KENMARE – For the first time in 19 years, a Kenmare-based wrestling team is going to the state Class B Wrestling Tournament. Co-oping with Bowbells and Burke Central, the Honkers open the tournament against the No. 1 Lisbon Broncos.
Head coach Danny Mogren was in his first year as head coach in 2003. Since that time there have been some ups and downs, but Mogren, and a good part of this Ward County community has been working on building a solid team the past 10 years. In 2014, Mogren was on record saying he hoped he would get five kids to qualify for state. Now, he’s almost certain that five of his wrestlers will place in Fargo.
Mogren, who was a state champion wrestler for the Honkers in 1996, credits a strong youth wrestling program for the increasing success of the high school team. The Mighty Grapplers and SunDawg programs are good feeders for the wrestling success in the high school co-op.
“With the SunDawgs and Mighty Grapplers, it looks good for a lot of years,” he said. “In the past, we had young kids, but we didn’t have the help. Now, we’ve got some good coaching, and the numbers are growing.”
He also credits his assistants Ray Sayler, Logan Torgison, Cody Haugen, and Skylar Ford for providing a more thorough learning experience for the grapplers. Torgison was a state champion high school wrestler in Montana.
Mogren hasn’t always had a robust coaching staff. He says it really helps now with the simultaneous increase in popularity of the high school wrestling program.
In addition, the Honkers went to a summer wrestling camp in Montana and have been to team building camps, keeping them focused on their sport during the off season. “It’s easier to see it in the kids now that we have numbers,” Mogren said.
On Tuesday, the Honkers were practicing in the Kenmare gym with the highest confidence level seen in years.
“We’re going to try to keep everything the same,” Mogren said. “It will be the same routine as always.”
Many of the individual wrestlers have participated and some placed in the state tournament in the past. However, the team concept for the Honkers is a bit different.
As an example, the team did quite well in a strong Class B field in the Linton tournament in December. After that wrestlers started getting sick and there was an attitude shift. The morale had dropped off considerably because some of the practices had only four or five kids competing.
Then, at the end of January, his team surprised him in the East-West Tournament in New Salem.
“They look out for each other, and the younger kids have stepped up.” Danny Mogren, Kenmare head wrestling coach
“Once the team started coming back, things changed for the better,” Mogren said. “They look out for each other, and the younger kids have stepped up.”
Mogren is a bit skeptical, however, of the first-round opponent in Lisbon. He’s not sure the Honkers can win that match, but they’ve competed well against the Broncos in regular-season competition and anybody can win in a competition of this caliber.
“The goal is to win five or six matches in that dual,” Mogren said. “That’s what I’d like to see to keep our confidence level up there.”
Assuming the Honkers lost to Lisbon, they would be in the consolation round against either Hettinger or Velva, and they’ve competed well against both of those teams during the season, according to Mogren. So win or lose, they’re already poised for the second round.
“On paper, we’re matched up well against any team,” he said. “But we drew Lisbon. It is what it is, and we’ll make the best of it.”
As he was watching practice on Tuesday, however, Mogren declared the kids are prepared.
“The ultimate goal is to put every kid on the podium.”Mogren
“We talked a lot about not being satisfied just qualifying,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to put every kid on the podium.”
What makes this team even more interesting is there is only one senior on this squad of 18. Xylis Holter, who wrestles at 220 pounds, is seeded fourth going into the state tournament. He is the lone senior and transferred from the Minot High School program a couple of years ago.
According to Mogren, Minot has a weight lifting program that has done wonders for Holter. Mogren considers him solid as a rock and capable of beating anybody on the slate.
“As a team, it’s something bigger than just qualifying as an individual. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to do some damage.”Xylis Holter, Kenmare senior
“It feels great,” Holter said. “As a team, it’s something bigger than just qualifying as an individual. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to do some damage.”
In addition to No. 4 Hettinger and No. 5 Velva, New Salem comes in at No. 2, South Border (Wishek and Ashley) is No. 3, while Central Cass and Carrington are the other participants.
One of the goals at the beginning of the season, according to Torgison, was to take the entire team to the state Class B, and now the Honkers have earned it.
Torgison, who is in his third year as an assistant, has built a strong relationship with the wrestlers and that can only help when the kids are on the mats in the Fargodome. His style as a Montana high school wrestler is somewhat different than most of North Dakota sees, which only adds to the Honkers’ tool box.
“We have a lot of faith in this team.”Logan Torgison, Kenmare assistant wrestling coach
“We have a lot of faith in this team,” Torgison said. “I’m here for support and to see how far these kids can get. All of them certainly have the potential. The possibilities are there. It’s who shows up on Thursday. There’s so much talent on this team, and it’s so good to see their progress.”
Every kid wrestles twice on the first day. And despite David, aka Kenmare, taking on Goliath, aka Lisbon, Mogren said it all looks promising.
“I’m hoping to put five guys in the semifinals,” Mogren said. “But we can’t look past the opening round. Our mindset is every match is a war and we have to win that war.”