Chapman: The best time of the year
If the gist of this column sounds familiar it’s because my predecessor, Chris Bieri, and I share a love for tournament time.
Late February and the entire month of March can’t be beat when it comes to sports. Throw in the Winter Olympics right before March Madness and there’s a good chance productivity will take a hit.
From high school tournaments to NCAA conference and national tournaments to the U.S. hockey teams eyeing gold, sports junkies should have no problem getting their fix.
My favorite sporting season kicked off last weekend with the state wrestling tournament in Bismarck. The spectacle of a packed Civic Center with constant wrestling on six mats never gets old. It wasn’t a great year for the Panthers, but the four competitors from RHS learned from seasoned contenders, champions and the best coaches throughout North Dakota.
Editor obligations in Rugby kept me from seeing RHS compete, but I was able to watch nearly every championship match in Classes A and B. The sportsmanship of the state’s best was on point.
Bishop Ryan senior heavyweight Mason Kramer, a runner-up in 2013, suffered a shocking defeat in the semifinals. Kramer, a football signee with St. Cloud State (Minn.), wrestled for just two seasons and managed two top-three finishes. Kramer sat quietly in a hallway, fighting back emotions, but managed to collect himself for a brief interview. He politely praised his opponent and his coaches for convincing him to learn a new sport at age 16. Kramer also shared the honest “what if?” thoughts of anyone who feels their career ends prematurely. The disappointments are just as much a part of tournament time as the successes.
The 138-pound championship in Class B was an overtime thriller in favor of Des Lacs-Burlington senior Justin Thomas. His opponent, Carrington senior Patrick Freeman, also happened to be a good friend. Freeman was likely crushed on the inside, but the duo shared a hug and even spent time hanging out after being recognized on the podium. The example set by these young men was perfect. They battled for more than six grueling minutes in the biggest match of their lives and had the maturity to conduct themselves as gentleman after.
State tournaments take precedence, so, unfortunately, I missed the RHS boys basketball team winning another District 11 tournament. I was finishing up some work at state wrestling on Friday when I received a text message that Dunseith led 21-8 after the first quarter. Phew! There was little doubting RHS because the team has proven all season they are too strong at the end of games. That said, a little test in the district tournament may go a long way in refocusing the No. 1 Panthers – still the favorite to win it all in March.
Monday took me to Rolla for the District 8 championship between North Star and Rolette-Wolford. On paper, the Comets had no business in this game, but they proved why they’re a top-four seed at the Region 4 tournament.
R-W put up a passionate fight and trailed by just four points after three quarters. The Bearcats pulled away for a 64-50 win, but the Comets’ grit is what sticks with me. R-W guard Jalen Pfeifer missed half the season, but is helping his team play their best ball when it matters most. Pfeifer had North Star on the ropes after drilling three 3-pointers in the second quarter.
Up next: RHS looks to return to state with three wins against the best in Region 6. The RHS girls will look to follow up a rousing upset of No. 3 North Star with a strong showing as hosts of the District 11 tournament, which starts Friday.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
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