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Despite early setbacks, DSU wrestlers are eager for home tournament

The Dickinson State wrestling team has had three competitions over the past five weeks of the season, and each of them have prepared the Blue Hawks for the thick of it--the time of year when they travel every week to spend up to seven minutes giv...

Dickinson State sophomore Caden Haugen gains control of Northern State's (S.D.) Jake Flakus during a dual on Dec. 7, at Scott Gym. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State sophomore Caden Haugen gains control of Northern State's (S.D.) Jake Flakus during a dual on Dec. 7, at Scott Gym. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

The Dickinson State wrestling team has had three competitions over the past five weeks of the season, and each of them have prepared the Blue Hawks for the thick of it-the time of year when they travel every week to spend up to seven minutes giving their absolute all on the mat before doing it all over again in a few days.

That starts now.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Dickinson State wrestlers will host the Tyler Plummer Tournament, which will set the tone for the next four weeks of competition that consists of six more chances for the Blue Hawks to improve before the NAIA qualifier on Feb. 16.

"I'm excited to get into it and do what we do best," junior Jaime Mullins said. "Everything we've done up to this point is preparation for this. This is where you can really start to hit your stride, focus on areas you need to get better in."

The Blue Hawks have already had more than their fair share of setbacks, though, as three grapplers had surgery over the holiday break. Jacob Berg, and possibly Devin Stork, will be out for the rest of the season with knee injuries, and senior Devan Williams had surgery on his shoulder after suffering a career-ending injury. Junior Gresh Jones also suffered a knee injury in the first action of the season, but his prognosis did not require surgery, so he will return to the mat this winter.

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Jones, who is ranked No. 1 in his weight class in the Heart of America conference, will not be ready in time for the home tournament, in which he won his weight class last year.

Additionally, junior Rodolfo Guillen made the decision to leave the sport, as his shoulders have suffered enough.

"The sport of wrestling is not kind to us, physically," head coach Justin Schlecht said. "But we love it and it's a grind. We know that going in."

Still, morale never dipped as healthy grapplers kept chugging along to improve themselves as a means to improve the team. Two people, have done especially well at that. At the Cusatis Open in Hastings, Nebraska, this past weekend, sophomore Taner Stone placed the highest of all the Dickinson State competitors, finishing second in the 157-pound weight bracket.

Stone won his first match with a fall at four minutes and 23 seconds. His quarterfinal was close, but Stone came away with the 8-5 decision victory. Then in the semifinal, a late fall at 5:58 sent him to the first-place bout. There, Stone met his match, losing 16-1 via technical fall.

Additionally, Mullins, in the 141-pound bracket, had a solid day but lost in the quarterfinal by major decision to Clay Carlson of South Dakota State.

While Mullins and Stone have emerged as some of the most consistent Blue Hawk wrestlers, what makes them leaders on the mat is their constant desire to improve.

"Those guys are competing and sticking it out," Schlecht said. "I think they're learning. Every day they're coming in with questions. They're watching film, they're asking what they need to work, how they can work on it, what adjustments they can make and those kind of things. That's an exciting thing moving forward."

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Sophomore Caden Haugen had a strong showing at the Cusatis Open as well, winning his first three matches, including the 165-pound quarterfinal with a fall at 5:58. He dropped both the semifinal and the consolation semifinal.

As a second-year wrestler, the high school level is still in the back of his mind, but he said he's feeling confident he can compete even better at the college level this winter.

"This is my second year, and it's a lot longer of a season," Haugen said. "Preseason, you come in way earlier to prepare yourself. It's a long run, not just a sprint like it is in high school, just a couple months. You got to prepare your body, eat right, train right and if you don't do that, it could be a long season."

Haugen took fifth at the Tyler Plummer Tournament last year after pinning his final opponent in just 50 seconds.

Following a tough start to the season, the home tourney will serve as a way to set the tone for the rest of the year, and Schlecht expects his team to be ready for it.

"We don't have much of a choice do we?" Schlecht said. "We will be, and that's my job to make sure we are and their job as well. They play a role in that too."

The Blue Hawks fared well in the 2018 edition of the tournament, with 125-pound Matt Hruby taking a victory in his bracket. At 149 pounds, Matt Carlson earned fifth, while 141-pound Tanner Borneman placed fourth. Mullins finished second in his weight class, taking the quarterfinal with a 5-2 decision and the semifinal by an even closer 3-1 decision.

"My goal is to win it every year and just have a good tournament, regardless of how the matches go," the Montana native said. "I just want to battle and put myself in a position where I can improve."

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Dickinson State junior Jaime Mullins battles with Kolton Roth of Northern State (S.D.) on Dec. 7, at Scott Gym. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State junior Jaime Mullins battles with Kolton Roth of Northern State (S.D.) on Dec. 7, at Scott Gym. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

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