A full practice room, hard work put in the offseason and a strong recruitment class gives the MSUM wrestling team the opportunity to start in the right direction as they begin a new season.
The team lost only two seniors to graduation and brought 10 new recruits to the program. With a large number of wrestlers competing for the starting spot in the lineup, the room is getting tougher and each wrestler is pushing each other to make the Dragons the best they can be.
“No one is guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up,” head coach Kris Nelson said. Nelson is entering his fifth season as head coach and has led the Dragons to successful seasons in his first four years.
Wrestling in one of the toughest regions, the Dragons have seen the region expand from eight to 13 to now 17 teams this year. Even with the expansion of the region, it has not deterred the Dragons from setting high goals.
“We want to qualify as many to the national tournament as we can. We were disappointed last year with only one qualifier,” Nelson said.
The team finished 8-8 in dual competition last year and is looking to improve every day and work hard in the room that will lead to more success.
With a large recruiting class, the team will insert a number of true freshmen in the lineup from the beginning of the season.
“We always want to put the best lineup out that we can,” Nelson said.
Last year’s national qualifier Angel Vega, a strong wrestler for the Dragons last season, will use his redshirt year giving him the opportunity to wrestle next year for the team.
“Using my redshirt this year will allow me to get better and come back that much stronger,” Vega said.
Vega said that wrestling is an individual sport, and that is all on the athlete.
“The measure you put in is the measure you will get out,” Vega said.
The bar has been set high for this year, and Nelson said that now is about getting out on the mat and wrestling other teams.
“We will see where we are at and what adjustments we need to make,” Nelson said.
With both experienced and inexperienced wrestlers at the college level, it gives both groups an opportunity to learn from each other.
“With the more veteran wrestlers, it is nice to wrestle with the new wrestlers because we can teach them and vice versa, we learn from them,” senior Matthew Lewellen said.
Lewellen said that the team is working hard, and that a lot of the wrestlers are staying late after practice to improve everyday.
“Our work ethic is up, and we are getting better every day,” he said.
For the Dragons to take down the teams at the top of the conference, it will take hard work and improvement throughout the season to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
“The competition is great (within the room), and it makes everyone better,” senior Casey Williams said.
The Dragons have depth at most of the 10 weight classes and are looking to be competitive in both dual and tournament action.
The team last year had a 3-5 dual record in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference action and will wrestle most of their conference matches in the second half of the season.
“Last year I thought we peaked too early in the season. We need work hard each day and improve to be wrestling our best at the end of the season,” Nelson said.
The Dragons may be viewed as young, but with many experienced wrestlers coming back this year, they are looking to finish the season on top.
Right now, the team is healthy heading into the season. Nelson pointed out that if the Dragons are to be successful this season they will have to stay healthy along the way and improve from each match.
“We are pushing each other, and now is time to see where we are at and see how we can be the best we can be,” Nelson said.
The Dragons take to the mat at 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Bison Open in Fargo.
BY BREANN LENZMEIER