WRESTLING: Baraboo’s Gunderson makes a name for himself on the national stage in freestyle and Greco-Roman events | wrestling


John Gunderson felt like he was flying under the radar.

The Baraboo High School senior thought the best way to solve this problem was to put himself forward. So he made the nearly 200-mile trip to Coralville, Iowa earlier this month to battle some of the nation’s best at the UWW Junior World Team Trials.

“I didn’t have too many opportunities to prove myself at national level, and I thought I was better than a lot of coaches thought I was,” Gunderson said Thursday. “I felt like I was going unnoticed. So I thought that even if I wasn’t wrestling as well as I was capable of wrestling, I would give them more than they saw from me throughout. my high school career.

And he was no slouch in high school, going 111-13 and reporting three times in four years he capped it off by winning the 182-pound title at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state meet. in February. Still, his phone wasn’t necessarily exploding with college recruiters.

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“John was hoping to make a splash on the national stage in 2020, in part to open up his recruiting process,” Dan Gunderson, John’s father and assistant wrestling coach, told Baraboo. “You’d be surprised how insignificant it is to Division I colleges that you’re a high school state champion. … You have to fight big tournaments, in many states, to really be seen.

Hence the trip to Coralville. The 18-year-old Gunderson was placed in the junior division, where he teamed up with youngsters between the ages of 17 and 20 – many of whom have previously competed collegially.

“John wanted to compete, even though he was the ‘youngster’ in the junior division and he would be fighting kids – men – who were in their first two years of college,” Dan Gunderson said. “Usually you improve a lot after a few years in college. We knew John probably wouldn’t be favored in a single game, but he wanted to try.

“I just didn’t feel any pressure,” John said. “I wanted to win at least one, but I didn’t really know how I was going to do against tough college guys and a lot of DI wrestlers. There was a lot going on, a lot of big names…but when I get on the wrestling mat, I kind of do what I’ve always done and just had to dump tough matches.

Gunderson more than held on May 1-2. He went 5-2 and took seventh place at 92 kilograms while taking on wrestlers from North Carolina, Minnesota, Illinois, Campbell, Cal Poly and North Carolina State, and pinning the only high schooler he faced in 23 seconds.

“It was crazy,” John said. “There were a ton of guys there, and a lot of them were guys I recognized from seeing on TV. My first game, I’m sure I wasn’t favorite to win against a guy from Campbell…I was just some kind of unknown high school kid, but I won that first game in the end.

“The second was against a very tough kid from NC State. I thought I got on well with him, but it just didn’t go my way. Then I kind of got into the struggles.

Expansion options

The exposition problem was resolved, as the presentation of the World Team Trials opened many new doors for Gunderson to consider in his search for college.

“Well, if he was looking for big school attention, it did,” Dan said. “I don’t think we were looking for more pressure in his search, but we are in constant contact with coaches from all types of schools in various parts of the country. It’s exhausting, but that’s what he wanted. He wants options to help him find the right person.

Interest grew due to the number of Division I coaches who were in Coralville watching their wrestlers or keeping tabs on uncommitted high schoolers like Gunderson. Minnesota and North Carolina were among the schools to ask about John during the meet, as he recently spoke with Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab.

“There are just really strong teams that I haven’t had a chance to prove myself with before,” John said. “I got a lot more DI looks, a lot more scholarships. There’s nothing wrong with D-II and D-III, and I still watch some of those schools, but I want to be an Olympian one day and a lot of those guys – almost all of them – go through DI. ”

Gunderson narrows his options in an effort to find the right path for him. He hasn’t been able to dig too deep into recruiting yet, as the NCAA Division I dead period has prevented all potential recruits from making official visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the off period ending on June 1, Gunderson plans to get out and see several schools and coaches in person.

“I want to have that feeling, to get to know the coaches,” he said. “All of these guys are great guys – good, principled people – but I also want to get that feel and really get to know the guy. … It’s a bit more complicated than a normal year, but it went well.

“I want to be on a team where guys beat me. I’m not afraid of those practices where you get out of your car afterwards and cry for an hour. I feel like that’s where I get better – when I’m pushed and beaten. I just want a school that will make me as good as possible. And I would like to coach when I finish my wrestling career, so just build that resume.

chain of success

He added new lines to his CV throughout the year. He took second place at the preseason nationals in Iowa in October, notched his 100th career high school victory in December and capped a perfect 15-0 record by pinning Connor Ramage of Ashwaubenon on 13 February to become the fourth Thunderbird to win an individual state. wrestling title.

PREP WRESTLING: Baraboo’s Gunderson comes out with the state title in hand

Gunderson becomes a little harder to follow after the prep season is over. He took a brief competitive hiatus before turning his attention from “folkstyle” wrestling employed at the high school and college levels, to the “Olympic styles”—freestyle and Greco-Roman—used in international competition.

“It’s a real breath of fresh air to wrestle in different styles than what you’ve been wrestling with all fall and winter,” Dan said. “There are many parallels between American and international wrestling styles, but if you change a few rules and change how points are scored, you end up with different positions and a hierarchy of moves. It’s quite a refreshing change of pace.

“Folkstyle is a lot of static hold and control and stuff,” John said. “Olympic styles are all about being explosive. And that’s a minute less than a college game. It’s pretty cool to me. I’ve always been naturally more explosive… It fits my style even better.

PREP WRESTLING: Baraboo’s Gunderson set to work hard, changed mindset on state mat

Gunderson, who has been competing in freestyle and Greco-Roman since his seventh birthday, made a smooth transition this spring. After a tune-up meeting in Wisconsin, he headed to the UWW World Junior Team Trials. He returned from Iowa and immediately won the Wisconsin State titles in both disciplines on May 8 and 9. A week later, he won both again at the Northern Plains Region, held in Wisconsin Dells and featured wrestlers from seven states.

The regional performance earned Gunderson a spot in what his father called “Fargo’s Grandpa…the Nationals…the most important high school wrestling tournament in the nation.” After last year’s event was canceled by COVID-19, Gunderson will compete at the Nationals for the first time when he travels to the Fargo Dome in North Dakota July 16-23.

“There will be monsters from all over the country. If his body holds up, he’ll meet many of America’s top high school competition wrestlers, said Dan Gunderson, whose parents both taught in the Baraboo School District. “We’re so excited. We’re not really looking for attention and it might be a little too much, but we’re very proud of our city and know people are proud of John’s successes.

“And for that reason, we are honored to let others share this journey with us.”

John, who will also represent Team Wisconsin at the National Duals in Tulsa, Okla., in mid-June, will continue the journey through the summer and into college. He says he just has fun competing and his successes have only made him more motivated.

“The only thing that motivates me more than my defeats is my success,” he said. “When you lose, that’s when you have to improve. But when you win, that’s when you could improve too. Competition in general is really a big motivation for me.

Full Championship Match: Baraboo’s Gunderson overtakes Ashwaubenon’s Ramage in 182-pound Division 1 state title

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Robert J. King