SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Call them solo artists.
They are the student-athletes who stand alone, the ones, with a coach or two in tow, who check into the hotel and then have a team meeting of one. Finding workout partners can sometimes be difficult.
Seventeen of the 160 entries at this weekend’s NCAA Division II Championships inside the Denny Sanford Premier Center made the trip to Sioux Falls without any teammates. Throughout the course of the long and grinding season that started back in November, bonds are forged through the everyday rigors of a wrestling season. Two weekends ago, at four Super Region national qualifiers, the DII field was trimmed to 16 men per bracket.
Teammates have now become fans.
For 184-pounder Aero Amo, a native of Rapid City, South Dakota, being the lone representative of homestanding Augustana (S.D.) is a bit different. The unbeaten sophomore slept in his own bed last night.
“It’s nice to be able to treat this like another match, without the travel,” said Amo (22-0) after his narrow 3-2 win over Ashland’s Brandon O’Neill on Friday afternoon. “Sleeping in my bed, that’s nice. I didn’t do anything different last night, just tried to relax.
“Being able to look up into the stands to see your teammates cheering you on, that’s nice. Some of the guys who are here by themselves might not get as much support, so I’m really fortunate that my team can be here to support me.”
Minnesota-Moorhead’s Blake Bosch won his 24th straight match during the first session. It required a small early comeback, and Bosch eventually rolled to a technical fall. The junior 133-pounder from Wishek, North Dakota, was an All-American in 2015 and is the lone Dragon participant.
“A team is a team, whether they come down (to Sioux Falls) or not,” said Bosch after his technical fall in the first round. “Jarrod Goldsmith is here getting me warm and (Shane Novak and Kristian Vasquez) worked out with me all week, so the support is there.“Sometimes it’s nice to be the only guy, other times it’s not. You want to have a competitive team, and it’s cool to get the attention, but that’s not what it’s about for me. The goal my last two years is to win a national title. That will bring attention to the program, to the athletic director. We have a lot of alumni, a lot of support for the program. Winning a national title will only help the program.”
Bosch squares off with Chadron State’s Taylor Summers tonight. Summers, another soloist, beat LIU-Post’s Joe Calderone, on his own from Long Island this weekend. Amo meets Fort Hays State’s Jon Inman in tonight’s quarterfinals.
“If I win every match 3-2 that is fine with me,” Amo said. “Everyone that wrestles is tough. To get to this tournament is tough, so I respect everybody here at my weight, all the weights.”
For Tyler Mclean, a 5-3, down-to-the-wire winner over Lindenwood’s Kyle Jolas in a 165-pound first rounder, the trip from Canada’s Simon Fraser includes one teammate.
“Last night in the hotel we were talking about how weird it was to be the only guys here,” said Mclean, a native of Washington. “Being by yourself would be tough; it’s nice to have that teammate here to hang out with.”
Simon Fraser, located in British Columbia, is the training site for the Canadian Olympic Team.
“The freestyle guys (at Simon Fraser) know what is going on this week,” Mclean said. “They come down for freestyle tournaments, the Dave Schultz and stuff. They know how big (the NCAAs) are, so there has been support all week. Having (Reid Watkins) here is good for both of us, too.”
Three others attending the two-day tournament without a teammate picked up wins in the first session. Ouachita Baptist 141-pounder Blake Clevinger beat Central Oklahoma’s Josh Ailey; North Carolina-Pembroke All-American Blaze Shade improved to 38-4 with victory at 174 pounds; and Southwest Minnesota State heavyweight Cole Wilson (31-5) moved into the quarterfinals with a victory.
If the first session is any indication, the team race, as expected is going to be a dandy. Maryville, St. Cloud State, and Notre Dame College are 1-2-3 in the standings with all taking a hit here and there.
The Saints won 7 of 10 first round matches, including Nick Burghardt’s pin of 2015 NCAA finalist Huston Evans of Newberry at 184 pounds.
The champions from last March, St. Cloud State, lost just one of seven matches in the opening salvo. Notre Dame College methodically pushed eight into the quarterfinals. Garrett Lineberger edged Limestone College’s Matthew Rudy, 3-2, in a tiebreaker at 197 pounds. Falcon senior Joey Davis opened his quest for a fourth national title with a 13-5 major decision at 184 pounds.
Wisconsin-Parkside opened strong, getting a 7-6 win by Ronzel Darling over Nebraska-Kearney’s Connor Bolling at 125 pounds and a big third-period pin from Joseph Her at 133 pounds. Nick Becker (39-0) had a pin at 174 pounds, and Nick Fishback (32-4) edged NDC’s Juwan Edmond, 8-6, at 165 pounds.
The second session hits the mats at 6 (CST).