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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Fighting back from injuries, Stortz eyes another state title

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The wrestling room in the Dawson County High School is set on the balcony of the gymnasium. Head coach Tim Zody and his father-son assistants Shawn and Garrett Tennant walk upon the mats, tucked above the bleachers, and teach the teenage wrestlers how to improve their double-leg takedowns, duck unders, switches, rolls and hip heists. Everyone guns for the “pin to win” – a favorite team motto. 

Planning to rejoin the scene of grapplers is Ben Stortz, the Glendive standout who beat Bridger Grover of Lewistown to win the 103-pound state championships as a freshman, and then battled former teammate Tyler Kinn to take second at 113 as a sophomore. Last year, Stortz injured his left shoulder during a meet in Sidney. He rehabbed and rested, returned after holiday break, and then won enough matches to faceoff against Sawyer Degen from Belgrade in the Eastern A Divisional championship. “He was up 2-0 in the second period,” he remembered. “I rolled through and he caught my arm. I dislocated it. Ripped my labrum. I got up and finished the match and took second.” 

Stortz would slap a brace onto his left shoulder and finish 4-1 to take third in the State tournament. He lost to Parker Adler of Polson, who fell to Degen, the four-time state champion.

Earlier this year, Stortz – who plays catcher on the Blue Devils baseball team – opted to have shoulder surgery. 

“About 30 stitches,” he said. “I was in a brace til June and then physical therapy til September.” 

Stortz is down-to-earth. A tough young man. When asked to describe his surgery and shoulder rehab, he refused to talk about the pain but described the process as something that only got in the way of helping his dad, Ted, on the farm in Lindsay. 

“I could drive a tractor, but it was difficult,” he said. “Hauling mineral bags with one arm was hard and I had to be careful reaching out around the chutes during AI season.”

During the summer, Stortz completed the prescribed band workouts and ran two to six miles each day. 

“I tried pushing myself because I wanted to wrestle again,” he said. Stortz recently competed on the DCHS cross-country team. He ran because he wanted to build his endurance and leg-strength for wrestling. He did that and was a good enough runner to ran in the State meet, but he also “partially tore” his right meniscus (he plans on getting surgery after the wrestling season.) “After state, I hit the weights as much as I could,” he said. “I wanted to strengthen my shoulder and meniscus. I’d also go into the gym and wrestle around with teammates.”  

Stortz, now 18, entered his senior season with high expectations and the goal to win the state title at 145 pounds. So far, he is on the right track. Midway through the season, he hones a record of 20-1, with his only loss coming in a match against Chance McLane, a two-time state champion from Class AA Bozeman. But he has missed a dual against Miles City because of the flu and he pinched a nerve in a semi-final match in the CMR event in Great Falls (he forfeited the championship match due to the injury), which forced him to miss meets in Sidney and Colstrip. Stortz and his teammates were given a five-day break from the mat because of Christmas and New Years.

All told, Stortz is a different breed of wrestler. He has Tennant blood. The Tennant family (including the Werdal boys, whose mom is a Tennant) have a combined six state champions, including Stortz, Garrett and Dillon Tennant of Glendive and three Werdal wrestlers from Choteau. That does not include other relatives who placed at state tournaments throughout the years.

“I come from families who have influenced me,” Stortz said. “They’re always really hard workers.” 

Zody agreed: “Ben is a team player and an extremely hard worker. He’s conscientious of what he eats, puts in the extra time and leads by example.”

Stortz is the son of Ted and Tarena Stortz and the youngest of four siblings. He began  wrestling when he was eight years old. His first memory on the mat involves him getting pinned 10 seconds into the first period in Sidney. 

“That stunk and I didn’t know if I liked it after that,” he said. But then his parents and his brother Tate motivated him to keep trying.

 “They kept saying, ‘Keep going, keep going.’” He recalled watching Tate and his cousins wrestle their own matches. 

“I wanted to do what they did,” he said. “My brother taught me a lot and inspires me. He tells me that I can turn a match around in the blink of an eye.”

In Stortz’s words, his uncle Mike Tennant has helped him throughout his wrestling career. “He tells me to stay in attack mode,” he said. “He’s always clear – black-and-white – in his directions and always encouraging me.” Also, the Tennant cousins helped him get into shape and teach him “stances and motions and technique.” 

His teammate Tyler Clapp’s dad, Mark, drove the two to wrestling tournaments in North Dakota and South Dakota, and the Forcella family (formerly from Fallon) took the AAU teams to meets in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming. 

He was recently introduced to a nutritional guide for wrestlers, which he felt helped in cutting weight in a healthy manner. 

“Wrestling is my favorite sport,” he said. “You have to work at something to get good at it. I have tried to always take it up another level.”

Now, it is halfway through the 2017-2018 season, roughly 40 days to the Eastern A Divisional in Belgrade. “I want us to place as a team and for me to place in the top two at Divisionals and State,” he said. “I also want to encourage these kids on the team and help us get better and come together the best we can.”

Even though the team was granted a five day break, Stortz decided to practice twice over the holidays with his cousin and coach Garrett, who wrestled at Montana State University-Northern in Havre, before tearing the tendon and labrum in his own shoulder. “I thought I had to keep going because I have high goals,” he said. “I wrestle with my cousin who knows what it’s like to be injured. He always pushes me.”

The way Stortz sees it, wrestling “means everything to me and shows us who we are.” For Zody, the young athlete has all the makings of a two-time champion. “He’s a strong kid,” he said. “Good on his feet. Tough on top. Always working for something. Never just laying there. He’s always trying to work for the pin.”

Stortz expects to return to the mat Jan. 5-6 for the Bismarck Rotary Invite. Never boastful, he laughed with confidence and said, “I want to beat up on some North Dakota kids.” 

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