There was a lot on the table for NDSU last weekend at the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament in St. Louis, MO. After going three years in a row with an All American from 2013-15, NDSU missed the podium in 2016, and with two wrestlers seeded in the top nine of this years tournament, the chances seemed strong that an NDSU wrestler would again find his way to the award stand. Alas, the Bison failed to get an individual wrestlers on the All American podium for the second consecutive season, and the team finished well behind what any projections could have predicted with a mere 3 NCAA team points for 47th place.
The most disappointing aspect of the season for NDSU was that their two seeded wrestlers, both in great positions to make the podium, wrestled what was certainly the worst performances of their seasons-if not career. Seeded sixth, Clay Ream finished the tournament 0-2. He fell to Stanford’s Paul Fox 8-4 in the first round before losing to Poly’s Colt Shorts in a pigtail wrestle back match 7-4. Ream had previously defeated Shorts by 12-4 major decision in a dual with Poly on January 28. To be fair, Fox was no easy first round draw. The Stanford sophomore ended up one of the few wrestlers to go from unseeded to all American when he finished seventh. Though he finished 2-2, Rodriguez’s weekend was a tough pill to swallow given that the California native was a match from placement last season. Whatever the reason, the potent offense that Rodriguez brought to the table nearly every match he wrestled this season was stalled in a round of sixteen loss to Oklahoma State freshman Nick Piccininni, and again in the wrestlebacks to Campbell senior Nathan Kraisser. In the loser-out match with Kraisser, Rodriguez gave up four minutes of riding time and was taken down twice. The writing was already on the wall after the first three minutes of that match; Kraisser was going to beat NDSU’s last hope at the podium.
Ream will be back for one more season with the Bison and I’m sure a chance at redemption is something he is already thinking about. That is not the case for Rodriguez, whose career ending without a spot on the podium hurts more because he has been a fantastic representative of NDSU wrestling over the last five years, and was good enough to get on the podium at his best. Regardless of this finish, Rodriguez goes down as one of the most dominant Bison of the Division I era. Rodriguez amassed over 100 wins in his career and qualified for the national tournament three times. Though I really like what NDSU will have at 125 next year with freshman Paul Bianchi, Rodriguez will still be sorely missed.
NDSU’s bright spot on the weekend was the effort from freshman 133 Cameron Sykora, who entered the tournament unseeded but defeated Drexel’s #16 Kevin Devoy by major decision before falling to top seed Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State. Sykora then lost a tight wrestle back battle with NC State’s #15 Jamal Morris 6-4. Based on Sykora’s current talent, I think it is a strong likelihood he makes the podium a time or two for the Bison over the next three years. Freshman Andrew Fogarty also won one matchup in his first trip to the big dance. The Scott West, MN graduate scored six points on a reversal and near fall in the last ten seconds to knock off Penn’s Brook Martino.