FARGO-Jamestown High wrestling coach Larry Eslick found a diamond in the rough four years ago during Blue Jay freshman football. His name is Paul Vandal.
The senior ended his high school career as a 220-pound Class A state champion Saturday at the Fargodome, pinning Fargo South's Isaiah Gates with one second left in the second period. Vandal is the 25th state champion in Jamestown history.
Jamestown's Aden Braun fell in his 106-pound championship match by a 5-3 sudden victory to Bismarck High's Christian Tanefeu.
"It's pretty amazing. It's what we worked for all year," Vandal said. "I have to thank coach Eslick, Ethan Gumke and Shane Gallagher."
Gates dropped down from 285 to 220 just before the East Region tournament and his size showed early in the first period. But eventually Vandal took control of the contest.
Vandal scored a takedown and near fall at the end of the first frame to take a 5-0 lead.
"He's real aggressive, so I tried to slow the pace and control him," Vandal said. "I just got my underhooks-that's what I like-and tripped him to his back. It was nice."
Vandal scored a takedown in the second period, but Gates couldn't escape this time, as he scored a pin 3 minutes, 59 seconds into the match. Vandal finished the 2018-19 campaign with a record of 22-3.
"A lot of the coaches worked with him," Eslick said. "He's still learning the sport. He came out as a freshman and it took some consistent coaches to get ahold of him and show him some things. I give a lot of credit to my assistant coaches."
Eslick said he recruited Vandal, along with seniors Aaron Mack (182 pounds) and Samuel Krebs (195) out of freshman football. Mack finished seventh Saturday, while Krebs fell in consolation.
"I'm going to have to go back to freshman football and see if I can find some more big boys," Eslick said with a laugh. "I'm fresh out of them now."
Vandal suffered a setback before his senior wrestling season even started, breaking his hand in the Class AA football quarterfinals against Devils Lake at Ernie Gates Field. He returned to the wrestling mat on Jan. 12 at the Gadberry Invitational in Moorhead, Minn., and took second place.
"The first half of the season was tough for him, he was chomping at the bit," Eslick said. "He was there every day in practice and at every competition with the team.
"Once he was cleared by a doctor, he struggled a little bit and lost a couple matches he shouldn't have. But that's the process to see where you're at and where you need to improve on."
Vandal said he's not sure what his plans are for after high school, but he said he hopes to play college football.
Braun falls to Tanefeu
Braun scored a takedown with 15 seconds remaining in the third period to send the 106-pound title bout to sudden victory overtime, but the eighth-grader couldn't finish off Bismarck High's Christian Tanefeu.
The sophomore scored a takedown over Braun in the overtime period to give Tanefeu a 5-3 sudden victory. Braun finished the campaign 41-8 and still has four more years to go.
"I came up to the line and I wasn't really ready and he (the referee) blew the whistle," Braun explained.
Added Eslick: "We got beat off the whistle right there. I know if he had that moment back he'd be ready to go at the whistle. It's a learning experience and he's going to be here for four more years. He's a special wrestler and he learns from his mistakes."
Bowmans finish third
Freshman Joel Bowman (113) and senior brother, Ethan Bowman (126), each won a narrow decision in consolation action to claim third place in their respective weight classes. Joel Bowman won by a 2-1 decision over Bismarck Century's Hayden Johnsrud, while his older brother defeated Fargo South's Jacob Thomas 3-2.
"Like I said, (Joel Bowman's) improved every week," Eslick said. "His confidence is through the roof. If I could choose, other than Paul, a wrestler of the tournament, it would be him. He's had a great tournament and wrestled with confidence."
Jamestown's Noah Braun took fourth after losing to Minot's Trevon McClaanahan 3-1. Mack took seventh place, while Colton Mewes finished eighth.
"I'm very proud of Aaron and his effort," Eslick said. "I'm also very proud of Colton Mewes. First time at a state tournament, but he got hurt and took eighth. It was a good team effort."
Jamestown accomplished many long-time firsts this season including recording the second-most dual wins in program history (16-6) and winning its home tournament-the Knights of Columbus-for the first time in 20 years.
"It's finally coming together this year," Eslick said. "It's a special group of kids. They stay loose and have fun. I'm very proud of them and we have a lot of these kids back next year.
"We have great numbers in the middle-school program and great coaches down there. We've been working hard on getting things rolling again in Jamestown. The last 20 years have been a rebuilding process since the glory years of the late 90s."
Class A state wrestling tournament
1. Bismarck High 205.5; 2. Dickinson 175; 3. Mandan 124; 4. Jamestown 116.5; 5. Bismarck Century 116; 6. Minot 104.5; 7. Turtle Mountain 98.5; 8. Fargo Davies 97; 9. West Fargo 75; 10. Williston 70; 11. Grand Forks Central 64; 12. Bismarck St. Mary's 60.5; 13. Valley City 53.5; 14. Bismarck Legacy 52; 15. Devils Lake 50; 16. Fargo South 42; 17. Fargo North 28.5; 18. Wahpeton 27; 19. West Fargo Sheyenne 21.5; 20. Watford City 20; 21. Grand Forks Red River 15.
Aden Braun (106): Christian Tanefeu won by sudden victory over Braun, 5-3.
Joel Bowman (113): Cons. Semi - Bowman dec. over Neal Bohrer (Bismarck Century), 4-3; 3rd Place Match - Bowman dec. over Hayden Johnsrud (Bismarck Century), 2-1.
Ethan Bowman (126): Cons. Semi - Bowman dec. over Danny Monatukwa (Fargo North), 5-4; 3rd Place Match - Bowman dec. Jacob Thomas (Fargo South), 3-2.
Colton Mewes (138): Cons. Round 3 - Konnor Nelson (Mandan) dec. over Mewes, 7-0; 7th Place Match - Cody Booth (Dickinson) won by injury over Mewes.
Noah Braun (145): Cons. Semi - Braun maj. dec. over Clay LaRocque (Turtle Mountain), 10-2; 3rd Place Match - Trevon McClaanahan (Minot) dec. over Braun, 3-1.
Aaron Mack (182): Cameran Bridgeford (Grand Forks Central) dec. over Mack, 1-0; 7th Place Match - Mack pinned Moctar Diop (Fargo Davies), 3:36.
Paul Vandal (220): 1st Place - Vandal pinned Isaiah Gates (Fargo South), 3:59.