Mar. 6—There was glee for Kasson-Mantorville graduate Noah Ryan in what went down last Saturday in Aberdeen, S.D. There was also frustration.
Ryan had been wrestling in the Super Region V Championships, where the top two finishers in each weight class would move on to nationals. The 197-pounder is a junior at St. Cloud State, a Division II power.
Ryan finished second at Aberdeen, so he's nationals-bound for the first time. They'll take place March 12-13 in St. Louis.
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But first his frustration.
"The kid (Upper Iowa's Zach Ryg) who beat me (3-1) in the finals, he's good, but I know I am better than he is," Ryan said. "It bugs me that I lost."
Now, the glee.
"I am really excited to go to nationals," Ryan said. "I didn't make it my freshman year, and I had made it as a sophomore, but then Covid hit. I'm getting butterflies now thinking about going. I'm a little bit nervous, but really excited."
Ryan is in his fourth year at St. Cloud State, having redshirted his first season. He's not only been a regular in the starting lineup for three years, but a star, going 18-5 as a redshirt freshman, 18-4 as a sophomore and 6-2 this year.
Immediate starting status at SCSU is no easy task. Huskies coach Steve Costanzo runs the top Division II program in the country, having earned national team titles in 2015, '16, (runner-up in '17), '18 and '19. Good chance St. Cloud State would have had another last season had the pandemic not cancelled the tournament.
Ready for this
But if anyone was going to jump right into the fray, it was Ryan. His credentials were lofty out of high school, having snared state titles as a junior and senior at Kasson-Mantorville. Ryan was 40-1 at 220 pounds his senior year, 46-3 at 195 as a junior.
But it wasn't just the state crowns that leaped out. It was also how Ryan had been groomed. At K-M, he'd been a part of one of the more intense and highly regarded wrestling programs in the state, led by head coach Jamie Heidt, as well as an assistant coaching staff that is through the roof in experience and investment.
It meant that Ryan showed up in St. Cloud well ahead of the curve both in wrestling acumen and passion for the sport. He credits that K-M upbringing for that.
"K-M wrestling has given me everything," said Ryan, who in summers is still a frequent visitor and participant in the KoMets' wrestling room. "Ever since seventh grade, I learned more about wrestling from (Heidt and Co.) every year. I am so thankful for that program. They set me up for everything in life inside and outside of wrestling. You take everything they tell you and apply it to your life."
Ryan has gleaned a bunch more powerful stuff from SCSU coach Costanzo and the rest of his staff. As Ryan did with Heidt, he considers Costanzo a father figure — a no-nonsense type.
He appreciates that. But he also appreciates the rest of the Huskies staff, guys he has his longest conversations with.
"As the head coach, (Costanzo) has a real seriousness about him, and he tells it like it is," Ryan said. "But his assistants, those are guys who I can go in their office, sit there and have long talks with. It's nice to have both sides of it, so you can get that balance."
There is something else in Ryan's life that he also regards as nice these days. It's his health. On Feb. 11, going against that same wrestler who beat him on Saturday, Upper Iowa's Ryg, Ryan injured his knee and lost by injury default.
He spent the next week-plus hobbled by it and staying off of it. He was near 100% healthy once Saturday's action began. But the layoff had set him back. His usual burst on the mat, it was missing in Aberdeen.
"I didn't wrestle very well at regionals because of the knee," Ryan said. "I didn't have the 'pop' in my step. But I feel like in two weeks (when nationals happen), I'm going to feel a lot better. Anyone can take a loss in the regional tournament."
But at nationals, Ryan won't be in such an accepting mood.
He can't wait.
Z-M grad Steffen qualifies
Ryan isn't the only southeastern Minnesota wrestler who has reached the Division II national tournament. Also having qualified is Southwest State 184-pound sophomore Caden Steffen.
The Zumbrota-Mazeppa graduate won a true-second place match to advance.
After losing his second match at the Super Region V Championships, Steffen then went on to win four straight consolation-round matches to qualify, including by pin in the true-second match.