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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 24 2014

No. 23 Bison post convincing wrestling win over Air Force

FARGO – Those few years that North Dakota State was a former Division II power masquerading as a Division I wannabe are over. As of Friday night, they are long over.

The buzz is returning to the wrestling program and Air Force was the latest to feel the sting at the Bison Sports Arena. The 23rd-ranked Bison were the stronger and better team from start to finish in a 41-6 Western Wrestling Conference dual win.

It’s been several years since the Bison displayed this kind of power to an opponent relative to their division. Steven Monk, Kurtis Julson and Tyler Lehmann all registered pins while Hayden Zillmer won by major decision.

“I feel like all the guys are starting to realize that all the hard work is starting to pay off,” Zillmer said.

Monk got his pin at 165 pounds. Zillmer followed with his win and the dual was over at 25-6.

“They’re starting to come into their own,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish. “They keep building their confidence – it’s something we’ve been drumming into them for a long time.”

It was the conference opener for NDSU, which improved to 7-3. The Bison stand to improve their highest ranking ever in the USA Today top 25 poll.

“We’ve had a couple of big wins now and I think we’ve elevated to the next level,” Kish said. “They’re starting to separate themselves from the pack.”

It wasn’t a promising sign for the Falcons when their best wrestler didn’t compete. Sophomore Josh Martinez, ranked fifth nationally at 125 pounds, forfeited giving the Bison a 6-0 lead.

It was 15-0 before Air Force got something going with Josh Kreimier’s pin over freshman Nick Olejnik at 157 pounds. Problem for the Falcons, however, was the next two weights: the Bison had their top two guns waiting.

Monk scored 12 points in the first two minutes of his match against Jesse Stafford. He eventually pinned him in the second period to improve his record to 21-1 – 10-0 in duals.

Zillmer took the more methodical route, slowly but surely disposing of Konnor Witt with a series of takedowns.

“We’ve been on the road it seems like a lot,” Zillmer said. “Monk got that pin and we were rolling. That’s what we have to do.”