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Bismarck Demons wrestler Ryan Ripplinger, top, won the 120-pound championship and was voted the outstanding wrestler at last year's Mandan Lions wrestling tournament.

MIKE McCLEARY, Tribune

 Any team with an eye on this year's Mandan Lions wrestling championship had better be prepared to do battle.

 The 12-team field includes five of the six top top-ranked teams in the state Class A wrestling coaches' preseason poll.

 Top-rated Bismarck, the defending state Class A dual champion, will return to shoot for a third Lions title.

 Second-ranked Minot, the winner of the state tournament championship last season, will be absent. However, Mandan, Century, West Fargo and Turtle Mountain, ranked third though sixth, respectively, will all be on hand.

 Bismarck coach Jeff Schumacher expects his Demons to be in the heat of the fray.

 "I think we've got a chance. We're going to fill 14 weights, and that's a big plus," Schumacher said. "We feel pretty good about our guys. We've got a good group that works hard in the room."

 Schumacher didn't have to look far to speculate on who else might make a run at the championship.

 "Mandan is a good team and Century is going to be all right. Minot would be a factor, but they're not going to be here. It's a big senior class for them," he said. "... I'm not sure about Sturgis and the Rapid City teams. Any one of them could emerge."

 Three of the returning individual Lions champions wear BHS maroon. Ryan Ripplinger won at 120 last fall, Devin Steidler took the 152-pound title and Parker Wahl took honors at 150. Ripplinger was voted the outstanding wrestler.

 Rapid City Stevens is the only other school with more than one returning champion. Spencer Stockman won for the Raiders at 126 last season and Dante Colicheski prevailed at 170.

 Others hoping to claim repeat titles are Jacob Wood of Sturgis (106), T.J. Morrison of Rapid City Central (113), Dawson Zerr of Turtle Mountain (132), Isaac Berger of Mandan (145) and Matthew Kaylor of Legacy (195).

 Looking farther down the pike, Schumacher said he isn't sure how valid his team's No. 1 statewide ranking is.

 "What's going to matter (at state tournament time) is who's going to be healthy, who has a full lineup and who's going to be ready to go. ... That's where it is. If you get an ankle injury or a bum shoulder in the middle of February, it spells trouble."

 The issue Schumacher is concerned with right now isn't weight duplication or injuries so much as it is strength in the upper weights.

 "We can fill in most of the weight classes. ... The guys did a really good job of spreading it out amongst each other. They guys found their spots. ... As far as the big boys, that's hard to find, and it's not just us. That's true everywhere," Schumacher said.

 Wrestling begins at 3:30 today and will run into the evening at Mandan Middle School. Action resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday, with the championship matches likely to begin in mid-afternoon.

 Each weight class will be split into two six-man round-robin pools. The top two wrestlers to emerge from each pool move into a bracketed semifinal round on Saturday. The championship and third-place matches will follow.

 Among the current teams entered, Bismarck and Sturgis have been the most successful with 17 and nine championships, respectively. Sturgis last won in 2010, the last leg of three in a row.

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Sports Reporter