The South Dakota State University wrestling team will officially usher in a new era Sunday as it hosts the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open.

Competition is slated to start at 9 a.m. at the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex. About 125 wrestlers are scheduled to compete in the day-long event. Besides SDSU, wrestlers from Minnesota and Nebraska, along with regional Division II and NAIA programs are entered in the season-opening tournament.

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The Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open will mark the first competition for the Jackrabbits under head coach Damion Hahn.

Elsewhere, defending 133-pound national champion Seth Gross has withdrawn from this week’s NWCA All-Star Classic in Denver. Gross was scheduled to meet North Carolina State’s Tariq Wilson in a rematch of their national semifinal bout this past March.

Gross is expected to be in the lineup when the Jackrabbits open the dual season Nov. 11 against Arizona State.

RABBITS RANKED: The South Dakota State University wrestling team enters the 2018-19 season ranked in a tie for 20th place in the preseason poll conducted by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

The Jackrabbits return three national qualifiers from a squad that posted a 14-2 dual record and turned in a 12th-place finish at the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Defending national champion Penn State received all 16 first-place votes to take the top spot in the preseason poll. Ohio State is second, followed by Iowa in the third spot.

SDSU is one of four Big 12 Conference programs to be included in the top 25. Oklahoma State is the highest-ranked team at No. 4, with Northern Iowa 14th. The Jackrabbits tied for 20th with Lock Haven, while Wyoming checks in at No. 22. North Dakota State, Iowa State, and Utah Valley all received votes.

Other Jackrabbit dual opponents ranked in the preseason top 25 include No. 10 Arizona State and No. 13 Minnesota.

In other preseason polls, the Jackrabbits are ranked 18th by FloWrestling, while standing 16th in the WIN Magazine Tournament Power Index and 20th in the Intermat team tournament rankings.

Individually, defending national champion Seth Gross is a unanimous preseason No. 1 selection in the 133-pound weight class, receiving top billing from all three aforementioned ranking services. Gross posted a 32-1 overall record during the 2017-18 season in making his second consecutive appearance in a national-title bout. He defeated Michigan’s Stevan Micic, 13-8, in the 133-pound finale in Cleveland, Ohio, in March.

Junior 141-pounder Henry Pohlmeyer also appears in the preseason national rankings, checking in at No. 18 in the WIN Magazine rankings and 19th in the Intermat poll.

SDSU’s third returning national qualifier, Martin Mueller, was tabbed 16th in WIN Magazine’s preseason 184-pound rankings but is expected to move up to the 197 weight class during his junior campaign.

SEASON PREVIEW: South Dakota State University wrestling will usher in a new era during the 2018-19 season as Damion Hahn takes the reins of a program that has steadily risen in the Division I ranks in recent years.

“The transition has been as good as it could be,” Hahn said. “The guys have bought into the system that I brought with me, we established a (coaching) staff that is all on the same page and we’re working for the same common goal to produce All-Americans and national champions.”

A first-time head coach, Hahn helped build Cornell into a national power over a 12-year span. During his tenure as an assistant coach and later the associate head coach, the Big Red recorded 11 top-10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, including consecutive runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. He mentored 50 All-Americans, 12 of whom were individual NCAA champions. Cornell also won 12 straight Ivy League dual championships and 11 consecutive Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association team titles.

Two Seniors
At SDSU, Hahn inherits a squad that returns three national qualifiers out of a program-best seven a year ago. The Jackrabbits also posted their highest-ever team finish at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships by placing 12th – best among Big 12 programs – on the strength of All-America performances by national champion Seth Gross (133 pounds), 157-pounder Luke Zilverberg (eighth) and 174-pounder David Kocer (seventh).

In addition, SDSU set a school record by winning its final 14 duals of the 2017-18 season after a 0-2 start. The Jackrabbits were 8-0 against Big 12 opponents in duals.

The lone returning All-American, Gross highlights the class of returning wrestlers. A senior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has compiled an 89-17 record at SDSU, including a 29-1 record en route to his second consecutive national title bout last season. In addition, Gross was named 2018 Big 12 Conference Wrestler of the Year and was a finalist for the Dan Hodge Trophy as the top collegiate wrestler.

“Seth is a special kid,” Hahn said. “He’s able to do some things that other people cannot do, but the one thing that he demonstrates is that hard work. He leads by example.”

Gross’ lone blemish last season came when he moved up a weight class to challenge top-ranked 141-pounder Bryce Meredith of Wyoming in a dual meet.

The only other senior on the 2018-19 roster is Logan Peterson, who is expected to again wrestle at 165 pounds. Peterson posted a 15-14 overall record a season ago, including a 6-6 mark in duals.

Other National Qualifiers
SDSU’s two other returning national qualifiers are 141-pounder Henry Pohlmeyer and Martin Mueller. A junior from Johnston, Iowa, Pohlmeyer earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships after a strong second half to the 2017-18 season. He turned in a 23-11 overall record and finished third on the team with seven pins.

