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Bismarck girls teams dominate Rotary

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This is the first year of sanctioned girls wrestling in North Dakota, and also the first year girls wrestled at the Bismarck Rotary tournament.

Bismarck's three public schools are all competing in the new sport this year, but not in the traditional separated fashion. Head coach Scott Knowlen works with all three teams and has a number of assistant coaches that concentrate on particular teams and talents for the girls to learn.

If the results from the Rotary tournament are anything to go by, Knowlen and his assistants are on the right track to establishing Bismarck as a go-to town for girls wrestling.

"We've been progressively getting better, so it's good to see our hard work paying off," Knowlen said. "We took our lumps early on because we competed against some South Dakota teams that are a year ahead of us, but our hard work is starting to show some fruit, and I'm proud to see the girls starting to buy into what we're trying to tell them and how we want to develop their skills."

Legacy edged out Bismarck for the Rotary team title, with the Sabers taking home the top spot with 178 points. The Demons totaled 170. Century lagged a little behind with a smaller team and took fourth with 125 points, and Minot and Mandan rounded out the top five team scores with 158.5 and 117 points, respectively.

"It makes me proud for every one individually that puts in the work and reaps the benefits," Knowlen said. "We put some girls in the finals that have some previous experience, and put some girls in the finals where it's their first year competing ever."

Just as in boys wrestling, there are 14 weight classes, and in only five of the 14 did a Bismarck wrestler fail to qualify for a shot at a championship. The lone class with an all-Bismarck final was at the top weight class, 250, where Century's Tiki Williams-Miller pinned down Legacy's Phoenix Lindseth in the second period.

There were six Bismarck champions in total, all from Bismarck or Century. The Demons claimed titles from Julia Araujo at 100 pounds, Ashlee Potter at 140, and Lexi Beckler at 170.

"Wrestling is a really fun sport when you get the hang of it," Potter said. "The teammates and coaches make it a lot of fun. When your name gets called and you hear the stadium light up, it's an experience not a lot of people have, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

More impressively, all three of Bismarck's titles came on pin-sweeps. Potter and Beckler won three bouts apiece and Araujo took home an impressive four-pin day to erase the competition at 100.

"Our coaches push us to be the best we can," Potter said. "Teammates push us to work hard. Iron sharpening iron is what it takes to be a champion.

"I know (Abigail Lilly, her championship opponent) is a great competitor and knew she wasn't going to roll over easy for me, so I had to push hard and get the pin by grunting it out and trying your best, because that's all you can really do."

Century's titles came from Rei Ogden at 130, Olivia Schuchard at 155, and Williams-Miller at 250.

"We've put out a name for ourselves and I think we're going to try and get even more girls to join next year," Schuchard said.

The Patriots almost joined their teammates from Bismarck with three additional pin-sweep titles, but a 7-1 decision win from Ogden in her semifinal match against Daeja Sundqust from Williston ended that hope.

"It's an amazing feeling, it's a blessing to be the first champ at 130," Ogden said. "Throughout the tournaments, I feel like I've been doing better, but it feels like among the team, progress is being made."

Schuchard, who by her own admission hasn't been wrestling very long, was more than happy to take home a title in her first home tournament.

"I only started wrestling a month and a half ago, so I don't really know what to think yet," Schuchard said. "It's another fun experience that I've been able to have and can put under my belt for future years.

"During the (championship) match, I was getting a little frustrated, because I realized after the match that I had forgotten to (complete the move), which is why I couldn't get the pin right away. But my coach yelled it to me from the sidelines and I remembered it and I got a rush of adrenaline from it."

North Dakota teams came one weight class away from sweeping the girls titles, with the majority of the remaining titles heading eastward at the tournament's conclusion.

Fargo Davies' Sanie Gayflor won the title at 105 pounds, Devils Lake's Jenna Gerhardt took the crown at 110, West Fargo Sheyenne's Morgan Strandberg notched the win at 115, Alana Shafer of West Fargo took down Keela Kary of Sidney for the trophy at 120, and Allyssa Johnson of Grand Forks Central won the 135 belt.

As for West Region competition, Elizabeth Greco of Williston won the 145-pound weight class and Jamestown's Hannah Sjostrom collected top honors in the 190 pound bracket.

The lone weight class to see the title leave the state entirely was 125, as Amaiya Kirn of Sidney, Mont., strung three pins and a major decision together to break the shutout.

Now the trio of Bismarck schools will begin their preparations for the West Region tournament and state, which is just over a month away.

"We're going to continue developing our technique and putting more tools in our toolbox, skill-wise," Knowlen said. "In terms of getting ready for state, the biggest accomplishment we're making as a group, as a team, as three teams, is the mental shift on the toughness it takes to compete in this sport.

"That's something, persevering through tough times and adversity, is something they can take with them in all aspects of life, and it's a major component we focus on and what it brings to the table."

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