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Eric Peterson, Published December 07 2012

Monk mastering the mat after years of showing off athletic versatility

Fargo - Steven Monk didn’t place his entire focus on wrestling when he was in high school, where he competed in track, cross country and soccer.

Monk felt that decision gave him a chance to grow on the mat once he reached college.

“That definitely helped me out,” Monk said of being involved in multiple sports. “When I got to college, I wasn’t at my full potential. I made huge strides because then I could really improve.”

The North Dakota State junior is getting closer to that potential these days.

Monk (13-1) is ranked No. 7 in Division I at 165 pounds. His only loss this season is a 6-0 setback to three-time defending national champion Kyle Dake of Cornell, which came in the title match at last weekend’s Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

“I think he walked off the mat knowing that he can wrestle with the best kid in the country,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish. “We found out what we need to work on and where we need to get better.”

The Bison and Monk have another big challenge ahead. No. 22-ranked NDSU hosts No. 13-ranked Oregon State at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bison Sports Arena.

“Oregon State will be a great dual for our team,” said Monk, who went to Wausau (Wis.) West High School.

Monk has a 75-19 career record and is on pace to become the seventh Bison to reach 100 wins. He’s hoping to become the first NDSU wrestler to earn D-I All-American honors since Pat Johannes (177) in 1988.

NDSU has six previous Division I All-Americans.

Monk wants to make it seven.

“I’m definitely motivated right now,” Monk said. “I feel like I haven’t done my best wrestling this season.”

Monk nearly earned D-I All-American status as a sophomore, finishing one win short (a 1-point loss).

“I think that was tough on him, but he still has a lot of room to grow,” Kish said. “That is what we are excited for.”

Monk started wrestling in kindergarten and said initially he was average. When he was in fourth grade, he won a state youth championship.

“That’s where it kind of took off for me,” he said.

Monk won a high school state championship in 2009, was a four-time state placer and finished his career with a state-record 202 wins. While Monk was a terror on the mat, he continued to run track and cross country. He played soccer for part of his high school career and was a midfielder.

“I took breaks from it, because I didn’t want to get burned out,” Monk said of wrestling. “I never focused on just one sport in high school.”

Now that wrestling is his main focus, Monk is flourishing and hungry to get better.

“He’s one of those guys who finds a way to win matches,” Kish said. “His style of wrestling is unique and other people have a tough time keeping up with him.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com