (Press File Photo)

There’s only so much that can be done in practice.
First-year Dickinson State head wrestling coach Justin Schlecht has been spending the school year trying to develop his young athletes in practice. Now he just hopes that’s revealed in competition.
The Blue Hawks, tied for No. 14 in the NAIA preseason polls, begin their season today at the Midlands (Neb.) Open.
For Schlecht, it will also be his first time during competition as a head coach after replacing 20-year head coach Thadd O’Donnell in May.
“It’s obvious I’m not here to reinvent the wheel,” Schlecht said. “The purpose is not to do anything different. (O’Donnell) was my coach, and I coached with him, so my knowledge comes from his teachings. I’m not here to reinvent that kind of stuff. We’ve got a good, dedicated room of student-athletes with intensity. I’ve been talking about quality versus quantity.”
Schlecht certainly knows quality - he ended his collegiate wrestling career with a 140-22 overall record and a 17-1 mark at the national tournament, won three straight NAIA National Championships 2006-2008 and was named NAIA-NWCA Outstanding Wrestler of the Year in 2007. 

Schlecht had served as O’Donnell’s assistant coach for four years before he was a head coach at Belle Fourche (S.D.) High School from 2008-11.
“Coach Schlecht has been around the program … and always has been the one that has gotten us in shape and getting us where we need to be,” senior Pat Tangen said. “It’s been a little bit of a different role for him, and he’s stepped right into it. He’s doing a good job getting us working and ready to go.”
Schlecht was left with far from an empty roster, as four DSU wrestlers made the NAIA preseason individual rankings. Junior Hudson Buck, who earned NAIA all-America honors in 2015, leads all Blue Hawks with a No. 2 rank in the 197-pound category. Senior Deshun Haynes is eighth in the 125-pound class, junior Jon Solano is 10th at 184 and senior Taylor Hodel is 10th at 165 pounds.
“We’ve got a very experienced group, so that is really important,” Schlecht said. “Knowing there are guys in the room that are working hard and setting a good example, it’s a big part of where we’re at and there’s a good part of having good, quality workouts because they know what it takes and have the experience. They understand the demands of the sport, so that makes a big difference.”
However, Tangen said anybody on the team is capable of fulfilling leadership duties. He said it’s important that even the younger wrestlers push their elders in practices.
“Every team, if they’re going to be successful, is going to have upperclassmen step into a leadership role and set the tone of what we want to accomplish in the season and what it takes to get there. You set set the tone for freshmen coming in. You set the tone of what you’re looking for … it’s not just with underclassmen, you have to push upperclassmen too.”
This season, the Blue Hawks scheduled No.12-ranked Midland, No. 4 Missouri Valley, No. 5 Montana State-Northern, No. 16 Great Falls (Mont.), and No. 8 Concordia (Neb.). DSU also will take on three teams that received votes in the poll: University of Jamestown, Hastings (Neb.) and Briar Cliff (Iowa).
But that tough competition begins today, as the Midland Open includes four NCAA Division II opponents, Schlecht said, including St. Cloud (Minn.) State and Nebraska-Kearney, as well as other NAIA teams.
“They’re good Division II schools, so that’s going to play a big part,” Schlecht said. “We’ve got our first measuring stick. That’s going to be huge to see where we’re at.”
Even though practices are difficult, Schlecht said he can’t get a full observation of his team until the Blue Hawks actually begin competition.
The first real test will be the first weigh-in of the season coming off holiday break.
“Dieting, taking care of your body, you have to be in good shape if you’re a wrestler,” Tangen said. “You have to watch your weight correctly. It’s another dimension that other sports don’t have. It can get tough, especially the first time you make weight … but what it does is it teaches you discipline.”
And DSU finally has a chance to put that discipline to the test.
“With that long stretch of practice without competition, you want to get on the mat,” Tangen said. “What I saw is the hunger in our team, and we’re just wanting to wrestle.”


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