NDSU rolls Air Force and slips past Northern Colorado to move to 5-1 in Big XII
Heading into the final road trip of the Big XII conference season, the North Dakota State University wrestlers faced Air Force Academy and Northern Colorado squads that, on paper, did not appear to be much of a threat to the Herd’s four-match winning streak. The Falcons and Bears were a combined 4-5 in the conference heading into the weekend. With some notable individual exceptions (AFA’s Wyatt Hendrickson and UNC’s Andre Alirez come to mind), the Bison were expected to come through this weekend relatively unscathed.
On Friday, the Bison didn’t disappoint as they deposited the Falcons in business-like fashion 32-10, and using a strong finish in the later weights, pushed past Northern Colorado 23-15. North Dakota State (10-2, 5-1 Big XII) finished 3-1 on the road in the Big XII and now heads back to Scheels Center for their final two duals of the conference season.
Fast start leads Bison to 32-10 win at Air Force –
Coming into Friday’s Big XII dual against the Falcons of the United States Air Force Academy, the North Dakota State University wrestling team was on a roll having won four duals in a row. The dual had a delayed start as the Academy honored seven senior wrestlers on Senior Night at Clune Arena, but that delay would not slow down the Herd as they won the first five matches and earned five bonus point wins to roll past the Falcons 32-10 in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Bison won their fifth in a row and remain undefeated in 2023.
Roaring out of the gate with a big win for the Herd was NDSU’s 149-pounder Kellyn March. March, who already owns the fastest pin in NDSU’s D1 history, pinned the Falcons’ Dylan Martinez in the first period. Fernandez tied up March high and tried to throw him, but March blocked the throw and reversed Hernandez with his own throw and finished him off seconds later to put the Herd up 6-0 just 1:33 into the match.
Next up for the Bison was #2-ranked Jared Franek at 157 pounds. Franek (16-1, 5-0 Big XII) methodically finished off Air Force’s Jack Ganos with five takedowns, an escape, one two-point near-fall and for good measure, one riding time point to win 14-4 for a major decision, his sixth of the season and 19th of his career, leading all active NDSU wrestlers. Franek also has a 16-match win streak.
Michael Caliendo, Gaven Sax and DJ Parker then followed up with comfortable wins of 9-3, 8-0 and 5-1, respectively, to put the Bison up 20-0 at the halfway point of the dual.
At 197, NDSU’s Owen Pentz added to his season and career pin total by sticking the Falcons’ Calvin Sund to the mat at the 3:28 mark of the second. Pentz nearly had Sund pinned in the first period, but Sund somehow managed to escape Pentz’s grasp late in the first. Pentz settled for the four-point near-fall to end the first leading 6-0. To start the second, Pentz chose bottom position and in 28 seconds, reversed Sund and finished him for his seventh pin of the season and 24th of his NDSU career. The Bison now led 26-0.
The Academy tried to mount a comeback when the 5th-ranked heavyweight in the country, Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson, wrestled NDSU’s Juan Mora. Mora kept the match close ending the first period down 2-0 to Hendrickson. After Hendrickson deferred his choice to the 3rd period, Mora chose bottom, and all the Falcon heavyweight could manage in that period was a two-point near-fall to end the second leading 4-0. However, in the third, Hendrickson wore Mora down and finished him off with a 13-2 win including a riding time point and a penalty point when Mora was called for stalling late in the period. Air Force was now on the board, but down to NDSU, 26-4.
The Falcons would continue their run. After the Falcons’ Tucker Owens decisioned Carlos Negrete, Jr. 6-1 at 125 and Cody Phippen, Air Force’s 133-pounder, beat NDSU’s McGwire Midkiff by the same score to continue the Falcon run, the score stood at 26-10 in favor of North Dakota State.
Finally, at 141, the Bison stopped the Falcon’s streak of three wins. Walker Bents got a rare start and a chance to stifle the Falcon run. The true freshman faced the Academy’s Garrett Kuchan in the dual’s final match. Looking sluggish in the match’s opening seconds, Bents gave up a deep, double-leg shot and takedown to Kuchan. However, Bents recovered and reversed Kuchan when he tried to throw him for a quick finish. Kuchan ended up being the victim as Bents reversed the throw and put Kuchan on his back. Bents (4-6, 1-0 Big XII) pinned him at 1:26 of the first period for his first dual win and the Bison had their fourth Big XII win of the year courtesy of a 32-10 victory.
NDSU finishes strong to drop Northern Colorado 23-15 –
On Saturday night, in Greeley, Colo., the Bison faced the #20 Northern Colorado Bears in the second of back-to-back nights of wrestling. The dual was a close affair right up until the very end, but strong performances for NDSU in the later weight classes would prove decisive.
