NEO and NJCAA wrestling got a bit of a late start this wrestling season and kicked things off with the UNK Midwest duals in late January followed by the Golden Norsemen Invite. This was followed by a bunch of cancellations, then things kicked back up this week with a few more duals.
Here are five things to take away from what we’ve seen so far.
1. Dan Baker is a problem for other heavyweights
Dan Baker is the Norsemen heavyweight. He was an All-American last season, finishing third at the NJCAA National Tournament. The two wrestlers that finished ahead of him at the National Tournament were both sophomores and it now looks like Baker may be “the guy” at that weight class. He’s picked up a few wins over D2 opponents already and the way things look currently, I would personally look at him as probably the favorite to be the NJCAA champion at heavyweight this year.
2. Jayden Smith at 165
Smith in some ways is in a similar situation to Dan Baker. He was the third place finisher at 174 behind two upper classmen who will no longer be in his way this season. So you’d think, he’s probably in a good position to be the top guy there next season right? The unique thing is he’s actually at 165 so far. I don’t know the specifics on why. Maybe he just felt it was the best fit for him? Maybe it’s the best for the team? Either way, a guy that had the level of success he had at 174 is probably going to be a contender at 165 as well.
3. Blake Gonzalez to 149
Blake Gonzalez was the National Champ at 141 last season and is now up at 149. He took a loss to fellow defending champ Jake Beeson from Pratt, who won 149 last year, but will look to bounce back from it and win another title at the end of this season.
4. NEO Beat Fort Hays State!
Winning over higher division teams isn’t easy, and NEO managed to do that once already this season, and at the time Fort Hays was a top 20 team. There’s something to be said for that. There were some holes in the Fort Hays State lineup and it came down to a tiebreaker, but regardless, I think it’s something worth noting.
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 27, #19 Fort Hays State 26
125 | #2 Mason Turner (FHSU) over Karter Brink (NEO) TF 16-0 1:54
133 | Luke Montgomery (NEO) over Broderick Green (FHSU) Dec 10-5
141 | Dalton Burdick (NEO) over unknown (unattached) For
149 | Blake Gonzalez (NEO) over Josh Lenker (FHSU) TF 20-5 7:00
157 | Cody Hicks (FHSU) over Nolan Saale (NEO) Inj Def
165 | Jayden Smith (NEO) over unknown (unattached) For
174 | Marty Verhaeghe (FHSU) over Dayton Fields (NEO) Maj 10-2
184 | Jackson White (NEO) over Clint Herrick (FHSU) Fall 4:58
197 | Tereus Henry (FHSU) over Seth Seago (NEO) TF 16-1 4:20
285 | #9 A.J. Cooper (FHSU) over Dan Baker (NEO) Fall 1:14
NEO +1 team point – tiebreaker criteria #2
5. Are they NJCAA Title Contenders?
JUCO wrestling is so unique as it’s just a two-year window to develop your talent and win team titles. There’s no doubt that Joe Renfro has established himself as one of the best in the business at doing that.
NEO has three definite title contenders in Gonzalez, Smith, and Baker. Looking at some of this season’s results, I think Dalton Burdick at 141, Dayton Fields at 174, and Seth Seago at 197 are a few others that could do some damage as well. It will be interesting to see how all these guys emerge at the NJCAA tournament, and what they’re able to do in the postseason, and if NEO can find away to bring home another team title. The tournament is currently scheduled for April 21-22nd in Council Bluffs, Iowa.