Coronavirus impacts SDSU wrestlers

Photo from www.gojacks.com.

BROOKINGS – Of all the South Dakota State winter sports, it seems as though the coronavirus outbreak has impacted the SDSU wrestling team the most.

The Jackrabbits had four wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament that was supposed to be taking place in Minneapolis this weekend. The tournament was cancelled after the NCAA decided to cancel all of the winter sports championships. SDSU head coach Damion Hahn said he just felt bad for the seniors, Henry Pohlmeyer and Zach Carlson, that qualified for the national tournament.

“It’s unfortunate,” Hahn said. “You have these kids that pour their heart and soul into the sport. To not have that opportunity to go, for the ones that qualified, and go to the national tournament is disappointing. We have two seniors and they had done everything up to this point to go and represent South Dakota State in Minneapolis and not being able to do that is a hard pill to swallow. These are kids. They’re 18 to 23 year olds and it’s hard. They’ve done everything asked of them and do not get to compete in the national tournament.”

This was Hahn’s second year as the head coach of SDSU. The Jacks went 12-6 in duals and 6-3 in the Big 12. In his first year, SDSU went 3-10 in duals and was 2-7 in the conference. The Jacks only had one NCAA qualifier last season.

“It was a good season. We finished with a 12-6 record which was a huge improvement from the year before. … The body of work this season really showed the improvement. We won some great duals. Probably our biggest win was against Northern Iowa. We beat UNI down in West Gym where we weren’t supposed to win. We weren’t supposed to win a lot of duals this year and our team came together and fought for one another and we beat some good teams,” Hahn said.

SDSU decided to move classes online until at least April 6 and has also shut down campus. Hahn said this made things very difficult because they had to send all their wrestlers home and are going to be behind schedule in the offseason.

“I think we first need to take a step back and see what happens with this pandemic. I mean our guys aren’t even on campus. Usually the culmination of the season is the national tournament and we have a plan. Once that national tournament is done. We take a little bit of a break and then we get back after it. We hit the road recruiting. … Right now the plan is for online classes. We don’t know if that’s going to remain until the end of the semester, but we don’t have physical contact with our guys right now. That’s probably the hardest part because in the spring and the summer is really their opportunity to dissect and target some of the areas that need to be worked on,” Hahn said.

Pohlmeyer and Carlson were the only seniors in the Jacks’ lineup that are graduating. They had two freshmen qualify for the national tournament in Tanner Sloan and Tanner Cook. Junior Danny Vega was named an alternate for the national tournament as well. The Jackrabbits were young this year and Hahn hopes that the young guys can keep improving once they can get back on to campus.

“When you think about how young our team is, guys like Tanner Cook, Tanner Sloan, Zach Price and Cade King. Those were our five freshmen that were in the lineup. We need to keep our guys mentally focused and get through this tough time that not only us, but the whole world is going through. Hopefully we can get them back as soon as possible and as safely as possible and get back to work. Because this summer is going to be huge for their development,” Hahn said.

SDSU had to basically rebuild after former head coach Chris Bono decided to take a job at Wisconsin and Seth Gross, who won a national championship, decided to follow him. Hahn said he knew the first year would be difficult, but he thought they would be successful this season and the program is almost right on schedule

“We’re not satisfied,” Hahn said. “If we’re satisfied then we’re doing something wrong. I think this team has a lot of ceiling ahead of us. … I think where we are and what we’re doing as a program. We’re moving in the right direction. I keep telling people ‘if you’re excited about South Dakota State wrestling now, just give it time and it’s going to be something special.’”

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