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All by design: Cardinals aim for elusive Class B title

CARRINGTON, N.D. -- They used to wrestle in "The Pit." Now they have moved downtown into the more corporate-sounding Bauer Building. School wrestling record boards used to adorn the walls.

CARRINGTON, N.D. -- They used to wrestle in "The Pit." Now they have moved downtown into the more corporate-sounding Bauer Building.

School wrestling record boards used to adorn the walls. Now there is a butterfly wallpaper border.

It's not exactly the visual you would associate with a wrestling team.

"I told the kids we weren't going to change it until we won a state title or they had to work for it to change," Carrington head coach Mark Pazdernik said.

The team didn't have a choice of décor.

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"That was here," Carrington senior Tom Sauby said of the butterfly wallpaper, before trailing off into sarcasm. "It goes really good with the wrestling team."

While the practice venue changed in recent seasons, the Cardinals crave a return to the North Dakota Class B wrestling supremacy they enjoyed in the tradition-rich "Pit."

Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, Carrington won six team state titles (1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995).

This team -- ranked No. 2 in the final coaches' poll -- wants to snap that championship drought and add to the tradition.

"We've been close so many years," said Carrington sophomore Sam Partlow, ranked No. 1 at 103 pounds. "It just makes you want to drive to get to the top."

The Cardinals are expected to challenge for the Class B individual and dual team titles at the state wrestling tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at the Fargodome.

"We'd like to take both," said Carrington senior Tyler Doeling, ranked No. 2 at heavyweight. "We all have a goal and we know what that goal is. It's just to bring that state championship home and put it on the wall."

Carrington qualified wrestlers in 11 of 14 weight classes for the individual tournament. The Cardinals (17-1 dual record) are 1-1 in duals against Napoleon, which won both the Class B individual and dual team titles last season.

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Carrington -- who won the prestigous East-West Classic tournament earlier this season -- advanced to the semifinals in the dual tournament in each of the last four years.

However, while close to the top, the Cardinals have been unable to make that final step in recent seasons.

"Our team this year doesn't have any super studs, just a whole lot of hard-working guys working towards the same goal," said Carrington senior Neil Veen, ranked No. 3 at 145 pounds.

The group also has developed a camaraderie that extends beyond the mat.

Team members spend much of their free time together. Activities include movie watching, going out to eat or the team's favorite: bowling.

The ability to roll a 300 game is optional. Style points are more important than pin totals.

"It's not how good you can bowl, but more how much fun you can have doing it," Veen said.

However, the Cardinals know the best way to derive ultimate pleasure from this season would be to win a state championship.

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Pazdernik said his goal was to win a state championship in his first five seasons. This is the former North Dakota State standout's fifth year as head coach at Carrington.

Pazdernik wears his dark green NCAA Division II national championship wrestling jacket in the winter months. He was on NDSU's 1998 national title team and he also won an individual national title at 158 pounds that season.

"If we win a state championship here, I'm sure my jacket will change," Pazdernik said.

So will the butterfly wallpaper.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513

Related Topics: WRESTLING
Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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