Eyeing a legacy: DSU wrestler to make second national tourney appearance

197-pound competitor Payson Dirk returns to NAIA National Tourney in hopes of bringing back the national title.

DSU senior Payson Dirk has eyes of determination as he prepares to return to the NAIA National Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Payson Dirk.)

All good things come to an end at some point in time, but for Dickinson State University’s 197-pound senior wrestler Payson Dirk, his collegiate athletic career will be coming to an end in style when he travels to Wichita, Kan. representing Dickinson State in the NAIA National Tournament.

After having a bye in the first round of the Heart of American Conference National Qualifier, Dirk looked like an athlete determined to return to the national tournament. His hard hitting performances, earning a pin over William Penn’s Ray Lugo in 42 seconds to advance to the third round where he earned a pin victory over Missouri Valley’s Dayton Brown, advanced him to the championship.

Dirk then lost in the championship match against Baker’s Brett Bober, but despite the loss the senior has high hopes he will succeed in the NAIA National Tournament for the second time in his collegiate career — the first coming as a junior in last year.

Dirk was the only athlete from Dickinson State to qualify for the national tournament from the conference qualifier.

“It’s a good feeling. Starting to feel like everything is paying off, it’s good stuff,” Dirk said. “Not enough good things to say … a lot of stuff that I owe to a lot of people down here. A lot of guys that should be here that didn’t get their chance.”


As a kid growing up in South Dakota, wrestling was not often on the mind of the young Dirk who didn’t pick up the sport until the late (for wrestling) age of 9-years-old.

“I wasn’t a very tough kid, so I needed a way to become a tough kid,” he said.

From then on, the sport of wrestling became the passion of Dirk who didn’t take long to see progress and success. Eventually his passion became a love-story of determination and success as he devoted himself to lifting weights, getting stronger, and studying tape to feed his insatiable appetite for the matt. His goal was simple — become the best wrestler he could be.

As his body and his skills continued to grow and high school lay ahead.He never lost sight of what mattered most, enjoying the sport.

“It was always ‘just do what you can do’ and know that I’ve always had the philosophy of ‘get as good as you can and just see where it goes, just keep having fun,’” Dirk said. “I would never put a number on it or anything like that.”

Now, in his senior year of college with some critical success already donning the rafters, he embarks on what could be his final appearance on a wrestling mat as a competitor. Dirk now prepares for the next two days of competition and another title. Despite the pressure, he approaches it much the same as he has since he was an adolescent — training to be the best, but enjoying every second as he prepares to battle on the national stage.

“No pressure, just pretty much business as usual, kind of a good philosophy we’ve been coached at ever since I got here. It helps a ton,” he said. “Give all I got, that’s all I can do.”

Blue Hawks’ Head Coach Justin Schlecht shared his thoughts on Dirk going to the national tournament, which is set to begin on Friday, March 5.


“To have him in the national tournament is great, he was a national qualifier last year, this year I think the nerves based on what we have seen, you can tell he’s in a lot better situation, which is good to see out of it,” Schlecht said. “He’s just a lot more relaxed, that’s great to see out of him … He’s got a nice calm before the storm chills in him right now and we’re excited about that for him. Now it’s just kind of refining some things.”

Schlecht, while not giving up any game plans, discussed some of the preparation that the coach and athlete have been working to prepare for the upcoming battles on the mat.

“We’ve been working on just being patient with him and his matches,” he said. “We don’t have to go out and score, we want to score lots of points but we don’t have to score all 10 in the first minute-and-a-half. We want to make sure that when we have opportunities we take them but that doesn’t mean we have to force opportunities either.”

Schlecht added, “We’ve really been working on making sure the opportunity is right and don’t force action if it’s not there. Pick your poison and be patient with it and usually address that and he’s wrestling a lot better with those kinds of things so staying physical and he’s doing a great job of that.”

Now in his sixth year as head coach of Dickinson State, Schlecht also has experience in Dirk’s situation as he is well-known for battling in the NAIA National Tournament himself and becoming a three-time NAIA National Champion and is now in the Blue Hawks’ Hall of Fame. Schlecht knows what the senior will need to do to bring home the national title.

Nevertheless, Schlecht may want to see the best out of his 197-pound competitor, he also hopes to see the senior enjoy his time on the mat and not take it for granted.

“Just hope that he goes out there and wrestles with no regrets and walks off the mat knowing ‘that’s the best me, that was 100% everything I had,’” Schlecht said. “Just got to wrestle hard, make sure it’s at 100% effort, leave no stone left unturned … if he does that, all will be well. Some great opportunities will be made and had, and we’ll come home smiling.”

Dirk may have been the only athlete to qualify for the NAIA National Tournament at the national qualifier, but Schlecht gave praise to all of his players for battling what he called a “tricky” season with a 5-4 overall record and placing fifth out of nine teams at the national qualifier.


“It’s been a lot of challenges in a lot of different ways. I have to give hats off to the guys. I think they did a great job of handling all of those adversities and all of those kinds of things. I think they’ve done a great job of it. But it has definitely been tricky by all means,” he said.

Schlecht added, “even in a normal year we talk about the adversities and how they are just all learning opportunities and that kind of stuff and we just gotta keep pressing forward one foot in front of the other. I think the guys have done a great job of managing that this whole year and done a great job as tough matches came up, or tough situations in matches came up, they’ve done a great job of not letting that get to them. Now we just keep moving forward.”

For Dirk, with these final two days counting an official end to his collegiate career, he is looking forward to doing all he can on the mat and to make Dickinson State University proud.

When asked what he hopes others will take away from his upcoming battles, he answered with a humble and leadership tone.

The NAIA National Tournament will conclude on March 6 and Dirk is focused on the little things.

“Just do good things and good things happen,” he said.

Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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