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Youth Movement

Lions wrestling eyes playoff competition at East-West tournament

Ryan Ladika/MDN Junior Lane Cooper, left, has compiled 169 match points, good for third-most on the team, entering Bishop Ryan’s weekend action.

Days away from the most crucial meet of the season to this point, the Bishop Ryan Lions’ wrestling squad is hitting its stride on an almost nightly basis up and down the lineup.

The upcoming two-day East-West tournament Jan. 28-29, held in New Salem, North Dakota, will provide the Lions with the biggest test of the campaign as the regular season dwindles to a close.

Of the 33 Class B schools in the state, over 25 will make the journey to take one final look at their potential state tournament competition prior to the postseason’s commencement next month. The Lions, though, are up to the challenge.

A youthful Bishop Ryan team that did not qualify for the Class B State Duals tournament last season has spent the 2021-22 campaign honing its craft and whittling down the mistakes while also gaining experience. The notable growth and skill of the Lions’ younger wrestlers in particular this year is not lost on head coach Brock Nagel.

“We have some individuals that are extremely tough. Looking at it, should have a pretty easy chance of making it on the podium, but our other wrestlers on our team wrestled extremely well this weekend,” Nagel said. “I was really impressed with some of our younger guys, less-experienced guys that have been kind of waiting for them to break through, and I think they definitely did this past weekend.”

Bishop Ryan most recently wrapped up a three-day stretch of competition that included four separate duals followed by the 2022 Badlands Classic Jan. 20-22. The Lions bested Williams County, the Mon-Dak Thunder and Stanley High School to emerge on the winning end of three of their four duals.

The team dropped its lone meeting last week to the Velva Aggies, giving Ryan eight wins in 13 total duals this season before producing 158 total points in a second-place finish at the Badlands.

Highlighting the young wrestlers during Ryan’s last tournament were freshman Drew Zwak, who snagged the top spot in the 16-pound weight class, freshman Parker Baier, who earned a third-place finish at 138, and sophomore Connor Harvey, who produced a second-place finish at 195.

Lions junior captain Lane Cooper also impressed at the Badlands with a second-place finish at 126 after pinning Stanley’s Cayne Rudolph and earning an overtime win against Harvey/Wells County’s Noah Herrington.

“Some of those less-experienced guys I thought performed extremely well,” Nagel continued.

“Parker Baier took third in the Badlands tournament, where he’s been one of those guys that’s been real close to breaking through, and then he finally had a really good weekend. It’s just the more time they get on the mat the better they’re going to get. So it was very positive for those guys.”

With all the positive steps forward the returning Lions have taken over the last calendar year, it is one of the youngest members of the team who has been the most productive.

Eighth-grader Cade Okeson, serving as one of Ryan’s heavyweight wrestlers in the 220-pound class, leads the team in match points entering the weekend action with 207. Okeson has recorded 43 takedowns, second-best on the team to Zwak’s 53, 37 escapes that rank tops on the Lions’ scoresheet, and 26 combined two- and three-point near falls.

His youth leads to occasional mistakes, but Nagel maintains Okeson is one of the Lions’ most exciting wrestlers as a result of his raw talent and potential to grow into a dominant veteran wrestler in a few years’ time.

“He’s a super, super talented kid, he works hard, and he’s progressed a lot,” Nagel said. “Some kids that beat us early in the year, we’ve been able to come back and beat them now, or kids that we had close matches with, we’re starting to get a wire gap with. So he’s got such a bright future ahead of him, and he’s been a blast all year.”

The Lions will take part in the East-West tournament following Jan. 27 duals at New Salem, setting up yet another busy late-week schedule for the team.

The laborious late-season slate is deliberate, with the goal in mind to better prepare the team for next month’s state tournament. Barring any potential setbacks, Nagel and his team look forward to gaining valuable insight on their competition this weekend as the postseason draws nearer.

“Every wrestler has their own unique style or go-to moves that they’re good at,” Nagel added. “To be able to see them at least once is a huge thing for us when we’re going to the state tournament. It would be good to go into the postseason without having that setback either, that everyone’s continuing to improve.”

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