Kaleb Center, Sports Information Director
FAYETTE, Iowa – Chadron State College wrestling received big news on Wednesday when it tied for 24th in the National Wrestling Coaches Association national preseason rankings, issued by Upper Iowa University. In addition, senior Chase Clasen was slotted No. 5 nationally at 149 pounds, and classmate Wade French was 10th at 197 pounds.
The University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown was chosen by the coaches to begin the season as the team to beat, placing the Mountain Cats as the preseason No. 1.
After three weeks of intense workouts, the team will open its season Saturday, as usual, by entering the Cowboy Open Tournament at the University of Wyoming.
Generally, about 500 collegiate wrestlers at all levels enter the Cowboy Open. All the Eagles who are healthy usually participate, but things will different this year. Only about two-thirds of the squad will go to Laramie.
That’s because on Thursday, Nov. 7, Chadron State will have a pair of duals in Lincoln, including one against the University of Nebraska. After the Eagles tangle with the Cornhuskers at 6:30 they’ll also take on Hastings College.
“Our first-team, the starters, will go to Lincoln,” said CSC Coach Brett Hunter. “Everybody else will go to Wyoming. We’re starting the season with a busy schedule. Everybody on the team will see plenty of action immediately.”
Also on the schedule the first half of November are the University of Northern Colorado’s Open Tournament on Sunday the 10th and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference duals at Western Colorado in Gunnison on Thursday the 14th and Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction on Saturday the 16th.
Hunter says the duals in Lincoln “just kind of happened.” Over the years, the Cornhuskers have invited Nebraska college teams to come to Lincoln for some early competition. The Eagles got one of the calls this year. They aren’t getting a big payday for making the trip, but they’ll have the opportunity to wrestle the best. The Cornhuskers are ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division I behind only Penn State and Iowa.
Hunter said the Nebraska natives on the team may have had dreams of wrestling for the Cornhuskers at some point in their lives and still think it will be neat to wrestle in Lincoln.
This year’s CSC team is young. There are just five seniors and four juniors on the roster, which also includes two sophomores, 10 redshirt freshmen and nine freshmen.
Hunter expects the Eagles to be competitive and believes they will be improved from last year at several of the weight classes. Last season they finished 4-6 in duals and were eighth among the 10 teams at the Super Region 6 Tournament.
The highlight of 2018-19 occurred at the Super Region 6 Championships in Kearney when Chase Clasen of Moses Lake, Wash. and Wade French of Herrman, Utah, won regional titles and advanced to the NCAA II National Tournament in Cleveland.
The Eagles had not had a regional champion since 2008 and it was the first time they’d had two in the same year since 2007. Both went 1-2 at the national tournament.
Now seniors, Clasen and French are hoping to build on last year’s success. Clasen finished 18-7 last year while competing at 149 pounds. After having to cut weight, he’s moving up to 157 this year. French, who finished 19-9 last year, will remain at 197. He was the 197-pound National Junior College champion in 2018 while competing at Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs.
Another stellar senior on the roster is Brandon Kile of Hastings, who will hold down the 133-pound weight again. He finished at 16-13 a year ago and missed qualifying for the national meet by one match.
Hunter also expects good things from Chadron native Joe Ritzen, a redshirt sophomore who will fill the 141-pound berth. Ritzen was a two-time state silver medalist at Chadron High and his 150-25 career record makes him the Cardinals’ all-time winningest wrestler.
Hunter said the Eagles are fortunate to have the energetic Ritzen available since last year’s 141-pounder, Chance Karst of Powell, Wyo., is sidelined by a knee injury he sustained late last season, but may be available in the spring.
Other Eagles who will fill the varsity lineup when they to go to Lincoln, by weight, are: 149–Caleb Haskell, Madison, Neb., Jr; 165–Tate Allison, Moorcroft, Wyo., Jr.; 174–Gavin Eason, Firth, Neb., R-Fr.; 184–Terry Winstead, Harrah, Okla., R-Fr.; and Heavyweight–Mason Watt, Broomfield, Colo., R-Fr.
Hunter said the redshirt freshmen in the three upper weights may take some lumps while gaining experience, but have good potential in the long run.
Watt has competition in the roster. They include another redshirt freshman, Ell Hinojosa of Chase County High at Imperial, and junior Alex Mai of Fort Morgan, Colo., who is playing in the defensive line for the football team this fall, but will join the wrestlers about Dec. 1.
After having to forfeit at 125 pounds most of last season, the Eagles are counting of freshmen Kobe Lepe of San Fernando, Calif., and Tate Stoddard of Glenrock, Wyo., to fill that weight class this year. Lepe was a Los Angeles City sectional champion and high school All-American while Stoddard is a four-time Wyoming state champion at 113 pounds.
“I like Stoddard because he’s a good wrestler and probably won’t outgrow the 125-pound weight,” Hunter said.
The remaining freshmen on this year’s roster will redshirt, meaning they’ll compete in an array of open tournaments to gain experience, while maintaining four years of eligibility.
“They’re hard workers who have excellent potential,” Hunter said. “They just need some time to learn and mature. They’re our future.”
All but one of them is from Nebraska. They are, by weight: 141–Damien Kersten, Battle Creek; 149–Harrison Goeke, York, and Evan Waddington, Wood River; 165–Seth Simants, Stapleton; 184–Ryder Fuchs, Pierce; 197–Gavin Peitzmeier, Millard South; and Hwt.–Lane Eubank, Kokomo, Ind.