Vikings light on experience, loaded with talent

SIOUX FALLS – Augustana’s wrestling team is somewhat light on experience but has attracted national attention with its incoming class.

Head coach Jason Reitmeier and assistant coach Tom Meester’s 2012-13 recruiting class has been cited by Wrestling USA magazine as one of the top non-Division I groups in the nation.

The class of 11 freshmen and two transfers is ranked 11th in the country by Dan Fickel, national editor for Wrestling USA. Fickel’s rankings are based on grading results of the top high school seniors for 2012.

As a team, Augustana was listed No. 16 in the first Division II Wrestling Coaches Association national poll for 2012-13.
“We feel good about the new class,” Reitmeier said. “Coach Meester and I know the true test comes on the mat, but these guys are really talented.”

All the newcomers will be looking up to Nate Herda and Brian Schultz, the only seniors on the roster.

Herda, an All-America from Rock Rapids, Iowa, earned a spot on the All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference first team a year ago with a 23-8 record at 149 pounds. He is a three-time national tournament qualifier and the defending Super Region 3 champion. He begins the season ranked No. 4 nationally.

“Nate leads by example,” Reitmeier said. “He is not the most vocal guy, but people see what he does on the mat and respect the effort.”

Schultz, a 197-pounder from Belle Fourche, S.D., was 10-7 a year ago.

Sean Derry, a junior from Omaha, logged an 18-14 record last season at 197 pounds. He finished third in the region and was an All-Conference second team selection.

Augustana’s other juniors are Tom Davies (174, Canton, S.D.) and Kale Merrell (174, Belle Fourche, S.D.). Davies was 6-4 last season and Merrell was 2-3 competing at both 165 and 174.

Jayd Docken, a sophomore from Winner, S.D., finished fourth in the region tournament and was a national tournament qualifier last season at 184 pounds. His season’s record was 20-8. He is currently ranked No. 4 in his weight class.

Freshman TJ North (Elk Point, S.D.) and sophomore Jeremiah Peterson (Canton, SD) are potential national contenders at 125 and 133 pounds. “There is no doubt they will step up and be in the medal hunt,” Reitmeier said. As redshirt freshmen a year ago, North was 9-2 and Peterson 9-3.

The Vikings also have strength at 157 and 165. “It’s a matter of who will step up,” said Reitmeier. Both classes are dominated by freshmen and sophomores.

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Sophomores Alex Burghardt (125, Watertown, S.D.), Ryan Hartnett (141, Gretna, Neb.), Jeff O’Brien (141, West Point, Neb.), Park Swanson (149, Canton, S.D.), Brandon Neises (165, Howard, S.D.), and Jeff Nielsen (197, Zimmerman, Minn.) all saw mat time a year ago.

“We have a deep group of guys from the last two years that I feel have a shot of doing something for us,” Reitmeier said. “Off course they are inexperienced, but they are talented and know what is expected of them.”

The new class includes Michael Lowman, a youngster Reitmeier cites as the Vikings’ first true heavyweight in many seasons. The 6-foot-8, 285-pounder from North Highlands, Calif., posted a runner-up finish in the California state tournament a year ago.

“Size wise, Michael is a kid we didn’t have to grow into the weight class,” Reitmeier said. “He’s a large person who works hard and wants to be here. That can be difficult when you are so far away from home.”

Lowman graduated from Foothill High School in 2012. His state runner-up finish earned him the honor of becoming the first wrestler in program history to qualify for the Senior Nationals. He posted a 44-3 record for the 2011-12 season and won the Pioneer Valley League 285-pound championship for the second-consecutive year. He was 52-6 as a junior and qualified for the state tournament.

Joining Lowman as first-year freshmen are 125-pounders Morgan Engbrecht (Sturgis, S.D.), and Javier Vieyra (Salina, Kan.); 133-pounder Nate Lynn (Lismore, Minn.); 141-pounders Brandon Charbonneau (Emporia, Kan.) and Devan Donais (Big Lake, Minn.); 149-pounders Connor Malone (Lewiston, Mont.), Jacob Anderson (Springfield, Minn.) and Mike Hartnett (Gretna, Neb.); 165-pounder Mitch Rechtzigel (Apple Valley, Minn.); 174-pounders Drake Fanslau (Underwood, Iowa) and Logan Henning (Springfield, Neb.); and 184-pounder Tanner Taylor (Milford, Iowa).

As expected, competition in the NSIC will be fierce. The first national Division II poll has St. Cloud No. 2, Upper Iowa No. 7, and Minnesota State No. 13.

“No doubt we’ll experience some growing pains, but I feel we’ll be in the mix if we stay healthy and the guys keep improving,” Reitmeier said.

A year ago, the Vikings were 13-3 and finished third in the NSIC with a 5-2 mark. Seven Vikings advanced to the national tournament, earned a tie for 10th with three wrestlers earning All-America recognition. During the season Augustana climbed as high as No. 3 in the national rankings.

Reitmeier is in his 10th season as Augustana’s head coach.