FARGO, N.D. — Fargo is a different animal.
Once it gets its hooks into wrestlers, it’s hard to break free.
Mick Burnett came to the U.S. Marine Corps Cadet Freestyle Nationals last year and walked away with All-American status after finishing sixth.
Fast forward to Saturday and the Elyria standout is one win away on the championship side from clinching another top-six finish.
“It’s amazing to just get the chance to be out here again,” the Pioneers junior said. “For me to be able to get to the quarterfinals with the chance to be All-America again, it means everything.”
It should mean a ton for the 126-pounder. He’s in the toughest bracket, according to FloWrestling and is helping pace Team Ohio’s success.
In a field of 1,181 wrestlers from 46 states, Burnett put on a clinic with a win over a state-placer and three victories over state runners-up.
It started with a 10-0 technical fall over Utah state finalist Scott Robertson and continued with a tech over Georgia state-placer Julian Farber by the same score.
After a push out gave Burnett a 3-2 win over Pennsylvania runner-up Zack Witmer, he cruised to a 10-0 technical fall win over Missouri state finalist Nathaniel Pulliam.
“It’s just a big confidence booster for me,” Burnett said. “Sometimes I struggle with being confident on the wrestling mat. I think these big wins today will help me win this tournament.”
Things start this morning in earnest with Burnett facing Illinois’ Vincent Zerban, another state runner-up who placed fifth last season at 106.
“I like to think I’m one of the top guys in the weight,” Burnett said. “More or less, I think the guy that is wrestling me is going to have the problems.”
To understand just how tough Fargo is, Avon resident and St. Edward junior Bryce Hepner (145) came in with a state title and was pinned in his opening match by second-seeded Robert Perez III of California, the reigning Cadet national folkstyle champion.
Hepner rolled off wins over Cyrus Williams of Florida, Tyler Raway of Minnesota and Cole Hanson of Wisconsin and scored at the buzzer to knock off Collin McCorkle of Arizona, 7-5.
“It does show that there’s better people out there and I have to get better,” Hepner said. “I learned a lot. That first match set the bar for me. I realized the stuff I have to work on.”
His St. Edward teammate and fellow Avon resident Evan Bennett (138) was able to pick up a few wins, but bowed out after splitting four matches.
Avon’s Cael Saxton (106) found out just how tough Fargo could be as well.
The Eagles sophomore fell by technical fall to North Carolina’s Christian Decatur-Luker to start and faced Nebraska’s Trae Greve in the consolation.
Saxton built a big lead and then held on for a 9-8 win. That brought New Jersey’s Kelly Dunningan. Saxton enjoyed a five-point lead with 90 seconds left, but couldn’t hold on in an 8-7 defeat.
Undaunted, the district qualifier said he saw nothing but positives from his experience.
“Just wrestling summer freestyle is going to put you ahead of everyone else,” Saxton said. “It’s more about setting goals to do well and I fell short, but it’s a good experience.”
Teammate Cade Robertson (120) was able to pick up a big win over Michigan state-placer Caden Natale, but also lost two matches.
Elyria’s Peyton Fenton (100) picked up a win as well before falling in the consolation round of 32.
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