Wrestlers back home looking to finish strong

Start by rolling over West Virginia and Air Force

Back on Nov. 11, the North Dakota State wrestling team suffered a 37-3 defeat at the hands of the then third-ranked Missouri Tigers. That started the Bison 0-1 in the Big 12 conference and, apart from the Bison Open, they would not wrestle again in Fargo as a team until Jan. 29. A lot has happened to that Bison team since then and much of it good. That return trip to Scheels Center happened this past weekend and the Bison rolled over the Mountaineers of West Virginia on Saturday 39-9 and battled the cadets of the Air Force Academy to a tight 21-16 victory. In between those conference duals at Scheels Center, the Bison went 5-2 as a team, won eight individual championships in various tournaments and the team finished in second place in the ‘Southern Scuffle’ in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Bison Open

At the Bison Open at Scheels Center, NDSU’s Luke Weber was the first Bison wrestler to capture a title by defeating the No. 18 ranked wrestler in the class, Minnesota’s Andrew Sparks by fall at 4:54 of the match. Weber went 3-0, including a pin of the University of Mary’s Leo Mushinsky, on the way to the 165-pound title.

Then, Owen Pentz would put the final touch on a career day. Pentz, the Bison 197-pounder, finished the day 4-0, all by fall. Starting out versus Minnesota’s Bennett Tabor, Pentz pinned Tabor just 53 seconds into the match, a career-best time for Pentz. Then, moving quickly through his bracket, Pentz finished off his next two opponents with falls of 1:03 and 1:41 to move on to the finals. There, he faced another Gopher, Minnesota’s Michial Foy pinning him at 4:07. Four pins, four wins and a 197-pound title for Pentz.

The final champion for the Bison was Brandon Metz at the 285-pound class. Metz, the senior from West Fargo, recorded the fastest pin in the championship round when he pinned South Dakota State’s AJ Nevills at 1:53. On the way there, Metz secured back-to-back 11-1 major decisions to advance to the semi-finals. A 2-0 decision in the semis put him in the finals which he won with his first fall of the year.

Kellyn March (125), Dylan Droegemueller (141), Jared Franek (157) and D.J. Parker (184) all claimed runner-up titles for the Bison. March fell to Minnesota’s Jake Gilva 6-1 in the title match. Droegemueller lost a close 3-1 decision to South Dakota State’s Clay Carlson. Parker, wrestling unattached, lost a narrow 4-3 decision to Minnesota’s Isaiah Salazar. Franek suffered his first defeat of the season in the finals losing to Minnesota’s Brayton Lee in OT, 6-4.

Southern Scuffle

Jared Franek started the new year out with a perfect 5-0 record to win the 157-pound championship and help lead North Dakota State wrestling to a second-place finish at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn., over the New Year’s holiday. Franek was one of six other placing finishers that led the Bison to a team score of 109.5 and the runner-up spot.

On day one, Franek opened the tournament up with a pin of Buffalo’s Ty Raines at 26 seconds. He then finished the day with 6-0 and 5-3 victories to put himself in the semi-finals. On day two, Franek defeated Missouri’s No. 23 Jarrett Jacques 2-1 in a rematch from the earlier dual against the Tigers back in November in Fargo. Franek won that match as well. In the championship round, Franek defeated No. 21 Chase Saldate from Michigan State 6-3.

Brandon Metz, at 285, finished third with a 3-2 win over No. 20 Owen Trephan from North Carolina State. Gaven Sax (149) and Austin Brenner (174) would lose third-place matches to finish fourth for the Bison.

NDSU goes 5-2 in duals

The Bison would defeat the Vikings of Augustana 28-10 in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Dec. 4. Seven wrestlers would win for the Bison. Brandon Metz would start the winning for the Bison with a 9-5 victory. Jared Franek would move to 6-1 on the year and Like Weber would improve to 5-1 with his third pin.

A trip out east would bring victories for the Herd in New York. The Bison would face and defeat Edinboro 34-9, Binghamton 27-12 and Buffalo 34-7. The Bison wrestled Edinboro and Binghamton on the same afternoon in Vestal, N.Y. NDSU’s Kellyn March and Luke Weber would pin their opponents in both duals to lead the Bison. March’s pin over Edinboro’s at 12 seconds set a new NDSU Division I era record for the fastest pin. That pin set records for the fastest pin against a D1 opponent, fastest pin in a dual and fastest pin overall since the Bison started wrestling at the Division I level in 2004-05. Dylan Droegemueller, Jared Franek and Austin Brenner would win both of their matches as well.