Opening up the scoring for the Bears was their 125-pounder, Steve Poulin. Poulin, ranked #16 and bringing a 22-3 record with him to the mat, manhandled NDSU’s Carlos Negrete, Jr 18-3 by technical fall at the 5:34 mark. Poulin, dominated with six takedowns, a four-point near-fall and a penalty point awarded for a stalling call on Negrete, Jr. When Poulin’s hand was being raised by the official, the Bears had a 5-0 lead.
Putting a quick end to the UNC momentum was NDSU’s McGwire Midkiff. Midkiff won a hard-fought battle with the Bears’ Jace Koelzer at 133. After ending the first period with a 2-1 lead, Midkiff took down Koelzer late in the third to secure a close 4-1 win.
The highest-ranked wrestler on the mat for the evening was Northern Colorado’s Andrew Alirez, the top-ranked 141-pounder in the country and sporting a 16-0 record. Alirez dominated the Herd’s Dylan Droegemueller with a 13-5 major decision, the Bears’ second bonus point win in three matches. Alirez moved to 17-0 on the year and the Bears led 9-3.
Again, NDSU was able to stave off any momentum that the Bears might gain from their dominating wins when NDSU’s Kellyn March decisioned Chris Sandoval in a tight 5-3 win in extra time. Time had expired in the third period with March fighting off a takedown attempt by Sandoval. However, both match referees conferred afterward and reviewed the final seconds of the period. After review, the officials awarded a two-point takedown to Sandoval tying the score at three a-piece forcing extra time. March then took Sandoval down 41 seconds into the extra frame to secure the win and three team points for the Bison to make the match score 9-6.
Next up for the Herd was Jared Franek at 157. Franek, (17-1, 6-0 Big XII) took on the Bears’ Vince Zerban. In the first match of the evening where both wrestlers were ranked, the 2nd-ranked Franek decisioned the 31st-ranked Zerban in a close match, 5-2. The win earned NDSU another three team points, and the match was tied at 9-9 heading into halftime.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Bison moved quickly to establish and maintain a lead. Michael Caliendo, now ranked 7th in the country at 165, delivered a technical fall at 5:43 for his team to give the Herd their first lead of the night at 14-9. Caliendo (18-2, 5-1 Big XII) used five takedowns and six points in near-falls to dominate UNC’s Cody Eaton 19-4.
Now it was the Bears’ turn to disrupt the momentum at 174. With the Bison holding their first lead of the evening, UNC’s Andrew Berreyesa sent the crowd into a frenzy by pinning the Herd’s Gaven Sax at the 1:48 mark. Berreyesa had Sax in a headlock, but Sax was able to fight off the hold initially. Berreyesa applied the hold one more time and this time, Sax could not fight it off and was thrown to the mat. Just seconds later, the crowd at Bank of Colorado Arena was on its feet in approval after Sax was finished. The win temporarily put the Bears back in the lead at 15-14.
Efficient wins by DJ Parker at 184, Owen Pentz at 197 and Juan Mora at 285 put the match away for the Bison. Parker rode the Bears’ Andrew Donahue to a 4-1 victory to put the Bison back in the lead, 17-15. Pentz shutout Xavier Vasquez 5-0 to extend that lead to 20-15. After exchanging one-point escapes to finish tied at 1-1, Mora and UNC’s Xavier Doolin went to extra time. Mora managed to takedown Doolin at the 51-second mark of the extra period to secure a 3-1 win and the dual victory for the Bison 23-15, their sixth victory in a row.
Tale of the Scale –
The following NDSU wrestlers went 2-0 on the weekend: March, Franek, Caliendo, Parker and Pentz.
Franek (17-1) won his 16th & 17th dual matches in a row after opening the season with a loss to Nebraska’s Peyton Robb in Lincoln back on November 4th.
Caliendo (18-2) has not lost since dropping a 7-5 decision to Missouri’s Keegan O’Toole in Columbus, Mo. on December 20th. Caliendo avenged that loss to O’Toole 11 days later at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn.
March now has a six-match winning streak.
NDSU had six bonus point wins against Air Force and just one against Northern Colorado.
The Bison have two wrestlers now ranked in the Top 10 in their respective weight classes: Franek (#2 at 157) and Caliendo (#7 at 165). March (#16 at 149) and Pentz (#11 at 197) are in the Top 20.
Next up for NDSU –
The Bison return home to Scheels Center on Friday where they host the Oklahoma Sooners in Big XII action. The first match is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Student tickets are available at gobison.com/students. You can also watch on WDAY Xtra or listen at Bison 1660AM & 92.7 FM.