The postseason has arrived, and for North Dakota State that means a trip to Tulsa, OK where 54 automatic qualifying bids will spread across the Big 12 conference tournament. The Bison are seeded to qualify five wrestlers based on the preliminary brackets released today, but I think the potential is there for as many as seven to qualify should the team have a good weekend. Both freshman Jared Franek and RS Senior Andrew Fogarty are seeded second in the tournament. A title from Franek or Forgarty, or any other Bison wrestler for that matter, would be NDSU’s first since joining the conference five years ago. Also seeded to qualify are Brandon Metz at 285, Cam Sykora at 133, and McGwire Midkiff at 125.
The Bison enter the Big 12 tournament with a regular season dual record of 10-4 (6-2 Big 12). The team has been really strong since dropping an ugly dual at home to Wyoming January 10. Roger Kish’s guys looked fresh in February; something that I didn’t think was the case in the last few years. That, plus senior leadership and a disappointing end to last season should spark NDSU to a strong performance as a team this weekend.
125: McGwire Midkiff (#4 Seed, top four qualify)
Midkiff is seeded fourth going into the weekend, and with only four qualifying spots, that leaves little margin for error for the RS Sophomore from Council Bluffs. Midkiff’s potential quarterfinal against #5 Jace Koelzer of Northern Colorado might be NDSU’s most important match of the early rounds. Koelzer defeated Midkiff 5-2 in their only bout this season. A win from Midkiff would mean a significantly easier path to a fourth place finish. A loss would mean qualifying through #2 Jay Schwarm (UNI) or #3 Alex Mackall (Iowa State). It seems unlikely that Midkiff would receive a wild card given his low match count and lack of quality wins on the season. Finishing in the top four is a must.
133: Cam Sykora (#3 seed, top eight qualify)
Sykora qualifying is a foregone conclusion, but I imagine the RS Senior would like to wash the bad taste of last year’s Big 12 tournament out of his mouth. A conference title would do just that. Sykora is seeded third with dangerous Oklahoma State freshman Reece Witcraft as Sykora’s likely quarterfinal opponent. Sykora and Witcraft have yet to wrestle this season, which should bode well for Sykora and his skills from the top position. A win over Witcraft would mean a winnable semifinal bout against Utah Valley’s Taylor LaMont. LaMont won their lone matchup of the year 2-1 on February 3. At the top of the bracket sits a familiar foe in Wymoing’s Montorie Bridges. Bridges has gotten the best of Sykora every time the two have wrestled, but the match is always in question in the third period. 6-4 was the score of their only bout of the year. Though he isn’t as highly seeded as Jared Franek and Andrew Fogarty, Sykora’s odds of winning this this tournament are just as good. A tournament title, plus wins over Witcraft, Lamont, and Bridges, would likely mean a top-ten seed at NCAAs.
141: Dylan Droegemueller (Unseeded, top five qualify)
Though unseeded, Droegemueller has shown all year long that he can hang with the best wrestlers in the country. I was really impressed with the way Droegemueller scrapped with #3 ranked Real Woods of Stanford, but a 7-3 loss to seven seed Clay Carlson of South Dakota State proves that qualifying will be an uphill battle. Droegemeuller drew in to #2 Ian Parker of Iowa State, so qualification will likely require a run of wins in the consolation bracket.
149: Jaden Van Maanen (#7 seed, top five qualify)
Van Maanen has been right there with the guys he will likely need wins over to qualify, but in each of those bouts he has come up just short. Most frustrating was Van Maanen’s final loss of the year to #4 seed Jarrett Degen of Iowa State. Van Maanen did the nearly impossible when he took Degen down to tie their match in the second period, but took the bottom position in the third and was ridden out for the 4-3 loss. Van Maanen has a draw ripe with upset potential, as he will likely face South Dakota State’s Henry Pohlmeyer in the quarterfinals. Pohlmeyer beat Van Maanen 3-0 in their dual meet up three weeks ago. Qualifying on the backside would mean beating Greg Gaxiola of Fresno State and then Degen or Northern Colorado freshman Andrew Alirez. To be honest, I really like Van Maanen’s chances.
