Augustana wrestling’s solid start to the 2013-2014 season has room for improvement, according to assistant coach Tom Meester.
“Collectively, we only have a few duals to go off of,” Meester said. “But as a team, we haven’t wrestled our best.”
Still early in the season, the Vikings sit at 2-1 after defeating Morningside College and Chadron State University before losing to the Air Force Academy at the Augustana quadrangular on Nov. 15.
“Individuals on the team have had some great performances, but we are still lacking a complete team effort,” Meester said.
Numerous Vikings had strong individual showings at the first three open tournaments of the year.
At the Dakota Wesleyan Open on Nov. 16, Blake Jans’ 133-pound title headlined the seven Augustana wrestlers who placed, including Zach Friederich’s third-place finish at 149 pounds.
“It’s early in the season, and the team is continuing to improve every week,” Friederich said.
Augustana’s most recent action at the Holiday Inn Open in Kearney, Neb. on Nov. 23 also saw its fair share of highlights. Michael Lowman captured his first tournament title as a Viking, posting a 4-0 record in the heavyweight amateur division. Lowman, a redshirt freshman, pinned Wayne State’s Travis Schmitz in 2:15 to clinch the title.
Sophomore TJ North improved to 11-3 in the year after placing third in the elite 125-pound class.
“I think I’ve competed well, but there are always things that could be better and need improvement,” North said.
Redshirt freshman Drake Fanslau also performed well at the Holiday Inn Open, taking fifth at 174 pounds in the amateur division. Fanslau dropped his first bout of the day before winning six of his next seven. He capped his fifth place performance by pinning Kearney’s Chance Bila in 1:51.
Augustana looks to gain additional momentum heading into a busy weekend of competition.
“As a team, we’ve had some ups and downs,” said sophomore Shawn Hatlestad. “Right now, we need to get a solid effort out of everyone each time we stop out on the mat.”
The Vikings are currently down a few players due to injury.
“Jayd Docken should be back competing this week,” Meester said. After receiving All-American honors last season, Docken’s return will make an immediate impact for the Vikings.
The junior earned a sixth-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships in the 197-pound division.
“We are also hoping Garret Heiberger (157) and Tim Weber (165) will be back soon from their injuries,” Meester added.
After the promising start to the season, the Vikings are focused on gradual improvement before setting their sights on postseason competition.
“We are just trying to clean things up now,” Hatlestad said. “There’s no need to add new material to what we do, but we need to clean up what we’re already doing right.”
Meester said he feels this year’s team has serious national title and All-American contenders.
“But we are going to have to tighten up some spots in the lineup to achieve what we want to accomplish,” Meester said.
As a frequent presence at the NCAA Championships in past years, the Vikings remain focused on returning to the national stage.
“I think our goals are the same as they have always been,” North said. “We are working toward a national championship.”
Augustana heads to Orange City, Iowa, for a triangular with Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern College before competing at the Dragon Open in Moorhead, Minn. on Saturday, Dec. 7.
“As we go into this week, (head) Coach Reitmeier has emphasized that we need to wrestle at our level and not at the level of our opponents,” Friederich said. “Reitmeier wants us to wrestle our match: fast-paced, moving forward, taking our shots.”
Augustana will finish an action-packed weekend against South Dakota State University at 2 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Sanford Pentagon.
“I’d say we are going to focus on wrestling full seven minute matches,” North said. “We’ll be looking to grind these guys down, trying to break them.”