Bishop Ryan has upped the ante.
At the beginning of the season, Ryan wrestling coach Chase Lee said the Lions' goal was to place in the top 10 at the individual state tournament and win in the first round of the dual tournament to stay in championship contention.
That was three months ago. Now, with the three-day Class B state tournament beginning today in Bismarck, the Lions still hunger for that first-round victory in the dual tournament, but are eyeing a top-five finish in the individual portion.
Bishop Ryan senior heavyweight Mason Kramer, left, is seeded second at the Class B state wrestling tournament.
With 12 wrestlers qualifying for state, that goal is in reach for a Ryan team that placed 14th in the individual tournament last year.
"We have seven kids that are seeded and a few other kids that have pretty good draws that might be able to fight their way through and get on the podium," Lee said. "We have a good chance. We have a very good roster and I'm excited to see what these kids can do."
Senior Mason Kramer holds the team's highest ranking, grabbing the No. 2 seed at 285 pounds. Kramer is 30-2 in just his second season with the wrestling program, with his only losses coming against Oakes' Michael Kelly. Oakes' heavyweight won an 8-5 decision over Kramer at the Linton Holiday Tournament in December and a 4-3 decision at the East-West Tournament in January. Kelly is the top seed at 285.
"My coaches have helped me quite a bit," Kramer said. "They prepared me for the No. 1 seed and I hope I can get him and hope I can beat him. I set my expectations high and I think I can achieve those. I want to win state."
Wyatt Ledoux (113 pounds), Aaron Sandy (120), Keaton Merck (145), Corbin Manley (152), Carson Schell (170) and Jordan Will (182) are also ranked in their respective brackets. Max Lipp (106), Konner Beeter (126), Cole Dauphinais (132), Dakota Johnson (195) and Tyler Allers (220) also qualified for state. Kramer, Sandy and Allers are returning place winners.
As a team, the Lions dual with Lisbon in the state quarterfinals. Lisbon, the No. 2 seed from Region 1, won the dual state championship in 2008 and defeated Ryan 64-12 in the 2012 state quarterfinals. The Lions haven't won a dual at state in more than 10 years, a streak they'd like to snap.
"The next big goal would be to win that first match at state in the dual tournament," Lee said. "That's very important for us. It's something we haven't done since 2003, so it's been a long time, but I think we have a good core group of kids this year that can do it for us."
Said Kramer: "We learned that we have to come out prepared and ready to work, not have fun. We were a young team last year. The biggest thing compared to last year is we're there for business and ready to win and work hard."
Thomas, Peterson eye strong finishes to careers
The Des Lacs-Burlington wrestling team didn't qualify for the state dual tournament, but that doesn't mean those that qualified for the individual tournament aren't some of the top wrestlers in the field.
Seniors Cole Peterson (126 pounds) and Justin Thomas (138) have a laundry list of accolades during their high school careers, but a state title still eludes them, and it's something both would love to capture. Only two wrestlers have won individual state titles in the Lakers' history.
"That's always been my goal to be a state champion throughout my high school career and I still haven't done it," Thomas said. "Doing it in my final year would be great."
Thomas won his fourth Region III championship on Saturday, pinning Mondak Thunder's Jorge Rico in 2:25. He placed sixth at state as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and was runner-up last year.
Thomas (36-5) is the No. 3 seed in the 138-pound bracket and wrestles Killdeer's David Arthur in the first round. Carrington's Patrick Freeman is the top seed and Napoleon's Jonathan Grunefelder is seeded second.
Thomas said he prefers being the third seed rather than the top seed like he was last year.
"I like being seeded third," he said. "Last year I was seeded first and I thought it was too much pressure. I was too scared to lose. Being third will be nice, it's a little pressure off my back."
Peterson (33-9) won his fifth region title over the weekend with a 6-5 decision over Bishop Ryan's Konner Beeter. He's the No. 6 seed in the 126-pound bracket and wrestles Hettinger's Alec Andress in the first round.
"It's going to be a tough weight class," Peterson said. "There's a lot of good kids there. I'm just going to have to wrestle really well and know how to wrestle each one of them."
Peterson has the third most victories in his weightclass, trailing only fourth-seeded Grant Johnson of Lisbon and No. 2 seed Joe Bakke of Carrington. Peterson could meet Bakke in the semifinals.
Peterson placed sixth at state last year and said winning a title would be the perfect way to end his career.
"It would probably be the cherry on top of a really good wrestling career," he said. "It would be something I would remember for the rest of my life."
Carrington seeks state title
The Carrington wrestling team hasn't won a state title since 1995.
That's a drought the Cardinals would like to end as the state tournament gets underway today in Bismarck.
Carrington finished fourth in the dual tournament and third in the individual event last year. The Cardinals won their first dual before dropping decisions to Linton-HMB and Central Cass. Carrington's 143.5 individual total was five behind Lisbon and 51.5 behind state-champion South Border.
The Cardinals are confident this is the year they bring back a state title to Carrington.
"We're excited, but everyone's really relaxed as well and that's the key at this point," Carrington coach Josh Kerbaugh said. "Stay calm, cool and collected, don't overthink it, but at the same time don't take anything for granted."
The Region II champion wrestles Watford City, the second seed from Region IV, in the first round of the dual tournament. The Cardinals did not lose a dual to a Class B team this season. Their only defeats came against Class A teams and programs from South Dakota.
"Right away at the beginning of the year we set the goal to be state champions," Kerbaugh said. "If we're going to be state champions we were going to train like state champions. You can't just say you're going to do it and not put in the time. You put your time in, you put your money in the bank each week and your chances go up immensely."
Carrington brings quite a bit of momentum to state, having won its final two duals in the Region II Duals by a combined score of 162-3 over Harvey-Wells County and Larimore.
Individually, the Cardinals qualified 13 wrestlers, 10 of whom are seeded. Patrick Freeman is the top seed in the 138-pound weightclass. Freeman was one of five Cardinals to win the region title at their respective weightclass.
Collectively, Carrington's 13 qualifiers are 389-145. Eight have won 30-plus matches this season and five have lost fewer than 10. Joe Bakke, the Region II wrestler of the year, holds a team-best .897 percent winning percentage (35-4).
"Every guy that qualified thinks they can be a state placer," Kerbaugh said. "If you think it, it can be so. If you don't, you're wasting your time."
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.