By Brandon Spratt – [email protected]

Coming off what he says is a disappointing 2016 season, Teddy Erickson and the SJU wrestling team set high expectations for 2017.

“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to qualify all 10 guys (to the Division III National Championships on March 10-11),” Erickson said, an SJU senior in the 174-pound weight class.

As a team, SJU has a 6-5 dual record in 2017, far better than their 2016 mark of 4-15. Of the five losses, three came against Division II teams (St. Cloud State, Minnesota State-Mankato and the University of Mary) and a fourth was against perennial MIAC powerhouse Augsburg.

The Johnnies now have two weeks off to prepare for the NCAA West Regional Tournament on Feb. 25 in Moorhead.

Head Coach Tony Willaert is impressed with how his team has battled against the opposition.

“Anytime we’re wrestling Division II teams, we’re just looking for the guys to go out and compete,” Willaert said.

The Johnnies did compete with the University of Mary (North Dakota) last Friday, losing the meet 16-25 but splitting the individual matches 5-5.

“If you can beat somebody in Division II that you’ve never seen before then you can make it through Regionals,” Erickson said.

Willaert believes that challenging his wrestlers during the regular season can better prepare them for the Regional meet.

For SJU, this strategy is part philosophical and part necessity.

Geographically, SJU is situated farther west than nearly every Division III wrestling team. To avoid recycling competition during the regular season, Willaert must be creative with his scheduling.

“We only have four teams in the MIAC with wrestling so to get competitions we have to wrestle Division II teams and see Division I guys at opens,” Willaert said.

Erickson feels that the team competed much better against teams such as St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato. He feels the team fell short of expectations in 2016, stating that they had improved “leaps and bounds” this season.

The team had a few days off early this week to rest and recover.

Starting Tuesday they will slowly be working back into their practice routine. Willaert wants to have a few short but intense practices before he eases his team into Regionals at the end of next week.

Many of the wrestlers will be cutting weight in the next week. They are responsible for eating healthy and getting down to the weight they need to be at for competition.

In 2016, SJU sent three wrestlers to the Division III Championships.

Erickson was one of the three. This year he wants to go one step further.

“My goal is to be an All-American,” Erickson said.

To achieve this, he will need to finish in the top eight at the National Championships, a feat requiring three consecutive victories.

As for the rest, Coach Willaert thinks there are some athletes who could surprise everyone at the Regional competition.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we qualify some guys with records that aren’t outstanding, but they’ve faced some tough competition,” Willaert said.

Overall, Willaert feels his team is wrestling well and is prepared for the Regional meet.

Feature photo: senior Glenn Castro (left).
ALEXUS JUNGLES • [email protected], ILLUSTRATION BY BRETT ZALLEK • [email protected]