Pushed in the practice room
Jaden Haugen has 26 wins this season and is the second-ranked 182-pounder in the latest North Dakota Class A high school wrestling poll.
In the practice room, however, the Grand Forks Red River senior is accustomed to losing on a regular basis.
Haugen's practice partner is assistant coach James Covington, who won a state championship in 2002 wrestling for the Roughriders.
"He's about my weight and he's pretty strong,'' Haugen said. "Sometimes he beats me pretty bad. Sometimes it's pretty close. But he beats me pretty consistently.
"He knows how to wrestle me and correct my flaws.''
The wrestling lessons have paid off.
Haugen was 15-9 as a junior and finished fourth at the region meet.
Since the latest Class A coaches' poll came out, Haugen has pinned No. 1-ranked Logan Erlandson of Valley City. Haugen also finished sixth at the prestigious Bismarck Rotary tournament.
"James has done so much for Jaden,'' Riders coach Steve Holten said. "It is extremely intense when they wrestle. And as they wrestle, James is always talking to Jaden, giving him tips and asking why he does things.''
Haugen understands the importance of having a strong practice partner. That doesn't make losing easier, even if it is just practice.
"Coach is quite a bit better than most of the kids I wrestle,'' Haugen said. "Some days I get frustrated when he beats me. But I know it does help me. I feel I've gotten better because of it.''
How much better?
"Jaden will be a state placer,'' Holten said. "He's put on 35 pounds of muscle since last year. He's put in the time. He's hit the weights and he's going hard in the practice room every day.''
Seeding for the regional, to be held Saturday at West Fargo High School, will be done Friday night.
Grand Forks Central coach Jeff Welsh said the Knights have a number of potential No. 2 seeds, including Brock Brandon (113), Josh Isassi (120), Alec Humble (126), Carson Williams (138) and Grant Sullivan (220).
But none are a lock. Central earned the region's No. 4 seed into the state dual tournament on the strength of its depth, not individual standouts.
"Our best chance for a region championship is probably Humble,'' Welsh said. "The top guys there are all pretty even.
"I think we'll have a lot of guys who will finish in the top five. We definitely rely on our depth. We have solid kids at just about every weight.''