157: Jared Franek (#2 seed, top five qualify)
All eyes should be on Franek’s potential semifinal matchup with #11 ranked Wyatt Sheets of Oklahoma State. Sheets, the number three seed in the tournament, has been the talk of the weight class since upending Iowa’s Kaleb Young two weeks ago. Franek on the other hand, has been flying under the radar since a disappointing DNP at the Southern Scuffle. Franek has won ten in a row since the Scuffle, so his confidence should be sky-high. A win over Sheets would set him up nicely headed into the national tournament. Iowa State’s David Carr is at the top of the bracket. Carr handled Franek 11-4 early in the year, but Carr has also missed a month due to injury.
165: Andrew Fogarty (#2 seed, top four qualify)
The only thing Fogarty hasn’t done in the Big 12 tournament is win a title. Fogarty enters his senior season a two-time Big 12 finalist including a heartbreaking overtime loss to Utah Valley’s Demetrius Romero last March. The RS Senior Bison is currently ranked 11 in the nation and the bracket sets up pretty nicely to the finals, where Fogarty would get his first crack at Okie State freshman Travis Wittlake. Wittlake is currently ranked #7 in the nation.
174: Luke Weber (Unseeded, top five qualify)
Part of me wants to believe that Luke Weber is a bad enough dude to do the unthinkable and qualify for the NCAA tournament here, and his talent is absolutely at qualifier level. That said, Weber started the year in a battle with Jared Franek for the #1 spot at 157 and bumped to 174 (like a boss) to fill in for injuries. The size differential has been noticeable for me streaming from home. I would be surprised if Weber even weighs in close to 170 this weekend. That said, he drew into what I think is a nice spot with Oklahoma State’s #5 seed Joe Smith. Smith hasn’t been at an All American level this season and Weber does enough funky things to beat anyone. I’m not sure what will happen with Weber this weekend, but I can assure you it will be fun to watch. Weber never disappoints.
184: Noah Cressel (Unseeded, top five advance)
Cressel wrestled pretty well in February, but a tech fall loss to #3 Zach Carlson of South Dakota State and a 12-5 loss to #4 Alan Clothier of Northern Colorado make a statement as to the uphill battle Cressel faces to qualify. His draw is nice, as he get #6 seed Darrien Roberts of OU out the gate.
197: Cordell Eaton (#8 seed, top six qualify)
197 is loaded in the Big Twelve, which could be interpreted positively or negatively for a guy like Eaton. On the negative end, the weight class is loaded. On the positive, that means there are six qualifiers to spread around. Paths to qualify absolutely exist for Eaton. As the #8 seed, Eaton will essentially need one win he isn’t expected to get to advance to NCAAs in his last chance. I also think finishing seventh would give Eaton a solid shot at a wild card given his season resume. That extra win I’m talking about would need to come at the expense of #1 Noah Adams of West Virginia, or #4 Steven Buchanan of Wyoming. Buchanan defeated Eaton 4-3 in the Wyoming dual in January, so a path to victory is absolutely there. Given that Eaton is a senior looking to break through, I really like the chances that this happens
285: Brandon Metz (#7 seed, top seven advance):
No one should be motivated more by a poor Big 12 performance from last season than Metz. Metz, who gave the Big 12 a qualifier spot based on his regular season body of work, went 0-2 at Tulsa last year and a lot of the same guys stand in his way this season. Metz has a bye to the quarterfinals, where he will wrestle a familiar opponent in Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel. Metz wrestled Gremmel tough in the dual two weeks ago, but the West Fargo product’s decision to take neutral was his undoing in the third period. Ideally, Metz could choose the bottom position and gets away in the third to tie the match, That or Metz needs an early takedown allowing him to choose neutral. The chances of Metz not qualifying this year are slim to none, but a strong Big 12 showing would be a huge momentum builder headed into Minneapolis two weeks from now.
It seems that all of North Dakota is headed to US Bank for the NCAA championships, including what should be a massive NDSU contingency. The question is, how many Bison will we have the opportunity to watch? I think the Bison are locked for four, but end up sneaking someone else through for a total of five. Six would be great and is absolutely possible. If they qualify seven, NDwrestle is getting wild in MSP.