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Glenn Pursley, Published July 20 2013

Blees becomes first North Dakota wrestler to win Jr. freestyle title since '96

FARGO – Team North Dakota already made history at the Cadet and Junior National Wrestling Championships on Tuesday, but Ryan Blees didn’t get the memo.

Bismarck’s Blees defeated Jake Short of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., by a 12-9 decision Saturday at the Fargodome to win a Junior freestyle national title, becoming the first wrestler from North Dakota to do so in that discipline since 1996.

“Bringing one back to North Dakota is what it’s all about,” said Blees, who has won three state championships wrestling for Bismarck High School. “I feel special. I think we’re showing up on the map and showing everyone we have some dudes that are just as tough as everyone else.”

And Blees knows a thing or two about toughness after his 152-pound title match.

As the starting whistle blew, Short fired and got a takedown in 23 seconds and added six quick points to hold a 9-3 lead after the first period.

But Blees, having been in that situation numerous times already this week, noticed it’s been working out in his favor.

“(In) over half of my matches the guys I wrestled against would get ahead of me right at the start,” Blees said. “But later in the matches, I started wearing guys down and my points started to come a lot easier.”

And he was right on the money, as he shut out Short in the second period 9-0.

Blees started the period with a takedown and tied the match with a roll at the 2:15 mark. Then he pushed Short out of the circle to take a 10-9 lead and secured his title by taking down Short with nine seconds left.

“Looking back, what I’ve came through to get up to that top level is just amazing,” Blees said. “It made my day. You’ve got to work hard to win a national title. Everything you do on a day-to-day basis is in preparation for a national title, and it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of hard work, it really does.”

Winning a national title isn’t the end for the 18-year-old wrestler. When asked what’s up next Blees, he replied: “Keep training and try to earn my spot on the world team somewhere. That would be my next goal.”

Blees wasn’t the only representation Team North Dakota had. Preston Lehmann of West Fargo won his third-place match against Dylan Wisman (Va.) by pin 1:07 into the match.

Lehmann gave up four points early on, but was able to overpower Wisman and turned the match around.

Team Minnesota’s Kyle Gliva, a future North Dakota State wrester, like Lehmann, made it to the title match at 132 pounds, but lost to teammate Seth Gross by an 8-5 decision.

“I’ve wrestled him as long as I can remember and the main thing against him is don’t get behind, he’s good at keeping points off when he’s ahead,” said Gross. “I’ve won twice in Cadets, so juniors was a lot harder and a lot tougher kids.”

And in a fitting end to a quality week of wrestling, Adam Coon of Michigan achieved something no wrestler has in 43 years.

Coon, who wrestles at 285 pounds, won the Triple Crown for the second year in a row. The Triple Crown is awarded to any wrestler who earns national titles in folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman.

“It gives you that extra experience to wrestle great opponents from across the nation,” said Coon in reference to wrestling in all three categories.

Forum reporter Glenn Pursley can be reached at (701) 241-5549