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Ryan Ripplinger, top, is a two-time state champion for Bismarck High.

TOM STROMME, TRIBUNE

 The Bismarck Demons enjoy a luxury available to no other team heading into this week's state Class A wrestling tournament.

 At the Fargodome the Demons can afford to just be themselves. They don't need to move mountains or pluck rabbits from hats. Their task is to wrestle to their seeds.

 "We just have to go out and wrestle, and if we wrestle tough we'll be fine," said BHS co-coach Jeff Schumacher.

For duals, defending champion BHS has balance. Eleven of their 16 state qualifiers are seeded. Among those 16 are the blue-chippers a team needs to rack up big points in tournament wrestling. The Demons boast five top-seeded wrestlers and another who's seeded No. 2.

 As a unit, the Demons sit atop the statewide coaches' poll with 200 points, a 26-point cushion on Minot, the defending state tournament champion. Also in the top five are West Fargo with 152, Mandan (132) and Valley City (90).

 Schumacher, who shares BHS head coaching duties with Mark Lardy, is well aware Bismarck will enter the Fargodome as heavy dual and tournament favorites.

 "The state polls have it that way. ... We're ranked that way, but going into the tournament we're all 0-0. Then we'll have to figure out where we are," he observed. "We have to look at it this way: We have to like where we are and how we're wrestling, but we've still got to get it done. I'd rather be ranked where we are, rather than fifth or 10th, but now it's just time to get it done."

 If taking care of business is the order of the day, the recent past augurs well. Last weekend BHS scored 260.5 points and captured five individual championships en route to a dominant win at the West Region tournament. 

 In addition, BHS is on a 17-match dual winning streak and has vanquished 14 opponents this season with an average winning margin of 44 points.

 "We feel we're going in strong. ... I think we're wrestling pretty well," Schumacher said. "We're not wrestling outstanding, but we're wrestling pretty well and we're wrestling hard. ... That's a good scenario, ... Our conditioning is good and the kids' mindset is good."

 Bismarck defeated Minot 37-23 in January, the only dual the Demons haven't won by more than 20 points.

 Schumacher said it would be a mistake to automatically think BHS is two pins better than the Magicians.

 "It could have been closer. Now that they have (Creighton) Rudolph back, they're going to be formidable in duals," Schumacher said. "... In some spots there are going to be close matches, and we can't afford to lose the close matches."

 Rudolph made it back from an elbow injury just in time to qualify for state in the regional tournament. Rudolph, now at 170, placed third at 150 pounds last year and second at 152 in 2016.

When it comes to duals, the state appears to be West-leaning this season. A month ago seven East Region schools and all nine West Region schools duked it out at the Metro Dual Tournament at Fargo Davies.

 The West won 30 of the 34 duals that matched East against West. West Fargo, the East Region tournament champion by 29.5 points over runner-up Valley City, went 2-3 in the Metro Tournament. The Packers lost to Bismarck, Minot and Legacy and defeated Mandan and Jamestown.

 Schumacher said those dual results weren't misleading. He said if the Demons are to face a strong challenge at the state tournament, it will probably arise from the West.

 "I would say it would come from Minot or Mandan. ... The West is really strong," he noted. "Minot is tough. ... That championship team really only lost four kids. That team was loaded with juniors."

 Schumacher said the state tournament arrives at a good time for the Demons. He said his lineup is the strongest it's been all year. 

 Seniors Mason Steckler at 182 and Devin Steidler are back in the lineup after overcoming injuries. Steckler had a broken finger and Steidler, the No. 1 seed at 145, has been bothered by a hip injury.

 In addition, senior heavyweight Nolan Hintz, who sat out most of the season, returned to the team in time to get in six bouts and qualify for state. Hintz placed eighth at heavyweight last season.

With injuries and weight distribution concerns behind them and the addition of some junior high athletes, Schumacher said the team may well turn out to be better than he had anticipated on the first day of practice.

 "I think we're better than I might have thought. ... You just don't know sometimes what's going to come up," he said. "Most of our kids rank in the top six (seeds)."

 In the individual ranks, eight state champions return from last year, among them three from West Fargo and two from Bismarck.

 West Fargo's returnees are two three-time winners -- Justin Harms at 138 and Jared Franek at 160. Cade Pederson at 182 is West Fargo's other prior champion.

 Bismarck's returning champions appear back-to-back in the lineup -- Laken Boese at 120 and Ryan Ripplinger at 126. Ripplinger is a two-time titlist.

 Brody Armstrong of Minot at 132, Dawson Zerr of Turtle Mountain at 138 and Isaac Berger of Mandan at 152 are the other previous winners. Armstrong has won twice.

 Only two unbeaten wrestlers appear in the Class A brackets. Bismarck's Steidler is top-seeded at 145 with a 37-0 mark. At 183, Turtle Mountain's Trevis LaRocque is seeded second with a 10-0 record.

 The three-day grind begins Thursday morning. Action begins at 11 a.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday. The Class A dual final is scheduled for Friday evening following the 5 p.m. individual semifinals. Individual championship matches are slated to begin at 3 p.m. Saturday.

 Bismarck, the runaway leader in championship hardware, is seeking its 35th tournament championship at its 15th dual title.

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Sports Reporter