North Dakota State’s wrestling team has enjoyed a great deal of success during their brief period of time as a member of the Big 12 conference.
Now in year two of their Big 12 era, the Bison have been ranked in the NWCA/USA Today top 25 rankings since Jan. 17, resulting from their victories over No. 14 Iowa State and No. 24 Virginia. The Bison wrestling squad is stocked with premier wrestlers, but none more talented than senior captain Josh Rodriguez.
Hailing from Guadalupe, California, Rodriguez’s performance this season in the 125 pound weight class has propelled the Bison’s rapid ascent to Division I success.
Currently 20-1 in the season, including a 17-1 record in dual meets, Rodriguez has flown up the national rankings for his weight class. Improving on his 36-10 mark from last season, Rodriguez is currently seated as the No. 4 overall 125-pound wrestler in the nation, and the No. 1 in his class in the Big 12.
“It feels good,” Rodriguez said of being in the same stratosphere as the nation’s elite. “It basically shows how my hard work pays off. I’ve been sitting around these rankings for a while, climbing the ladder the past few years.”
Rodriguez has racked up a bevy of accolades during his time in Fargo. In addition to his No. 4 ranking, Rodriguez ranks No. 13 in school history with 98 career wins. He was also named the 2015 NCAA West Region Wrestler of the Year in 2015.
At the 2014 Pan-Am and Fila Juniors, Rodriguez won the 60-kilogram Greco-Roman championship, and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Pan-Am’s.
Twice qualifying for the NCAA championship, his finish in the round of 12 in 2016 is his most proud, yet bittersweet, career achievement.
“It gave me that bitter taste after losing that round of twelve,” Rodriguez said. “I came back even more hungry this season and I’m waiting for my turn to get on that podium.”
To describe his illustrious NDSU career in one word, Rodriguez settled on exciting.
“I’ve been through a lot here during my career here at NDSU, and overall, it’s been fun. I’ve had a great time here, and it’s exciting,” he said.
Rodriguez stated what he will miss the most about his collegiate career will be the camaraderie of the team.
“I think just being around the team,” Rodriquez said. “Every year there is a new team, but we all have this bond every year that we create. I think it’s just gotta be the whole team.”
One aspect of wrestling is it is an individual sport yet still maintains a team objective and ethos. From this individuality comes friendly competitiveness amongst teammates.
When asked if his teammates could beat him, Rodriguez swiftly declared, “No. Negative. Once we get to the heavier weights, they’ve got a lot of strength obviously, but we’re all pretty competitive.”
While satisfied with both his personal and team achievements, Rodriguez knows there are still more victories to be had before he closes the book on his time as a Bison. After placing third in the Big 12 championship and finishing in the round of 12 at the NCAA championship last season, Rodriguez feels he has more to achieve.
“I’m happy where I’m at right now, but in March I plan on being on top,” Rodriguez said, referring to his desire to make the podium at nationals.
Before this year’s NCAA tournament, Rodriguez will participate in the Big 12 championships, where he is aiming to finish higher than his third place spot from last year. In spite of being the top wrestler in his weight class in the Big 12, Rodriguez is not taking the competition lightly.
“I don’t expect it to be easy by any means just because my rankings are higher than those guys. Everyone is tough in my weight, and we all have one goal at 125, and that’s to be the best,” Rodriguez said.
To come in first, Rodriguez is planning on taking a match-by-match approach.
“I’m walking into that tournament not thinking about the rankings, just going in there and taking it one match at a time and focusing on beating every one of my opponents,” he stated.
Eyeing the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Rodriguez is eager to begin his training.
“I want to wrestle internationally. I want to train until 2020 and compete for the Olympics,” he said of his plans for the future. “I’m going to be training right after the season, and making the transition to freestyle.”
Even though his lofty ambitions will commence in just a few months, Rodriguez still has one thing left to do as a member of the Herd: beat every one of his opponents.