After feeling he underperformed as a junior, Central senior Brendan Winn-Kelley wants a state title

Feb. 13—GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Central's Brendan Winn-Kelley has spent the last year doing everything he can to prove himself.

Even if that means waking up at 4 a.m. to wrestle on the 12-foot square mat in his basement.

"Some mornings, my wrestling partner works at 6 a.m., so I'm up at 4:30," Winn-Kelley said. "The whole summer I trained as hard as I could. Even when we don't have practice at Central, I basically didn't take a whole day off this season. I feel like this is my tournament. I'm not letting anyone come between me and a title."

The senior is the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds entering this weekend's North Dakota Class A wrestling tournament in Fargo. Winn-Kelley takes a 34-2 record into the state tournament.

Winn-Kelley finished fifth at 145 pounds at the state tournament as a junior.

"Junior year, I thought I was No. 1," Winn-Kelley said. "I 100 percent believed that, but I underperformed. This year, there was no way I wasn't going to be No. 1. I am proving myself this year."

The key to a strong senior season is an improved mindset, Central coach Garrett Litzinger said.

"He's been wrestling really free this year," Litzinger said. "He's always had this potential. He's always a guy who has wrestled in the offseason and worked his butt off. He's obsessed with improving.

"He's always been his own worst enemy. He's pushed past that this season. He wrestles free and doesn't change a whole lot up and sticks with what he's great at with the all the offseason wrestling he's done."

What he's great at, Litzinger said, is being light on his feet.

"He's so slick," Litzinger said. "His ability to chain wrestle and then he's really good at catching guys flat-footed and capitalizes on them not moving their feet well enough. He's dancing when everyone else is wrestling. He makes it look so smooth."

Winn-Kelley, who beat the state's No. 2-ranked wrestler in his bracket (West Fargo Sheyenne's Landon Zink) by major decision at the region tournament, agreed about his mindset change.

"A lot more mental training this year," Winn-Kelley said. "No more getting nervous. Let the worry go and just wrestle."

Winn-Kelley is one of 11 wrestlers Central qualified for the state tournament. Grand Forks Red River qualified four wrestlers, none of which are seeded.

In addition to Winn-Kelley's No. 1 ranking, the Knights saw three others receive Top 8 seeds. Eric Stouder is the No. 6 seed at heavyweight, while Cesar Cruz is No. 7 at 121 pounds and Rhys Safratowich is No. 8 at 107 pounds.

Winn-Kelley is the lone returning state placer for the Knights.

Class A

107 — No. 16 Liam Wadlow, GF Red River, 11-21; No. 8 Rhys Safratowich, GF Central, 25-12; No. 6 Rylan Samuelson, Devils Lake, 26-8

114 — No. 13 Brody Ray, RR, 23-15; No. 14 Gabe Flores, GFC, 23-18; No. 11 Mitchell Gerhardt, DL, 14-8; No. 10 Wesley Fisk, DL, 21-16

121 — No. 16 Caber Bryce-Volk, DL, 5-10; No. 12 Henry Bonn, RR, 10-8; No. 4 Owen Lindstrom, DL, 27-5; No. 11 Ethan Grasser, GFC, 14-18; No. 7 Cesar Cruz, GFC, 28-10

127 — No. 14 Landon Decoteau, GFC, 4-6; No. 6 Tucker Bennett, DL, 20-14

133 — No. 9 Daniel Charboneau, DL, 14-13; No. 12 Zach Nelson, GFC, 15-22

139 — No. 13 Coby Dronen Levitt, DL, 16-17

145 — No. 1 Brendan Winn-Kelley, GFC, 34-2; No. 15 Easton Encinas, DL, 13-18

152 — No. 12 Michael Norman, GFC, 26-15; No. 14 Max Martens, RR, 18-18

160 — No. 14 Landon Petron, GFC, 20-18; No. 15 Logan Charboneau, DL, 16-15

172 — No. 16 Harley Crist, DL, 11-17; No. 13 Logan Vorhies, GFC, 7-17

189 — No. 4 Tate Estenson, DL, 27-9

215 — No. 3 Braxton Rance, DL, 27-7

285 — No. 6 Eric Stouder, GFC, 24-13

Class B

107 — No. 1 Bode Henderson, Northern Lights, 44-0

114 — Justin Torroll, Hillsboro-Central Valley, 42-12

121 — No. 1 Kruiser Burns, Grafton, 34-2; Kayden Houle, Northern Lights, 25-15

127 — Logan Nielson, May-Port-C-G, 23-19; No. 5 Carson Kozojed, 36-8; Braelyn Herman, Northern Lights, 20-11; No. 4 Logan Werner, Pembina County North, 21-6

133 — No. 1 Alvy Henderson, Northern Lights, 21-1; Brock Freer, Pembina County North, 34-15; No. 3 Sawyer Owens, Hillsboro-Central Valley, 45-6

139 — No. 4 Justin Hudson, Northern Lights, 18-3

145 — Shaiden Thomas, Grafton, 29-20; No. 4 Havlin Delong, Northern Lights, 25-7; No. 7 Zeke Symington, 34-16

152 — Zander Dovenmuehler, Hillsboro-Central Valley, 16-20; Lane Zupan, Northern Lights, 22-19; Bryce Moch, May-Port-C-G, 35-12

172 — Ben Thompson, Hillsboro-Central Valley, 34-10; Denton Kaercher, Pembina County North, 17-18

189 — No. 1 Cole Henderson, Northern Lights, 36-1; No. 8 Brayden Chenault, Hillsboro-Central Valley, 30-15

215 — No. 8 Jon Leonard, Northern Lights, 33-11; No. 7 Kayden Rose, Pembina County North, 34-23; Joseph Clagg, May-Port-C-G, 13-23

285 — No. 8 Brett Tastad, Northern Lights, 20-8; Gavin Symington, Pembina County North, 39-23