Franek captures Big XII Title: Bison finish fifth in team standings

NDSU qualifies six wrestlers for the NCAA Tournament

Jared Franek, who has made no secret of the fact that his goal for this season was to win a national championship, took a big step in accomplishing that by winning the Big XII Championship in the 157-pound weight class at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday night. Franek, a native of Harwood, N.D., became the third Bison to win a Big XII title following in the footsteps of Cam Sykora at 133 (2020) and Luke Weber at 165 (2021). The win almost assures Franek of getting at least a #3 seed at the NCAA Tournament in two weeks, also to be held in Tulsa at BOK Center. Franek’s win also vaulted the Bison over South Dakota State in the team standings to finish in fifth place with 89 points.

Oklahoma State’s Kaden Gfeller and North Dakota State’s Jared Franek wrestle in the 157-pound championship match at the Big 12 Wrestling Championships on Sunday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. Brett Rojo | Big 12 Conference

            Franek, wrestling in front of a partisan Oklahoma State crowd, defeated the Cowboys’ Kaden Gfeller 5-3 in the championship match in a tight contest. Franek opened the first period with an early takedown of Gfeller to go up 2-0. Just seconds later, Gfeller escaped, and the period ended with Franek ahead 2-1. Winning the toss, Franek chose to start the second in the down position and quickly managed an escape of his own to go up 3-1 which is how the second period ended. The third saw Gfeller start in the bottom position, and he earned a quick one-point escape to make it 3-2. At the 1:29 mark, as Gfeller was being issued a stalling warning by the match official, Franek scored a takedown to go up 5-2. Thirteen seconds later, Gfeller escaped and the match became a clutch-and-grab fest. The OSU crowd displayed its frustration with the officials as they were looking for another stalling call on Franek. But that call never came, and Franek had his first Big XII title.

            On day one of the two-day event, things started out slowly for the Bison and did not improve much in the quarterfinals. Of the seven Bison who advanced to the quarterfinals, only Franek and 165-pounder Michael Caliendo advanced to the semis.

            Caliendo, in his quarterfinal match, quieted the Oklahoma State crowd with a dismantling of the Cowboys’ four-time All-American Wyatt Sheets, 17-7, for a major decision. Caliendo then faced the #2 seed, Missouri’s Keegan O’ Toole. Caliendo was 1-1 against O’Toole this season having lost in Columbia, Mo., in a dual back in December, but avenged the loss in the finals of the Southern Scuffle on January 1st. In their third meeting, O’Toole got the better of Caliendo with a dominating 7-3 win to force Caliendo to the consolation brackets.

            In other matches, NDSU’s 141-pounder Kellyn March pinned the Air Force Academy’s Dylan Martinez at 1:41 of the first period to advance to the semis. March wrestled with confidence in the match and performed as well in his semifinal against Oklahoma State’s Victor Voinovich. However, the #4 seed March lost a tough 3-2 decision to the five-seed Voinovich to join Caliendo in the wrestle-backs.

            NDSU’s DJ Parker and Owen Pentz also received first-round byes but could not take advantage. Parker, seeded fifth at 184 pounds, wrestled well and his match with Missouri’s Colton Hawks (#4) was close. Parker escape earlier in the third period to tie the match at 1-1, but Hawks managed a late takedown to take a 3-1 lead which he would hold for a 3-2 finish.

            Meanwhile, Pentz, seeded 5th at 197, was decisioned by the #4 seed Luke Surber, from Oklahoma State, 12-5. Surber nearly pinned NDSU’s pinning machine in the first seconds of the match with a throw, but Pentz managed to escape the hold, only surrendering a 4-point near-fall. Still, he was down 6-0 just seconds into the match. Pentz did keep it interesting for the remainder of the first and into the second, even getting within four at 8-4, but Surber dominated the third period to send Pentz to the consolation bracket.

            The Herd’s Carlos Negrete, Jr. (125lbs), McGwire Midkiff (133lbs), Dylan Droegemueller (141lbs), Gaven Sax (174lbs) and Juan Mora (285lbs) all lost in the opening round.

            Session II began with eight Bison wrestlers in the round of wrestle-backs. First up for the Herd was Negrete Jr. Negrete faced California-Baptist’s Devin Garcia in the opening round of the consolation brackets. Entering the third period behind 3-1, Negrete Jr. escaped and then dropped Garcia on a takedown to advance to the next round.

