Wrestling: Offseason acquisitions increase Packers' punch
Historically strong West Fargo is slated to start another wrestling season Thursday, Dec. 3, against Fargo Shanley.
If last year is any indication of things to come - and with a couple big additions during the offseason - the Packers shouldn't disappoint.
West Fargo started working out the kinks for this season in early November and, so far, coach Kayle Dangerud likes what he sees.
"We're happy with the way practice has been going," he said. "Guys have started practice from Day 1 with high intensity. That's half the battle right there.
"Hopefully good things will happen."
All in the family
Led by 189-pound class defending state champion Scott Schiller (45-2 last season), West Fargo returns to the mat minus one senior: Austin Cassezza, who was the 135-pound runner-up at the state tournament last year.
That means the Packers are rife with talent. They return five state placers and 11 state qualifiers, and with the addition of Tyler Lehmann (53-0) during the offseason, they have a menacing combo in the 189-pound class.
In fact, there will be four Lehmanns to bolster West Fargo's roster this year.
"Tyler's younger brother, Preston (35-12), is going to be someone to watch," Dangerud said. "He pinned his way through the Bismarck Rotary as an eighth grader. That's one of the toughest tournaments in the state."
Eric (34-15) and Michael Lehmann, Tyler and Preston's cousins from Wahpeton, bring their own experience and talent to the Packers this season. Eric was a state-placer last season while Michael is a "solid player," Dangerud said.
"It was a nice surprise," Dangerud said of getting so much top talent during the offseason.
Tyler Lehmann, who also played football for West Fargo this season as a running back and linebacker, is ranked fourth in the country in his weight class, Dangerud said.
"Tyler actually beat Scott at the U.S.A. Junior Nationals," he said. "He and Scott are our two most successful wrestlers right now."
Schiller took fifth place in freestyle and seventh place in Greco-Roman at Junior Nationals while Lehmann took third and second, respectively.
Lehmann, originally from Fargo North, transferred three years ago to national wrestling powerhouse Apple Valley (Minn.) High School. Last season, he helped the Eagles win their fourth consecutive state title while defending his own 171-pound class state title.
"Tyler actually just committed to the University of Minnesota as one of their top wrestling recruits," Dangerud said.
Zach Neer (35-12) and Tom Kuehn (34-12) are returning state placers for West Fargo and captained along with Schiller and Ryan Seamands, a returning state qualifier. Behind all of the state qualifiers and placers are more than a dozen wrestlers who will surely contribute to the Packers' success this season.
"We have a lot of great kids, I could probably list 10 to 15 kids that will make an impact," Dangerud said. "It's a great time for West Fargo wrestling. We have a lot of talented kids and I know I and the assistant coaches are excited to see what happens."
But even with everything West Fargo has going for it, Dangerud doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. The Packers may have talented wrestlers, but the competition in the state is as strong as ever.
"We definitely are going to have our work cut out for us," he said.
Bismarck is the defending state champion and has won 120 straight duals. The Demons have won 29 state tournament championships and nine state dual titles. In fact, in the last 49 seasons, Bismarck hasn't finished lower than third place at the state tournament.
And to top it all off, Bismarck returns four state individual champions.
"They are really talented," Dangerud said.
But Bismarck isn't the only team the Packers have to watch out for.
Fargo South is losing only one wrestler from last year, Dangerud said. The Bruins were Eastern Region champions last year and were runner-up at the state tournament.
In reality, any team could go the distance this season.
"We have to look out for everyone," Dangerud said "(Fargo) North will be good. Wahpeton will be good. You never know how people progress through the summer and fall."
Regardless of the competition, West Fargo hopes it is a team to be reckoned with.
"We're looking forward to this year and we'll do our best to work hard," Dangerud said.
Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer. He can be reached at 701-451-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.