At Buffalo, Luke Weber would win by fall to complete his weekend at 3-0 with three pins. Droegemueller, Franek, March and Metz would finish their weekend 3-0 in their matches.

NDSU was scheduled to resume their Big 12 conference dual schedule at Utah Valley on Jan. 14 in Utah, but a last-second cancellation due to COVID-19 protocols at Utah Valley. The Bison were literally at the airport checking baggage when they got the word. “It threw some adversity at our guys, while we’re checking our bags…” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish. “So, we had to reorganize and reevaluate how we were going to adjust and proceed forward, and we did, and our guys handled the adversity well and then you add the aspect of our training regimen and travel and then you take the unique aspect of dieting and weight-cutting and how we have to re-manage that weight and what that looks like for different individuals to maximize peak performance. And they handled it really well,” continued Kish. After beating a tough Wyoming squad 22-14, in one of the more unfriendly arenas in the Big 12, the Bison then had more travel issues on the way home and ended up bussing home from Jamestown two days later. “It’s now affected the next week and how we train and prepare and the mandatory day off we have to have for these guys for their recovery aspect.” Kish explained.

A trip to Iowa

The Bison entered the weekend 5-0 in duals on this extended road trip when they traveled to Iowa to meet Northern Iowa and Iowa State. It did not go well for the Bison. “We go to Iowa rolling off a great ‘Scuffle’…handle some adversity and wrestle well at Wyoming, handle some adversity and then go out to Iowa and get ready for a weekend with some really tough schools. And the reality is we didn’t perform well,” Kish said. “Our guys understood that Northern Iowa is tough, they wrestle really well, they hand-fight really well.” He continued, “We had to be prepared to engage in that fight, the fight that is going to happen and we just didn’t perform well at that level…North Dakota State comes to wrestle, and those guys came to fight. We weren’t quite prepared for that.” The Herd then traveled to Iowa State. “We then competed against a very talented Iowa State team, and I actually thought we competed very well. We wrestled very well. We had opportunities to win. We did not capitalize on those opportunities…but we put ourselves in position to win matches against elite guys, that’s what the game is, right?” Kish asked. “We didn’t win those matches, but we had some good opportunities. I don’t think the score is necessarily indicative of how we wrestled. It was, though, a reminder that there is this balance to be able to compete. No highs…no lows.” The Bison would end up on the wrong side of a 26-9 loss to drop their Big 12 record to 1-3.

Back home again

Back at Scheel Center, the Bison would once again wrestle in front of their home fans. Facing the University of West Virginia on Jan. 29, the Bison would start fast and not look back on their way to a drubbing of the Mountaineers. Starting at the 157-pound class, Jared Franek would run roughshod over West Virginia’s Alex Hornfeck in an 18-3 major victory to put the Bison up 5-0. Then came Luke Weber. Avenging a loss earlier in the year to the No. 10 wrestler in the class, Peyton Hall, Weber brought the roaring Bison faithful to their feet with a pin at 1:03 of the first period putting the Bison up 11-0. Consecutive victories by Riley Habisch (174), DJ Parker (184) and Owen Pentz (197) put the Bison up 26-0 at the intermission. Both Parker and Pentz won by fall, and the rout was on for the Bison.

The next day, NDSU welcomed the Air Force Academy into Scheel Center. In a much tighter match, the Bison prevailed 21-16. Late in the dual and the Bison up 12-10, NDSU’s DJ Parker, trailing in his match 1-0 entering the third period, executed a reversal and recorded a 4-point near fall to earn the 7-1 victory. Now with momentum and a 15-10 lead, the Bison 197-pounder, Owen Pentz pinned Air Force’s Kayne Hutchison at 1:32. A forfeit at 285 for the Bison finished the scoring. After the dual, Coach Kish was asked about the Parker and Pentz matches. “Pivotal…very pivotal. What a great job by DJ. Especially for an 18-year-old kid. Great move on the bottom and then turns him. Then Owen finishes his guy. When Owen Pentz gets you in that position, you’re probably not getting out of it.”

The Bison, now 3-3 in the Big 12 conference, have two home duals remaining. On Feb. 11, the Herd faces Little Rock, and then in their final home conference dual on the Feb. 13, they wrestle the Bears of Northern Colorado. After a dual against conference rival South Dakota State in Brookings, the Bison will prepare for the Big 12 Championships in Tulsa, Okla. the first weekend in March.

The duals will take place at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Feb. 11 versus Little Rock and Northern Colorado, respectively. Both duals are at Scheels Center.

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