“Henry has made gains by leaps and bounds this offseason and I’m really looking forward to what he’s going to do this year,” Hahn said.

Mueller, a junior from Rapid City, wrestled at 184 pounds a year ago, but is one of several Jackrabbits expected to move up a weight class this season, to 197 pounds. He will look to fill the void left following the graduation of four-time NCAA qualifier and 2018 Big 12 champion Nate Rotert, who remains with the program as recruiting coordinator.

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Mueller put together a breakthrough season for the Jackrabbits last year, churning out a 23-8 overall mark that included a 12-2 record in duals. He placed fourth at the Big 12 Championship.

“I’ve always had more success by moving guys up weights rather than cutting them down,” Hahn said. “It gives those guys more time to spend on actually wrestling better than focusing solely on cutting weight. If we can spend all that energy and that time focusing on the things that will make us better, not only on the mat but in the classroom, I think all-around it’s a win-win.”

Other candidates to move into new roles this season include Colten Carlson (149 pounds to 157) and Zach Carlson (165 to 174 or 184).

Open Lineup Spots
Hahn expects a great deal of competition for the remaining spots in the lineup.

Besides Zach Carlson, redshirt freshman Samuel Grove and sophomore Garrett Jordan to also vie for the 184-pound spot.

Also in the upper weights, the trio of sophomore Blake Wolters, redshirt freshman Alex Aarsvold, and newcomer Bowen McConville will contend at heavyweight.

At the other end of the spectrum in the lineup, the race to fill the 125-pound role is up for grabs among veteran Kahlen Morris, along with newcomers Gregory Coapstick and Spencer Huber.

Perhaps the most competitive position is at 149 pounds, where redshirt freshmen Peyton Smith and Aric Williams are expected to battle for the starting role with true freshman Alex Lloyd. Smith and Williams both posted winning records in open competition a season ago, while Lloyd headlined the incoming recruiting class by winning three Minnesota high school state titles and 239 career matches.

Providing additional depth are returning redshirts Kelby Hawkins (165), Rylee Molitor (133) and Devon Sievers (174).

“There’s going to be some new faces this year as we’re a relatively young team. Getting them those matches, getting them into that competition is going to be important to start to solidify our team,” Hahn said. “I don’t like to pick who those guys are, I’d like them to decide it themselves and I think the Daktronics Open will be a great indicator where people are and what needs to be done.”

Challenging Schedule
The season-opening Daktronics Open is slated for Nov. 4 and will feature top competition from regional Division I and lower-level programs.

From there, the Jackrabbits’ first three duals all are against teams that join SDSU in preseason top-20 rankings: Nov. 11 versus Arizona State in Sioux Falls, Nov. 17 against Oklahoma State in the home opener at Frost Arena, and Nov. 25 at Hahn’s alma mater, Minnesota.

“If you look at our schedule, we’re going right out of the gates; these guys are going to be tested right away,” Hahn said. “I’m excited to see these guys get on the mat, start to compete and see where they are and then make the adjustments that are necessary. Our goal here is to make sure our guys are ready come March. That has always been my focus – preparing these guys for three days in March is the most important thing.”

COACH HAHN: Damion Hahn, who helped build Cornell into a national power over the past decade, was hired on April 9, 2018, to lead the South Dakota University wrestling program.

“Damion represents everything we are looking for in being able to take our wrestling program to the next level,” said SDSU Director of Athletics Justin Sell in announcing the hire. “His success both as a collegiate wrestler and coach, along with his ability to recruit high-achieving student-athletes on and off the mat, made him the ideal candidate. He is a tremendous ambassador for the sport who will work tirelessly to ensure wrestling thrives both on our campus and across the country.”

Hahn spent 12 years as an assistant coach and later the associate head coach at Cornell in Ithaca, New York. During his tenure, the Big Red recorded 11 top-10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships, including consecutive runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. He mentored 50 All-Americans, 12 of whom were individual NCAA champions. Cornell also won 12 straight Ivy League dual championships and 11 consecutive Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association team titles.

In accepting his first head coaching position, Hahn makes a return to the Midwest. As a collegiate wrestler at Minnesota, Hahn won NCAA individual national titles as a junior and senior. A four-time All-American, he also was a three-time Big 10 individual champion and was named the Jesse Owens Big 10 Male Athlete of the Year in 2004. The Golden Gophers won team NCAA championships during both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He finished his collegiate career with a 118-21 record.

Hahn was inducted into the University of Minnesota’s M Club Hall of Fame in the summer of 2018.

THE ROSTER: The 2018-19 SDSU wrestling roster features 28 student-athletes from nine different states. Of the 28 wrestlers, 11 are from Minnesota, followed by seven who are native South Dakotans. Iowa is represented by three wrestlers, while two wrestlers hail from California. Five states – Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington – each have one wrestler.

By class, two are seniors, six are juniors, four are sophomores, seven are redshirt freshmen and nine are true freshmen.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits are scheduled to open the dual portion of their schedule by taking on Arizona State. The dual will be held at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, with action starting at 1 p.m.

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