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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 26 2012

Kolpack: Monk carrying the load for Bison

Roger Kish is just over a month away from finishing his first season as a head wrestling coach. If you’re looking for his highlight, proceed directly to 157 pounds.

That’s where sophomore Steven Monk has set up shop, and he’s carrying the North Dakota State torch. Monk got a No. 10 national ranking in the first NCAA Division I Coaches’ Panel Rankings that came out this week.

The poll is a major tool to determine qualifiers for the NCAA Division I wrestling championships. Of course, Monk can win the West Regional in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in early March and not have to worry about any ratings.

Junior Trent Sprenkle is also in the national mix, coming in at No. 20 at 125 pounds.

After that, it’s hard to tell what this Bison wrestling team has this season.

“I have 10 guys that surprise me on a daily basis, both good and bad,” Kish said.

The Bison’s dual record heading into tonight’s Western Wrestling Conference dual against Air Force at the Bison Sports Arena is 4-6. Of the four victories, the marquee one is a 23-19 win over Arizona State.

Of the six losses, the 31-6 defeat at home to Nebraska stands as the most disappointing. NDSU scored nine points against Missouri and Minnesota and losses to Oregon State, Boise State and Rutgers were by seven points or less.

Oregon State (No. 17), Missouri (15), Nebraska (7) and Minnesota (3) are all nationally ranked.

“You have to take it with a grain of salt,” Kish said. “We were competitive with the top programs in the country.”

But D-I wrestling is measured by how you do on one weekend in mid-March. And heading down the stretch, it looks like NDSU is a two-man team with Monk and Sprenkle.

At No. 10, Monk is positioning himself for a shot at being an All-American, which requires a top-eight national tournament finish.

“And maybe push for a national title,” Kish said. “He has that kind of potential.”

The next-best dual record is Mac Stoll, who is 6-4 at 184. Seven guys are at .500 or below, and not helping was a season-ending knee injury to freshman Kurtis Julson at 174.

“He finally had broken into the top 20 in the country and was a big part of our program,” Kish said. “It’s hard for us to move forward with him not being in the lineup.”

At some point before Monk finishes his career, NDSU needs to crack the top 25 in the USA Today rankings. If Old Dominion, Hofstra, Binghamton and Edinboro can do it – all are currently ranked – so should NDSU.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia