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"We grew up wrestling together": Jones, Johnson lead DSU at NAIA championships

When Sidney, Mont. natives Cody Johnson and Gresh Jones met at a wrestling camp the summer before seventh grade, neither could have imagined that about nine years down the road they would be wrestling at the NAIA national tournament together.

Dickinson State University 197-pounder Cody Johnson battles for position against No. 9 seed Jack Murphy of York College of Nebraska during the NAIA wrestling tournament Friday,March 2 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Dan McCool)
Dickinson State University 197-pounder Cody Johnson battles for position against No. 9 seed Jack Murphy of York College of Nebraska during the NAIA wrestling tournament Friday,March 2 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Dan McCool)

When Sidney, Mont. natives Cody Johnson and Gresh Jones met at a wrestling camp the summer before seventh grade, neither could have imagined that about nine years down the road they would be wrestling at the NAIA national tournament together.

They both started college at different schools, Johnson at Rocky Mountain College in Montana, and Jones at University of Minnesota. After a semester, Johnson transferred to Dickinson State. After a year and a half at Minnesota, Jones found his way to Dickinson too after his program was cut and with his best friend nudging him.

"He's been my best friend every since I can remember," Jones said. "We grew up wrestling together. He got a little bigger. We used practice together, believe it or not, all the time. When I transferred over he was a big part of why I transferred over, him and my brother."

The two used to grapple together, but are now in drastically different weight classes, Jones in 133 and Johnson in 197. While they are no longer drill buddies, they are both Blue Hawks, roommates, and coming off of successful seasons.

The redshirt sophomores were two of five Dickinson State wrestlers to compete in the tournament in Des Moines, Iowa on March 2 and 3 and were the most successful of the group.

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Jones, who went 28-4 ahead of the tournament, left with a fourth place finish and All-America honors, while Johnson (13-9) finished one win away from earning the same title.

Johnson lost his first bout of the tournament to York College (Neb.) wrestler Jack Murphy. Following a bye in the first consolation round, he won his next two matches by way of a 13-5 major decision and a 5-4 decision. Johnson made it all the way back to the blood round, with just 12 wrestlers remaining in the bracket, but fell to freshman Isaac Bartel of Montana State - Northern 12-6.

"That last match, it was a tough kid. A true freshman who took third his first year. He's going to be really good throughout his college career. He's going to keep getting better," Johnson said. "I left it all out there too. Coach said that was one of the best matches I've ever wrestled so that helped me not feel awful about the loss and not being able to All-American."

Jones on the other hand, wasn't so calm while watching his friend fall short of a goal.

"It tore me up," Jones said. "I was hurting for him. It just makes him even more hungry for next year and I'm excited for him to come back and really put it on next year so we can both get it done."

The two have seen victory and defeat together in the past. Back when they were juniors, while Jones' little brother, who also attends DSU, was a freshman, all three took home state titles.

Johnson said one of the pairs most emotional memories was actually the following year when he fell short of a title.

"I was just heartbroken, tears everywhere and (Jones) said he was the same way," Johnson said.

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With Johnson's loss Friday night, Jones was the only Blue Hawk wrestling on Saturday.

The three other DSU competitors, freshman Mat Hruby and sophomores Jaime Mullins and Casey Jones all ended their national champion chances with two consecutive losses, nearly all the losses were to a wrestler who eventually placed.

"It was good to be positive about it. It was a good showing," head coach Justin Schlecht said. "A lot of young guys there. A lot of first times at the big show. At the same time I think we wrestled well and I think we did a good job."

Gresh Jones ended Friday with a win, and a big one at that. His 7-5 defeat over York's Robert Ozuna made him an All-American, a goal he's been striving for all season.

"This whole preseason and during the season coach just kept saying, 'natty champs' to me, 'natty champ. You're going to be an All-American. You got this,'" Jones said. "That second day I woke up and I was like, this is my last weigh-in. I'm an All-American. Now I just got to go out there and wrestle and do the best I can. I lost that morning match so that kind of sucked a little bit. I battled back, beat that Grand View (Iowa) kid the next match. I really put it on him. That's a kid I've had battles with, one, two point matches with. I ended up beating him 11-2."

The win propelled Jones to the third place match where he faced Ozuna for a second time. This time though, Ozuna emerged victorious.

"It was a battle," Jones recalled. "A couple things went wrong for me where they didn't in the first match and that's what got me the win the first time. One bad shot pretty much won him the match. I battled for seven minutes and did the best I could, but I wish I could have ended on a better note."

With the season over, the two will continue to see each other every day in their apartment.

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While they wouldn't on a scale, the two balance each other out well, but Jones admits to being a bit more of a 'clean freak.'

"He's a little more laid back but he's not that bad," Jones said of his roommate. "He gets his stuff clean but I might have to push him."

"It might take a little while," Johnson added with a laugh.

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