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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 28 2013

Offseason keeps Bison wrestlers busy

FARGO – It’s a question that at one time was pretty easy to answer with the North Dakota State wrestling team: When does the season end?

The answer? It never really does anymore.

It’s a philosophy that head coach Roger Kish has emphasized since he took the job two years ago. Last weekend, Hayden Zillmer won his weight class in the ASICS Greco-Roman University Nationals in Akron, Ohio.

Zillmer was one of 12 wrestlers representing the Bison Wrestling Club.

“I think it’s important to keep our guys training,” Kish said. “Keep them working out, keep them competing and keep them sharp. If you want to be successful at Division I, you have to be prepared to put the time in.”

Kish said most of his team has remained in Fargo for the summer. NCAA rules allow wrestlers to compete at meets that are considered qualifying competitions for world championships, said Colleen Heimstead, NDSU’s associate athletic director for compliance. She said coaches who are part of the club team, which Kish is, are allowed to coach under NCAA rules.

Zillmer, for instance, made the University World Team that will be competing in Russia later this summer. Another Bison wrestler, redshirt freshman Matt Gray, earned All-America honors at FILA Junior Nationals in April and will be competing in Colombia.

Bison Wrestling Club members train in either freestyle or Greco-Roman or both – which is different from the folkstyle commonly used in high school and college.

“I like the challenge of the style change,” Zillmer said. “I feel like you have to put in more time than your opponents, train harder. Working with all three styles I think makes you a little bit tougher as a person and as a wrestler.”

The multiple styles, Kish said, is fine with him, too.

“At the end of the day, it’s wrestling and it’s competing,” he said. “You have to get your body and head in the right place to compete and perform well. The hardest part in our sport is getting yourself prepared for big matches.”

Zillmer, a former three-time Minnesota state champion at Crosby-Ironton who was 11-9 as a freshman for NDSU last season, defeated former Wyoming wrestler Patrick Martinez in a best two-of-three finals format. Zillmer won the first match 6-1, lost 7-4 in the second and won by the “three caution rule” in the deciding match.

“It’s all about getting mat time in and getting better in the summer,” Zillmer said. “I feel like wrestling is wrestling and you just go out there and battle.”

At the FILA Junior National, Gray, from Twin Lakes, Wis., defeated wrestlers from Illinois, Northern Iowa and Nebraska. He appears to be the kind of recruit Kish had in mind when he increased the intensity of the summer program.

“Ultimately, you want to recruit kids who want to do this,” he said. “You want guys who want to continue their career after college. It all starts with recruiting guys who want to continue to get better.”

Kish said there isn’t much of a risk of burnout because, he said, the guys that stay around for the summer want to train. It’s exactly what Zillmer said.

“Wrestling is what they love to do,” Kish said. “It’s not as structured as the in-season workouts and there’s not as much pressure on them. A lot of them don’t have classes so it’s not as busy for them and they’re not under any academic stress as well.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia