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Learning to be 'mean': Freshman-heavy DSU wrestling team faces first competition

The Dickinson State wrestling team consists of just two upperclassmen as well as 16 freshmen. While a few have witnessed college wrestling while redshirting last year, the 16 young athletes are preparing for their first collegiate bout on the mat...

Dickinson State sophomore wrestler Gresh Jones completes drills with a teammate at practice on Tuesday, Jan. 2. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State sophomore wrestler Gresh Jones completes drills with a teammate at practice on Tuesday, Jan. 2. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

The Dickinson State wrestling team consists of just two upperclassmen as well as 16 freshmen.

While a few have witnessed college wrestling while redshirting last year, the 16 young athletes are preparing for their first collegiate bout on the mat at the Cusatis Open in Hastings, Neb. on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Blue Hawk head coach Justin Schlect said based on what he's seen all fall, youth shouldn't pose too much of a problem for his team, but Saturday will prove whether their hard work and enthusiasm will carry onto the mat.

"I've just been trying to get these guys in the mentality that this is not high school wrestling. This is a lot different," senior Jason Zecchini said. "You got to learn to be aggressive, you've got to learn to be mean. In high school you can get away with being nice and winning matches but in college you got to be a little ruthless out there and I'm trying to bring that into some of these younger guys."

Training that mindset is hard, as it ultimately takes experience to truly realize what needs to be done to succeed at the college level. Fortunately for the team, they've had more than enough time to prepare and adjust before their opening tournament.

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While their opponents have seen competition since October, the Blue Hawks have taken advantage of a scheduling option that allows them to push back the start of their season to January.

"It's been great for us. The guys like it, they work hard with it," Schlect said. "There's a lot of kids in the country right now that'll get to mid-January and really want to be done, they're just burnt out. Our guys, come mid-January are just hitting their role, hitting their steam and they're getting excited about things."

The team has used the time to work on getting in the proper shape, making weight and working on technical skills. Schlect is going into the weekend open-minded, as it's hard to say how the young athletes will fare. He does have a few presumptions, though.

"I feel really good that they're going to compete for seven minutes. They're going to drill themselves out there and give their 100 percent best for seven minutes and be able to walk off the mat with our motto, no regrets," Schlect said. "Another expectation is we'll come back from the weekend with lots of things to make adjustments to, technically on the mat. And work on and fix."

The freshmen have what Schlect calls a "committee" of leaders to look up to, but junior Devon Williams and Zecchini are the most experienced on the team and have stepped into a leadership role.

Even a few younger wrestlers, like redshirt sophomore Gresh Jones, have taken on leadership responsibility.

"I'm one of the older guys and I still got three more years left," Jones said. "Everybody is looking up to everyone. No one is way above everyone. Everyone treats everyone with respect. It's really nice knowing we're going to have these kids for four years here."

Jones made it to the national tournament in the 133-pound weight class last season after transferring from the University of Minnesota just weeks before the season began.

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He went in as the fifth seed, won his first match by pin, but lost his next two and went home empty handed.

Meanwhile, Zecchini, a transfer from Sacramento City College missed out on the national tournament last season, and is hoping to get there this year when he moves up from the 174 to the 184 weight class.

Both Jones and Zecchini are aiming for nothing short of a spot on the podium.

"My goal is to be an All-American this year," Zecchini said. "I'm trying to make it on the podium. Make it to the national tournament and make it on the podium there. I'm hoping to have a couple guys up there as a team too."

While the two veterans are rarities on the freshman-filled team, Schlect is confident that his team is capable of competing with the best this season, and in those to come.

"The future is very exciting with this young group," Schlect said. "We're really excited about how hard they're working and how dedicated they are and the level of discipline that they have. The level of team that they have; they want to push each other and hold each other accountable."

The Dickinson State wrestling team practices on Tuesday, Jan. 2 at Weinbergen Hall. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)
The Dickinson State wrestling team practices on Tuesday, Jan. 2 at Weinbergen Hall. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

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