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Eric Peterson, Published March 19 2013

Bison wrestlers eye All-America status this week

FARGO - Trent Sprenkle is confident that Division I All-America honors are going to be common for the North Dakota State wrestling program.

“Right now it’s like, ‘Who’s going to be it first?’ ” said Sprenkle, a senior at 125 pounds. “I think that down the road we are going to have one every year. Our program is to the point where we are going to start having a lot of All-Americans.”

Sprenkle is seeded No. 9 in his weight class entering the Division I national tournament, which starts Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. Bison junior Steven Monk is rated No. 5 at 165 pounds.

Sprenkle and Monk are top contenders to become NDSU’s first All-Americans in the Division I era.

The Bison have had wrestlers earn D-I All-America status when the program was at the Division II level. D-II wrestlers could qualify for the D-I tournament until the early 1990s.

Pat Johannes was NDSU’s last Division I All-American. He placed seventh at 177 pounds in 1988.

“I think that being an All-American would be awesome, but I think being a national champ would be even better,” Sprenkle said. “I think that it’s a realistic goal.”

Senior Mac Stoll (184) and sophomore Evan Knutson (285) also made the national tournament for the Bison. Both are unseeded.

“We look forward to it, and we have a feel for the vibe of what’s going on down there this year,” said Stoll, who also made the national tournament last season.

Sprenkle (29-4) and Monk (33-2) each posted 3-2 records at last year’s nationals and were one victory away from earning All-America honors. Bison head coach Roger Kish said that past experience will help his athletes go into nationals with more confidence.

“I think programs are defined on the success of your athletes,” Kish said. “It’s a big deal to get those All-Americans.”

The wrestling program became eligible for the national tournament in 2006-07 as it transitioned to Division I.

Monk said earning All-America status is the next step in the program’s Division I development.

“It shows that what we are doing as a program is working, especially to the younger guys on the team,” Monk said.

Kish made sure his team wrestled the top guys in the country during the regular season. The Bison had duals against eight teams that were ranked in the Top 25. NDSU also competed at a number of high-profile tournaments.

“They have all wrestled numerous guys ranked in the top 10 … in the country,” Kish said. “They really don’t have a whole lot to be scared or nervous about. … This is why we do it. Our guys can go in there confident, because they’ve wrestled the best guys in the country.”

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

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