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NDSU's Kish faces alma mater

FARGO — Roger Kish won 117 wrestling matches while competing for the University of Minnesota in a career that included a Big Ten Conference title and an NCAA Division I runner-up finish. He was a team captain and one of those leaders that every program needs.

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The Gophers rewarded him by naming Kish a graduate assistant coach for the 2008-09 season. It was one of those early breaks that can jump-start any young man’s coaching career.

Ironically, his beloved maroon and gold is now a program he needs to beat, and we’re not talking about a head-to-head wrestling dual. It’s something more important than that for a program trying to become a regular in the Division I top 25 poll.


The Bison need to stop that Division I train to Minneapolis.

NDSU will rarely, ever, be in a position to hold back that blue-chip national five-star recruit that has offers everywhere. It’s the Big Ten after all, a better option than NDSU’s Western Wrestling Conference.

No, where the Bison need to stop the bleeding are those so-so Big Ten prospects that would rather go to Minnesota and spend a couple of years, or more, trying to make the lineup.

“The University of Minnesota is a great wrestling program, and for a while as we made the transition, they needed to be at a program like Minnesota to get better,” Kish said. “But as our program keeps getting better, guys realize they can do it at home and have that success here.”

That would include freshman Preston Lehmann from West Fargo, who is part of the much-heralded Bison recruiting class that got some top marks nationwide. With his older brother Tyler Lehmann and senior transfer Justin LaValle, who grew up in Moorhead, there’s a sense that the top local kids have stayed home.

Tonight, NDSU hosts the University of Missouri in a test of how far away the Bison are from Big 12 competition. It make take a little longer with 27 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the roster, but the folks across the country that know wrestling figure the talent level has taken a hike in Fargo.

Time will tell.

“The more success we have on the mat, we’ll continue to grow the attraction of coming here, especially with these local guys,” Kish said. “And we’re getting more local guys. That’s great for us.”

Amateur Wrestling News and Intermat both ranked NDSUs’ recruiting class the fourth-best in the country. I’ve never been a devout follower of recruiting rankings, but that’s still some pretty good Division I publicity.

Kish said he’s in no hurry to start pulling redshirts — he wants to see how they do in open tournaments before burning a year of eligibility. Neither Lehmann is scheduled to be in the lineup tonight against Missouri. That’s the beauty of wrestling — you can have all the accolades you want, but it still has to be proven on the mat.

For NDSU, stopping that train to Minneapolis is a good start.

Kolpack is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.