            In that same round, Dylan Droegemueller (141), Gaven Sax (174) and Juan Mora (285) dropped their decisions to go 0-2 for the tournament and were eliminated.

Immediately following the end of the first round, round two started. Once again, Carlos Negrete Jr., at 125, was on the mat first for the Bison. This time, Negrete Jr. was up against Utah Valley State’s Kase Mauger. Mauger easily defeated Negrete Jr. by technical fall 17-0 at 4:56 of the match. Negrete Jr. was then eliminated from the tournament and finished 1-2.

            At 133, McGwire Midkiff was now up. After receiving a bye in the first round of the consolation bracket, Midkiff faced and shut out Northern Colorado’s Jace Koelzer 6-0 to advance. In the next round Midkiff upset the four seed, Cody Phippen from the Air Force Academy, 3-2 to advance to the consolation semifinals. In the semis, Midkiff ran into the second seed, Kyle Biscoglia of Northern Iowa. Biscoglia controlled most of the match including riding time to beat Midkiff 4-1. While it was Midkiff’s 2nd loss, his loss in the semis sent him to the 5th place match and an opportunity to still make it to the NCAA Tournament. Midkiff, in an anticlimactic match, won his 5th place match by forfeit and punched his ticket to his first NCAA Championship.

            At 149, it was Kellyn March’s turn to march, literally, through the consolation bracket. His first victim was Cal-Baptist’s Chaz Hallmark by fall at 2:52 of the first period. March then disposed of Isaiah Delgado of Utah Valley, also by fall at 6:24 of the third. Then, in the consolation semis, March punched his ticket to the NCAAs with a nail-biter win, 11-10 over Colin Realbuto of Northern Iowa. In the third-place match, March finally ran out of gas and lost to Oklahoma’s Mitch Moore 5-0. But March will be back in Tulsa in two weeks for the NCAAs with his fourth-place finish.

            In his consolation bracket, Caliendo’s trip was a short, but successful one. His loss to O’Toole in the semis put him in the consolation semis where he made quick work of Northern Iowa’s Austin Yant 7-2 and even quicker work of Wyoming’s Cole Moody, pinning him 31 seconds into the second period. Caliendo, the red-shirt freshman from Geneva, Ill., placed third in his first Big XII tournament experience and will return to Tulsa in two weeks with four of his teammates.

North Dakota State’s Michael Caliendo controls Wyoming’s Cole Moody in their 3rd place match at the Big 12 Wrestling Championships on Sunday at the BOK Center, Tulsa, Okla. Brett Rojo | Big 12 Conference

            At 184, DJ Parker copied March’s lead and went on a run of his own through the consolation bracket. Starting in round two, Parker won by tech fall over Mahonri Rushton of Utah Valley at 7:00 by a score of 16-1, then followed that win up with a tough battle over South Dakota State’s Cade King, shutting King out 3-0. Just like March, Parker would drop his consolation semi-final match to Travis Wittlake of Oklahoma State 7-4, which forced him to the fifth-place match. However, unlike March, Parker captured fifth place with a 5-3 decision over Air Force Academy’s Noah Blake. With the win, Parker qualified with an at-large bid for the NCAAs.

            At 197, Owen Pentz rattled off three straight victories to get himself into the consolation semis with his teammates. Pentz had back-to-back falls to get himself into the NCAAs. First, Pentz pinned Tyce Raddon of Wyoming at 4:18. He followed that up with another fall by sticking Air Force Academy’s Calvin Sund at 1:23. Then Pentz upset Iowa State’s Yonger Batista, the #2 seed, 4-2 in the semis. Pentz lost to OSU’s Luke Surber, who also beat Pentz earlier in the quarterfinals, forcing him to the consolation side, 8-2, but fourth place gets you to the NCAAs.

Tale of the Scale –

            – First-time NCAA qualifiers for the Bison – Midkiff, March, Caliendo and Parker

            – Franek’s winning streak stays alive at 22 in a row (22-1)

            – Franek led all NDSU wrestlers in team points earned at 19. March and Caliendo both earned 17.5, followed by Pentz (14.5) and Midkiff (10.5).

            – NDSU led all Big XII teams with 7 pins. March had three while Caliendo and Pentz had two each.

Next up for the Herd –

            The NCAA Division I Wrestling National Championships will take place on March 16-18, back in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the BOK Center. Seeding and other information regarding at-large bids will be announced on the NCAA Division I Wrestling Selection Show which will air Wednesday, March 8th at 7 p.m. CT on

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