Qualifying for Fargo is one thing. Getting to Fargo is another.
Eight Times Area wrestlers are making the 1,100-mile trek from Clarion University to the FargoDome in North Dakota for the US Marine Corps Junior Nationals. Fargo has become the ultimate offseason destination for scholastic wrestlers eager to display their talents against the best grapplers in the country in front of a multitude of college coaches. Biglerville’s Levi Haines and Blake Showers punched their tickets, joining the Gettysburg crew of Jake Fetrow, Montana DeLawder, Dylan Reinert, Sam Rodriguez, Lexi Reinert and Max Gourley.
Before they step on a mat, however, they must first step on a bus. Where they will be for roughly 16 hours.
“I have a lot of pillows and blankets for napping,” said Dylan Reinert, when reached by telephone on Wednesday evening.
Riding halfway across the nation is old hat for Reinert, who endured a 15-hour trek to Tulsa, Oklahoma earlier this summer to compete in the Junior National Duals.
“I’ll watch a couple of movies, talk wrestling with some of the guys,” he said. “You learn a lot riding on a bus.”
While most of the group left for Fargo earlier in the week, Reinert and Showers will depart from Clarion this afternoon. The local group recently spent four days training together with Gettysburg head coach Chris Haines, who is on the Team Pennsylvania staff and will be cornering wrestlers when the week-long competition begins on Saturday.
“We had a great week of training,” said Haines. “The kids matched up so well size-wise so we got to roll and do some intense training.”
In addition to sharpening their physical tools, the wrestlers put in some advanced mental work in preparation for the immense stage the FargoDome offers.
“It’s a little different environment because of the size of the FargoDome, but a wrestling mat is still a wrestling mat,” said Haines, who estimated that upwards of 40 mats will be in use when action gets underway. “The stands will look empty because of how big it is.”
Those in the stands, however, will include wrestling dignitaries of the highest degree with a vested interest. Fargo has become an extended showcase for prospective recruits who battle in front of head coaches and assistants from college programs ranging from the upper tier of Division I to smaller D-III programs.
Reinert, coming off a seventh-place finish in the PIAA Class 3A Championships at 160 pounds, is on the radar for a number of big-time schools. A strong showing in Tulsa helped his stock rise, not to mention his confidence.
“Coming out of folkstyle I didn’t really have an upper body threat and I was uncomfortable in those situations,” he said. “Doing Greco and being in those positions with practice partners and coach Haines, I feel like my upper body positioning has improved tremendously.”
Reinert, who will be competing in Junior freestyle and Greco-Roman at 160 pounds, has made unofficial visits to Lock Haven and the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also participated in camps at Campbell and North Carolina State. The rising senior won’t hurry his collegiate choice, regardless of how well he does this weekend.
“It’s going great and it’s an exciting time but I’m not rushing it,” he said. “It’s a big decision and I want to make the best decision for myself and my family.”
Like Reinert, Levi Haines has packed a bagful of momentum for the trip to Fargo. Coming off a runner-up finish at 106 at the PIAA 2A championships, the rising sophomore has remained busy. Among his offseason competitions was a 10-0 showing at the Disney Duals, where he defeated Carter Dibert of Franklin Regional, last year’s PIAA Class 3A 106-pound champion.
“Levi has hit some of the biggest tournaments out there,” said Chris Haines, his uncle. “He did really well at freestyle and Greco states and he wrestled outstanding at Disney. He’s very focused on Fargo and I expect him to have a lot of success.”
Haines is slated to compete at 113 pounds in freestyle and Greco Roman in 16U competition.
DeLawder, who was unbeaten in Tulsa, is competing in the Junior Women’s tournament at 112. She carries a lofty No. 2 national ranking, which her coach believes she will back up this weekend.
“She needs to be top three and do what she is capable of doing,” he said.
Showers, a two-time PIAA medalist and rising senior, is set to compete at 126 pounds in Junior freestyle and Greco-Roman. He has Fargo experience, unlike Warriors Fetrow (106, 16U Greco), Rodriguez (182, 16U Greco), Gourley (182, 16U freestyle & Greco) and Lexi Reinert (180, Junior Women).
Fetrow qualified last year at 98 pounds but did not compete, according to his coach. Coming off a scholastic season that saw him go 32-10 as a sophomore, Chris Haines believes the time is now for Fetrow to see how he stacks up against national competition.
“He’s primed and ready to go,” said Haines. “He won Northeast regionals and looked like a million bucks. He’s been rolling around with Levi, which has been tremendous. We expect big things out of him.”