The West Fargo Sheyenne Mustangs wrestling team did something last year the squad was unable to ever do before — compete with a full roster.
The Mustangs had enough kids to fill a roster last season, but a handful of them didn’t have a spot. Many of the wrestlers shuffled in between two weights.
This year, the Mustangs are spread out and able to wrestle at their own weight. Now that the wrestlers are competing in different weight classes instead of at one or two spots, the East Region teams will be facing a different group.
“We had a lot of young kids sitting at the same weights. We didn't get to show their potential because we can only have three extra kids wrestling,” Sheyenne head coach Lex Lunde said. “A lot of our younger, talented kids couldn't find a spot. Now we're spreading out and they’re wrestling tough and they’re doing what we knew they could do.”
Lunde thought the Mustangs caught Grand Forks Central off guard in Sheyenne’s Nov. 23 season-opening dual. The reigning Eastern Dakota Conference champs Knights defeated Sheyenne 42-29, but Lunde said the dual went well. The Mustangs shaved off over 40 points from last year’s loss to the Knights (66-12).
“We’re getting better, we're improving and we really pushed Grand Forks,” Lunde said. “I think they were surprised. A couple matches went the wrong way, but a couple young kids picked it up. And we really had a chance to win that dual.”
At the end of the week, the Mustangs compete in their first-ever dual tournament. Sheyenne has never been able to roster a full team before, and with the kids spread out in different classes, Lunde is eager for the competition.
“I’m excited for the kids to be involved in something new that they've never been involved in,” he said. “We have some young kids who are really doing the right things. So that always helps, we can have them go out there, and we're confident in our young kids.”
The Mustangs have never qualified for state as a dual team, either. With the handful of seniors in the group, the hefty goal sits atop what the team is chasing this year. Noting the tight and skilled EDC conference, Lunde admits it’ll be a tough trek to get to.
But Lunde said if the Mustangs wrestle the rest of the year like they did against Grand Forks Central, Sheyenne will have a chance.
“It just depends on how we match up with every other team here in the East,” he said. “But we’ve got a ways to go before even kind of spearing that.”
Sheyenne graduated only one senior, Oscar Sarmiento, who joined the team his senior year. From a wrestling background standpoint, the Mustangs didn’t suffer any major losses, and will get help from returners who come with another year of knowledge and experience.
Leading the pack this year will be two state placers from last season. Lunde is expecting 195-pound standout Shane Kennedy, who placed fourth at state last year in his bout, to have a successful senior-year campaign.
Lunde is also excited about Connor Manske, who earned an eighth-place finish at state last year in the 106-pounds bout. Manske returns this year as a freshman at 113 pounds.
Lunde, who has been at the head of the team for five years since the program started, said it helps having Manske and Kennedy in the room.
“It gives the other kids some things to look up to and kind of try and emulate what those kids do,” Lunde said. “We have a lot of good kids and a lot of young kids. We're excited about it.”
The Mustangs shifted a couple things with their schedule this year. Lunde said he and his coaching staff are making it a bit tougher on the kids.
Sheyenne took sixth out of 12 teams at a Dec. 6-7 tournament in Wahpeton, and three Sheyenne wrestlers competed in first-place matches at the competition.
Looking to the rest of the season, Lunde said his expectations aren’t too lofty.
The Dec. 10 dual against crosstown rival West Fargo High School will be a good one, he said.
“They're a very good team. So we'll kind of see how we line up with them and go from there,” Lunde said.
West Fargo carries a lot of history and holds the reputation of a tough wrestling program, Lunde said. And the Mustangs are trying to develop so they can compete with them.
“This will be the best team that we’ve had, so we’ll see how it goes,” Lunde said. “But other than that, I just want these kids to continue to improve and keep working hard, because they have a lot of years left on this team. Just beginning that climb right now would be huge.”