Three Bluejay wrestlers qualify for nationals

Three Bluejay wrestlers qualify for nationals

Three Bluejay wrestlers qualify for nationals

By Ryan McGaughey on Feb 10, 2019 at 8:01 p.m.
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Minnesota West's Brandon Johnson (165 pounds) works to control Jacob Backlund of Ridgewater during their Sunday match at the NJCAA North District Wrestling Tournament in Worthington. (Ryan McGaughey / The Globe)1 / 2

WORTHINGTON — The road to qualifying for the NJCAA National Wrestling Tournament was a challenging one Sunday for Minnesota West's Adam Rients.

Rients, a freshman from Waterville wrestling for Minnesota West at 157 pounds, dropped his first match Sunday morning in the North District Wrestling Tournament inside the Bluejays' Health and Wellness Center. He may have been down, but he wasn't out by any means, as Rients went on to capture his next three matches to earn second place in his weight class and a trip to nationals.

RIents was one of three Minnesota West wrestlers to advance Sunday to nationals. Brayden Johnson, a 165-pound freshman from Janesville, wound up in second place in his weight class. Meanwhile, Christopher Romero, a freshman from Grand Meadow, didn't even have to break a sweat, as he went unchallenged in his class to take first place without having to hit the mat.

Following an 8-4 loss to Rochester Community and Technical College's Isaac Haman to begin his day, Rients admitted that he benefited from some refocusing.

"They (coaches) know how much to push me mentally, and it helps me to not be myself with my thoughts," Rients said following his second-place finish. "It was a rough way to start the day when you have to go through the losers' bracket because you've got a harder path (to qualify), but any way you do it is fine with me."

Rients would come out and dominate his second match of the day, winning by technical fall (18-2) over Kyle Fowler of Northland Community and Technical College. He then topped Jacob Revier of Ridgewater by an 8-3 score to set up a battle for second against Itasca's Cody Sawyer, who was defeated by Haman for the 157-pound title.

In that match, Rients took care of a familiar foe — the two were facing each other for the fourth time this year — and won by fall in 2:41.

"He beat me the first time, then I beat him, then he beat me, and then I beat him" Rients said. "He had a strategy against me and I had to counter that strategy. My first move, people probably know what I'm going to do, so I had to try and counter that … so in a way it was like a counter-counter."

At 165, Johnson won his first match by a 15-4 major decision over Kaven Blazek of Northland, who Johnson called "one of my best friends in college wrestling."  That moved him into the final against Jacob Backlund of Ridgewater, who held off Johnson to emerge with a narrow 4-2 triumph. It was third time he'd faced Backlund this year — and each match has gotten progressively closer.

"Our first match I got teched (technical fall) by him," Johnson said. "The second match was a dual at their place and I almost put him on his back: I had him in a turk … but he beat me by seven. I knew this time I had to stay spaced out and keep my distance, and the main thing I needed to do was shoot more.

"I hope I get to wrestle him at nationals."

A fourth Minnesota West wrestler, freshman Rashawn Crumpler of Atlanta, Ga., lost both of his matches at 149 pounds. All in all, Bluejays head coach Bryan Cowdin was pleased with how the day went.

"The program is coming back around," said Cowdin, in his second year at the helm. "The guys are all freshmen, and we've got a pretty good foundation laid. We definitely finished where we wanted today."

In team scores, it was Rochester finishing atop the leaderboard with 80.5 points. Next was Itasca (57), followed by Northland (41), Minnesota West (35) and Ridgewater (28).

The national tournament will take place March 1-2 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.