WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West wrestlers vying for a national tournament berth won’t have to travel far to get it this year. The Region XIII Tournament will be fought Sunday at the local college.
The tournament, which begins at 10 a.m., will bring 40 to 50 competitors to the Center for Health and Wellness on Worthington campus. For each one, the goal is to get to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the NJCAA Nationals March 1 and 2.
The host Bluejays plan to send five, possibly six matmen into the fray. Rashawn Crumpler, a 149-pound freshman from Atlanta, Ga., joins Braydon Johnson, a 165-pound freshman from Janesville; Adam Rients, a 157-pound freshman from Waterville; Chris Romero, a 125-pound freshman from Grand Meadow; and Isaac Rue, a 174-pound freshman from Kimball, S.D., as the core group of Jays.
Johnson is focused on a particular opponent from Ridgewater, Jacob Backlund -- an opponent who has beaten him twice this year. If the Janesville product can win the third meeting, he believes his goal of qualifying for nationals will be met.
“I think he’s got a good chance to win,” agreed Minnesota West coach Bryan Cowdin. “He came within a couple of points the last time he wrestled him, and Backlund was gassed. Braydon’s going to be aggressive.”
If Johnson doesn’t make it, it won’t be for lack of effort.
“Everything I do is geared toward wrestling. Every single morning I get up at 5 a.m. and work out. It gets me out of bed and gets me ready for the day,” he said.
Rients has a similar determined attitude.
“I think I’m ready to compete with anybody I step out on the mat with,” he said. “I think my conditioning is equal with everybody on the mat. I’d still like to get it up one more notch and make it easier.”
Superior conditioning, Rients said, can “break” an opponent mentally. He said he wants to be the aggressor, knowing it’s dangerous to slack off even for a moment.
Cowdin said that other Bluejays, too, are capable of qualifying for the nationals. The top two wrestlers in each weight class, including possible wild cards, make the trip.
“I definitely have seen them improve since the year wore on. I think three or four are capable of making it,” Cowdin said this week. “Braydon and Rients should get pretty high seeds. But they’ve had some dogfights in their weight classes. Romero should make it.”
At the beginning of the 2018-19 season, Cowdin said he was pleased to have so many freshmen who love wrestling and are willing to put in the work. Throughout the year, they proved him right.
“I’m proud of all these guys. They worked hard. They stuck together and worked hard,” he said. “A lot of it is just figuring out college wrestling.”