'Young and hungry' Blue Hawk wrestlers aim to dominate Heart of America Conference
"Wrestling isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport," Justin Schlecht said.
DICKINSON—The Dickinson State University Blue Hawks are getting ready to grapple with their first official regular season men’s wrestling matches, set for Dec. 2 in Great Falls, Montana. With a crew of 14 new freshman and a handful of returning upperclassmen, the Hawks are striving for some All-American stamps and National Tournament qualifiers.
Based on pre-season coaches’ polls, DSU is projected to finish 6th in the Heart of America Conference this year — one spot lower than they finished last season.
“We had a decent crew of freshman last year, but minimal guys came back,” Justin Schlecht, DSU head wrestling coach, said. “Retention gets difficult because of the physical and emotional demands.”
Out of the 10 freshman that finished the season last year, only 5 returned for their sophomore season. The Hawks recruited and signed 18 new freshmen and after some physically demanding practices,14 remain. DSU will be a predominately young team with only 7 seniors and juniors. They graduated one senior last year, Trey Fischbach.
Returning this season are junior Dante Venema and senior Konrich Speelmon, who are both currently ranked 23rd in the country. The Team also has a group of six wrestlers who are ranked in the top 6 in the Conference — Speelmon and Tayt Wolding are ranked 4th, followed by Venema and Tate Nordby in 5th.
“We are one of the toughest conferences in the country,” Schlecht said. “If you’re coming out of the Heart of America Conference in the top 3, you are going to the National Tournament and probably placing in the National Tournament.”
Two-hundred-and-eighty-five-pound senior Kyle Anderson is also back. Schlecht projects he may be ranked in the country this year. In addition to Anderson, the Hawks have four other 285-pound heavy weights and a few light weights in the 125-pound class as well including freshman Wyatt Engwicht and Jose Gonzalez out of Stockton, CA. Also returning are sophomores Kale Corley, Caleb Nielsen and Samuel Adams.
“We have just the right balance,” Schlecht said. “I think there is a lot of potential, but potential only gets you to the front door. They have to do the work.”
Schlecht is entering his 8th season with the team. Prior to accepting the head coach position in 2015, he worked for four seasons as an assistant coach under Thadd O’Donnell. As a former DSU wrestler himself, Schlecht left a remarkable impact on the program. He is a three-time national champion and concluded his DSU wrestling career with 69 pins and a 140-22 overall record. Throughout his career, he has led 5 athletes to NWCA All-Academic team honors, coached 8 NAIA All-Americans and taken 23 wrestlers to the NAIA National Tournament.
“Wrestling is just part of who I am,” Schlecht said.
Also on the sideline this year is Grad Assistant Coach Payson Dirk, who is returning for his 2nd season.
The Hawks started wrestling practice October 17 and have been full-time on the mats since then.
“We are young and hungry,” Dirk said. “From day one to right now, it’s like a totally different team. They improve so much on a daily basis.”
November 19, 18 Hawks wrestled in the pre-season Blue Gray Duals in Dickinson. Every athlete competed in at least one match.
“We don’t use the Blue Gray 100% to dictate or determine varsity,” Schlecht said. “It’s not a full wrestle off, but as a coaching staff, it helps us evaluate guys. Putting them in a live situation allows us to see things differently…so we can go back to the drawing board and work on our technical aspects. It helps get that first match butterfly out.”
Going into the Great Falls tournament and Battle of the Rockies Dec. 2-3, the Hawks will face opponents from North Idaho College, Northwest College and the University of Providence.
The University of Providence is at the edge of being one of the top 10 wrestling schools in the country.
“We are excited to wrestle them,” Schlecht said. “We don’t have the ideal match ups right now against them due to a couple recent injuries.”
Younger athletes will take the place of some of the banged-up brawlers at the meet. Schlecht says it will be a good opportunity for new wrestlers to gain experience, encounter different opponents and self-evaluate their performances.
“We want to make sure we are healthy for the heart of the season rather than getting over-zealous for the beginning part…,”Schlecht said. “Wrestling isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. It’s literally your opponent trying to put you in positions and scenarios that are not beneficial to the human body. Injuries are just part of the sport.”