This year’s Detroit Lakes third place state wrestling finish was going down around the same time as Minnesota State University Moorhead sophomore and former Laker Braydon Ortloff was chartering new territory himself making a first run at the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Ortloff watched section final in-match updates on Twitter as the Lakers defeated Thief River Falls to earn the state berth.
The Lakers’ victory was a pleasant surprise.
“I figured they weren’t going to make it out of the section because of Perham,” he said. “Every year when I was growing up at Detroit Lakes, we were always state material but never able to get past Perham. I figured it would be the same again this year.”
The Prowlers defeated the Yellowjackets in the section semis and the Lakers took command late to eliminate Thief River Falls before winning two of three matches at state to place third.
“At state, they made a statement. Third place, that’s tough,” said Ortloff. “Coach Ullyott does a great job with all those guys and even when I was there those practices were brutal. I almost had to crawl out a few days. That’s the pace and the mentality of working our butts off and getting better.”
Ortloff was a state mainstay for DL making five appearances, finishing fourth in 2017 and 2018 and sixth in 2014. He compiled a career record of 139-46, including 26-3 as a senior. He was a five-time all-conference wrestler, team captain and conference MVP.
Taking that record to MSUM along with a solid work ethic had him prepared to start as a freshman, but not necessarily ready.
“My freshman year I really didn’t want to start,” said Ortloff.
Other freshmen on the team were redshirting their first seasons.
“I was just thinking, do I really want to put myself through all this in my first year of college?” he said.
Other activities take a backseat to wrestling, especially if one has to cut weight.
He was 19-14 wrestling down from 160 in high school at 157 pounds. He went 1-2 in his first appearance at regions seeded fourth.
“I’m happy I did it,” Ortloff said. “It made me take a big step in my life and made me get out of my comfort zone.”
Ortloff earned his starting spot in practice and assured it with his work ethic straight out of high school. He gives Greco-Roman coach Mike Fiedler much of the credit for tuning his wrestling up and Fiedler remains a motivator for Ortloff.
“He taught me a lot and showed me a lot of things that I just don’t want to give up on,” said Ortloff. “I want to make him proud. He spent a lot of time with me and I’m thankful for that.”
The two started working together after Ortloff went to state as a sophomore and left with a first round loss.
“He got a hold of me after that and we decided to work out in the mornings my junior year,” said Ortloff.
Fiedler ran Ortloff through a weight training and conditioning program that greatly improved all aspects of his wrestling.
Ortloff made the jump to college and felt prepared for the challenges to come.
“Our practices are harder, all my practice partners are state champs, state placers, but I look back...I wrestled Isaiah (Thompson) every day, I wrestled Austin Baker and Zack Baker; those guys were all college material,” Ortloff said.
The team aspect of wrestling has always been a personal boon and continues to be in college.
“It’s basically a full-time job, plus with school it’s mentally draining,” Ortloff said. “What keeps me going here are mainly my teammates, our brotherhood that we share. We’re all going through hell together, basically.”
Wrestling at 157 became a personal hell for Ortloff.
“When I was at 57, I just didn’t feel good mentally for it,” he said. “I had to run miles every morning. I drug myself down a lot about it.”
After a 6-7 start to his sophomore season, Ortloff stepped out of the MSUM lineup and just practiced.
“I got better at wrestling,” he said.
There were also big benefits away from the mat not having to cut weight.
“I ate whatever I wanted,” said Ortloff.
Due to the ever changing environment that is COVID-19, the NCAA has CANCELLED all NCAA winter and spring championships, including D2 wrestling. Braydon Ortloff ends his Sophomore campaign as a NCAA National Qualifier with a record of 12-9 placing 3rd in Super Region 5. #D2Wrestle pic.twitter.com/89lU1G2L9E— MSUM Wrestling (@MSUMWrestling) March 12, 2020
The Dragons were wrestling at Upper Iowa in late January when Ortloff got a text to come in and talk about the future. One topic that was off the docket was anything to do with 157 pounds.
“We decided on 165 and that was a much better spot for me,” he said.
The move came with some angst.
“That sucked because the 57 spot was mine and I moved up and had to wrestle off one of my teammates, who is one of my really good friends,” said Ortloff.
Apart from that, the benefit to Ortloff’s mentality and feel for the sport were worth it.
“I loved wrestling again,” he said. “I kind of just hated it at 57.”
Ortloff went to the region tournament unseeded and was 3-1 using a late takedown for a 9-7 win and third place to clinch his trip to nationals. Looking back, the suffering at 157 was also worth it.
“I’m way better than what I thought I was going to be,” he said. “I did make my biggest jump because I started beating those kids and had a winning record.”
The difference this year was simply experience and controlling emotions.
“My first year I was too nervous, too scared going into that region tournament really,” he said.
Nerves struck at this year’s national championship but for much different reasons.
Ortloff saw Twitter updates on the fans being limited for the national championship in Moorhead before he left for Sioux Falls.
Upon arrival, the competitors got practices in and again the morning of the following day.
On the way for a meal, wrestlers found out that was the last practice of the season.
“We get out of the building and all these kids are crying and all the coaches are on the phones,” said Ortloff.
A quick text and he and his teammates were packing to go home only 18 hours away from competition at nationals.
“I’m focusing on school now,” he said. “I’ve never done online classes. I learn better going to class and learning but that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to get a degree.”
Wrestling is still close to home. Ortloff lives with five other wrestlers in Moorhead and he and his teammates are currently limited to at-home workouts and get team updates and communications online.