INDIANOLA, Iowa — The Simpson wrestling team begins the 2016-17 season Thursday when it travels to Mount Vernon, Iowa to face the Cornell Rams in the first known outdoor dual meet to take place at the Division III level in an event called Ash Park After Dark. The dual will be video streamed on CornellRams.com.
The wrestlers will wear blue socks at the dual in honor of slain Des Moines area police officers Anthony Beminio '01 and Justin Martin '15, both Simpson graduates. Beminio earned a letter for the wrestling team in 2000.
Head coach Nate Hansen and the Storm return nine letterwinners and six starters from last year's team that went 2-11 as the Storm look to make strides in Hansen's fifth season at the helm.
"We have solid guys at all 10 weight classes," Hansen said. "I wish we were three-deep at every weight, but we're not. But there's some ability to shift guys around. In the past we've had limited options, but the roster is very-well spread out this season."
Among Simpson's returning starters are a group of four seniors -- Anthony Derrick, Jason Clark, Jake Mize and Colby Vlieger -- who are poised for big seasons. Clark went 16-13 at 157 pounds a year ago, Mize went 14-12 at 157 but will make the jump to 165, and Vlieger tied for the team-lead in wins, going 20-19 at 285. Add sophomore 197-pounder DeVaughn Scott to the group and Hansen feels really good about his middle and heavy weights.
"I expect to put those guys on the podium [at nationals]," Hansen said. "That might be a bold statement because we haven't been able to do that in a few years, but there's been good things happening. People who are close to the program know that and feel that."
The last time Simpson sent a wrestler to the national tournament was in 2007 and its last All-Americans were Dustin Brewer and Brett Christensen in 2006. Clark and Vlieger had the best chances to advance a year ago, placing fifth and sixth at the NCAA Central Regional, respectively.
But Hansen is focused solely on what's ahead.
"What happened last year, what happened 10 years ago … doesn't matter," Hansen said. "None of that matters. It's about what we have and what we're capable of this year and reaching our full potential as a team."
Devan Berrian, Zach Johnston and RJ Brown will also factor into the Storm's lineup. Although he wrestled sparingly a year ago, Berrian went 13-7 at 133 as a freshman. Another junior, Johnston is a veteran who has wrestled at three weights throughout his career but looks to settle at 141 this season. A sophomore, Brown went 10-15 a year ago and will wrestle 174 this season.
Simpson also has a solid group of newcomers who will factor into the lineup right away.
"They've come from elite programs and they've been a part of championship programs," Hansen said. "They might not have been the No. 1 guys on their team, but they know how to win."
Simpson's projected lineup for Thursday: