The Breckenridge-Wahpeton Storm wrestling team emerged from a tough tournament field with a fifth-place finish at the Dan Unruh Invite at Wahpeton Middle School the weekend of Dec. 3-4.
Lisbon won the event handily with 232.5 points, followed by Brookings (191.0), West Fargo Sheyenne (155.0), Frazee (153.0) and Breckenridge-Wahpeton (127.0) rounding out the top five.
“We finished behind four pretty tough teams overall, so I was very happy with our finish out there,” Storm Head Coach Ryan Brandt said.
Nine Storm wrestlers placed in the top six of their respective weight classes, highlighted by the second-place finishes of senior leaders Aidan Ruddy (152 pounds) and Jackson Burchill (220 pounds). Wyatt Differding (third place, 195 pounds) and Colman Barth (fourth place, 120 pounds) also reached the upper echelon of the tournament. Bryce Awender, Alex Martel, David Erlandson, Hunter Owens and Logan Schwartz all tallied sixth-place finishes.
“Ruddy had a real tough week of opponents at 152,” Brandt said. “He pinned the No. 6-ranked kid in the state in Class A North Dakota on Tuesday and this weekend in his semifinal match against Blaze Reinke from Lisbon, he upset him 6-4. Reinke finished third last year at state and was ranked No. 4 coming into the tournament.”
Ruddy fell to Jake Nagel in the finals.
“Nagel was hurt last year, so he wasn’t ranked very high, but he’s always been a really good wrestler and he comes from a very good wrestling family. Aidan wrestled really tough last week and he’s got another tough week coming up when we go to Valley City and Lisbon. He’s done a great job of rising to the challenge and showing how good he actually is as a wrestler,” Brandt said.
David Erlandson, eighth grade, hasn’t shied away from more seasoned competitors. He’s quickly become a fixture on the team despite taking his lumps with a 2-6 record that doesn’t fully reflect his growth.
“David made it to the semifinals, before running into West Fargo Sheyenne’s most technical wrestler in Marcus Johnson. He got to see what a top-level kid in North Dakota wrestles like,” Brandt said. “He’s been doing really well, yes he’s only 2-6, but he’s a varsity kid. He’s not really someone we ask to get a bunch of wins for us, but we ask him to go out against a stud and try not to get pinned. He’s wrestling tough against a lot of really good kids and he’s staying off his back. There’s a pretty bright future for him.”
Martel, who broke his nose during a gritty comeback effort last week at Grand Forks Red River, returned to action at the Dan Unruh Invite without missing any time following the injury. The Storm’s depth and durability will be a key factor to its long-term success in 2021-22, as the program looks to field a much stronger team that will avoid the forfeits which plagued both programs in the past.
“Martel went and saw a specialist the next morning after he broke it and the specialist said as long as he wears a mask he should be fine,” Brandt said. “He decided to go out there and wrestle, which shows his toughness and shows how much he enjoys the sport.”
Barth continued to impress at 120 pounds, showcasing immense improvement in his technique on the mat.
“His jump from last year is just amazing with how much he’s improved his understanding of the sport. Last year was his first year and he’s doing amazing at it,” Brandt said.
Weston Jensen was another bright spot for the Storm, elevating his performance at the home tournament in front of a big Breckenridge-Wahpeton crowd.
“Weston faced Hayden Mack on Friday from Grand Forks Central, who I believe is ranked either No. 6 or No. 8 in the state. He went out there and pinned him,” Brandt said.
Burchill bulldozed his way to the championship match, before getting upended by the defending South Dakota State Champion from Brookings, James Olson.
“He was wrestling pretty decent before he got pinned. That kid was double the height of Jackson, so his long, lanky arms caused him a few problems there,” Brandt said.
Brandt pointed to the 152-pound division as the hardest bracket and gave Hunter Owens credit for a solid tournament against some pitbull opponents.
“Hunter had a pretty tough bracket with Aidan in there as well. He ran into some problems with his shooting and stuff like that. Those are things we can work on and improve by the time it matters later this season. I know he will get back to work right away and be ready to go this week,” Brandt said.
The Storm continues to break ground in its first season as a wrestling cooperative, showing the capability to compete with the upper half of the Eastern Dakota Conference. For Breckenridge wrestlers who have traditionally struggled to make the state tournament in a stacked Minnesota State High School League, postseason opportunities are driving the enthusiasm for the Storm’s inaugural season competing on the North Dakota side of the river.
Breckenridge-Wahpeton is back on the mat Tuesday, Dec. 7 in a road triangular at Lisbon High School. Matches begin at 5 p.m.
“Valley City is probably the No. 1 team in the EDC and Lisbon is probably the No. 1 team in Class B. We embrace those tough days, because even if we lose, we take something valuable out of them,” Brandt said.