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Bismarck’s Blees captures another national championship for North Dakota

Bismarck’s Ryan Blees, left, grapples with Michigan’s Logan Massa during their 160-pound junior freestyle championship match at the USA Wrestling Tournament on Saturday. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Fargo - North Dakota went nearly two decades without winning a national freestyle title.

That was until Bismarck High School graduate Ryan Blees came along. Blees won the USA Wrestling Junior freestyle national title at 152 pounds last year and came back and won the freestyle national title at 160 pounds Saturday at the Fargodome.

“Not many guys have done it in North Dakota and to be part of it … I don’t know how to describe it. It’s an awesome feeling,” Blees said after a 5-2 title win over Michigan’s Logan Massa. “I’m very grateful to be part of it and I’m glad all the hard work has paid off.”

Last year, Blees decided to wrestle only freestyle and skip Greco-Roman, in order to be noticed by top college wrestling programs.

Now, the four-time North Dakota state champion is headed to Oklahoma State to wrestle next year.

“I’m extremely excited,” Blees said. “I think they got the best coaches, the best practice partners, the best living style for me. I’m so excited to go in there this fall and I’m ready to see what Ryan Blees has in store for the NCAA because I’m going to be soaking up everything I can.”

Last year, Blees had to come back from a 9-2 deficit to win the freestyle crown at 152 pounds. On Saturday, with the score tied 2-2, both wrestlers fell outside the circle and Blees was awarded two points with three seconds to go. The call was challenged, but replays showed Massa’s head landing outside the circle first and Blees was awarded an extra point for Team Michigan losing the challenge.

“He was in a lock and he went to throw and I went hip in and he touched out with his head or shoulders,” Blees said. “They thought I had touched my head out, but I remember keeping my head in. There’s no way they could have overturned that.”

Blees had won his four state championships and had won a freestyle national title already. He had his college, so there was no requirement for him to come back to the Fargodome.

“The decision was easy. It was Fargo,” Blees said. “Toughest tournament at my level. You can’t get anything better than this. It’s in my backyard. It was an easy choice.”

Blees had only one word to describe his memories of wrestling in North Dakota.

“Awesome,” Blees said. “I’m always going to have strong ties to North Dakota. I love everybody down here.”

Team Minnesota gets

three freestyle titles

The final of the eight days of wrestling at the Fargodome – which featured 4,403 wrestlers from 46 states – was a good one for Team Minnesota.

Minnesota came away with three freestyle champions in Bobby Steveson (195 pounds), Tommy Thorn (132 pounds) and Mitchell McKee (126 pounds).

Thorn admitted he wasn’t a big fan of wrestling when he first started.

“First year I joined wrestling, I told my dad it was stupid,” Thorn said after a 5-1 win over Missouri’s Ke-Shawn Hayes for the 132-pound title. “I got pinned a few times. Once I got on a team with a bench of friends, I made friends with it. You end up building and winning matches and then it gets fun.”

Thorn went 192-4 with four state titles in his last four seasons with St. Michael-Albertville. He’s headed to the University of Minnesota with a different opinion of wrestling.

“It’s not stupid now,” Thorn said. “I’ve been around the Gopher coaches since I was 5 or 6 years old. My brothers both went to the Gophers. I couldn’t have gone anywhere else. Now that I’m actually going to be there next year it’s surreal.”

Team scores

New Jersey 58, Minnesota 53, Oklahoma 53, Pennsylvania 53, Iowa 36, Illinois 35, Michigan 25, Missouri 21, Utah 20, Ohio 17, New York 16, California 14, Texas, 12, Indiana 11, North Dakota 9, Oregon 9, South Dakota 9, Arizona 8, Georgia 8, Wisconsin 8, Connecticut 7, Massachusetts 7, Virginia 7, Florida 6, Kentucky 6, Washington 6, Idaho 5, Kansas 5, Arkansas 4, Colorado 4, Maryland 4, Nebraska 4, Alabama 0, Alaska 0, Americans in Europe 0, Delaware 0, Hawaii 0, Louisiana 0, Montana 0, Nevada 0, New Mexico 0, North Carolina 0, Puerto Rico 0, Rhode Island 0, South Carolina 0, Tennessee 0, West Virginia 0, Wyoming 0.

Individual title matches

100: Randon Miranda, California, technical fall Zack Murillo, Connecticut, 14-3.

106: Danny Vega, Arizona, technical fall Drew Hildebrandt, Indiana, 12-1.

113: Jack Mueller, Texas, technical fall Matthew Schmitt, Missouri, 12-1.

120: Austin Assad, Ohio, dec. Sean Russell, Georgia, 11-8.

126: Mitchell McKee, Minnesota, dec. Charles Tucker, New Jersey, 10-8.

132: Tommy Thorn, Minnesota, dec. Ke-Shawn Hayes, Missouri, 5-1.

138: Matt Findlay, Utah, technical fall Brock Zacherl, Pennsylvania, 18-8.

145: Isaiah White, Illinois, dec. Vincenzo Joseph, Pennsylvania, 9-3.

152: Mason Manville, New Jersey, dec. David McFadden, New Jersey, 7-2.

160: Ryan Blees, North Dakota, dec. Logan Massa, Michigan, 5-2.

170: Chandler Rogers, Washington, technical fall Josef Johnson, New Jersey, 10-0.

182: Myles Martin, New Jersey, technical fall Andrew Kowal, Ohio, 10-0.

195: Bobby Steveson, Minnesota, dec. Lance Benick, Minnesota, 3-1.

220: Marcus Harrington, Iowa, dec. Andrew Dixon, Oklahoma, 6-2.

285: Adarious Jones, Illinois, dec. Jesse Webb, Massachusetts, 3-0.

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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