Bison host Virginia in first dual as a Big 12 Conference member

FARGO-The fact North Dakota State is hosting a wrestling program from a major conference like the University of Virginia is not such a big deal anymore. For one, NDSU has been Division I long enough now to not be fazed by the name of a school.

FARGO-The fact North Dakota State is hosting a wrestling program from a major conference like the University of Virginia is not such a big deal anymore. For one, NDSU has been Division I long enough now to not be fazed by the name of a school.

And second, the Bison are one of the big boy league members themselves.

The first dual as an affiliate of the Big 12 Conference is Friday at 2 p.m. at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, and it is NDSU that enters as a nationally-ranked team. The Bison were No. 25 in the first USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.

"Just the name itself," Bison junior Josh Rodriguez said of the Big 12. "You're competing at a higher level and it pushes us and motivates us to work harder."

Rodriguez has worked himself into one of the Bison leaders. He's ranked 17th at 125 pounds and is one of a handful of veterans who are expected to be the leaders over the course of the season.

The top guy is senior Hayden Zillmer, ranked sixth at 184 pounds and poised to put together another standout season. Besides Rodriguez and Zillmer, the Bison return NCAA qualifiers in Mitch Bengston and Clay Ream, who both currently are listed at 149.

"It's early in the year and there are a lot of unanswered questions in the lineup," said NDSU head coach Roger Kish. "We'll see some things shake up in the next few weeks."

The Virginia match represents the longest home stretch for the Bison, who host the Bison Open next weekend and have Virginia Tech coming to Fargo Nov. 22. Virginia and Virginia Tech are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. NDSU does not have any of the traditional Big 12 wrestling programs Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and West Virginia on the dual schedule yet.

It's not the focus right now anyway, Kish said.

"We try not to put a logo or anything on a singlet," he said. "We'll be the same North Dakota State team we always are. We'll train hard and compete hard."