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Bison wrestlers separating themselves from bottom half of Big 12

North Dakota State toys with Utah Valley in Big 12 Conference victory on Sunday.

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North Dakota State's Jared Franek sizes up Utah Valley's Tyson Humpherys in the 157-pound match Sunday at the Scheels Center. Franek won the match by major decision and the Bison won 31-12.
Zachary Lucy/NDSU Athletics
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FARGO — It took 1 minute, 1 second for North Dakota State’s wrestling team to show Utah Valley who’s boss in the upper echelon of the Big 12 Conference. That’s how long it took Kellyn March to pin his opponent in the first match of the afternoon.

The Bison have arrived.

“It’s always a good way to start a dual, getting a pin,” March said. “It’s a confidence booster for everyone, gets the team rolling and it’s good to get the momentum going in a dual.”

This no longer appears to be the program that was transitioning from Division II to Division I. This is no longer a team that was part of the Western Wrestling Conference, a collective group of schools that formed a league to have a league.

In 2016, the Bison joined a Big 12 that for years featured powerful programs like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Missouri. Trying to get in the same room as that company has taken years of building.

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NDSU may not be on the same level yet, but it’s getting closer. One clue came Sunday against Big 12 member Utah Valley: it wasn’t a matter if the Bison were going to beat the Wolverines, it was a question of naming the final score.

NDSU 31, Utah Valley 12.

The Bison moved to 3-1 in the Big 12 and 8-2 overall, although wrestling is all about the post-season league and national tournaments and not regular season conference standings. Still, it’s a measurement of progress.

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NDSU's Kellyn March rises to celebrate his pin of Utah Valley's Isaiah Delgado in the 149-pound match Sunday at the Scheels Center. The Bison won 31-12.
Zachary Lucy/NDSU Athletics

“I think we’re in a good spot,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish. “I think we’re well on our way and preparing for March. We’re happy with the talent and the adjustments guys are making from week to week.”

NDSU rolled Big 12 foe Wyoming 32-3 on Saturday night in a match that was seconds from being a shutout. It’s the type of performance that an Oklahoma State or Iowa State would pull on opponents over the years.

The margin of victory was the largest ever for a Bison team over Wyoming and, not only that, the biggest by 10 points.

“It shows how dangerous we can be when we’re putting everything together,” March said. “I think we can do some big things. We’re a dangerous team when we’re doing what we can do.”

Perhaps the biggest question mark for NDSU is why 165-pound redshirt freshman Michael Caliendo is ranked 13th in the country at his weight class. He’s 15-2 overall with wins over the No. 2-, 19th- and 25-ranked wrestlers and the only two defeats to the Nos. 1 and 2 guys in his weight class.

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At least senior Jared Franek doesn’t have that overlooked question. He’s No. 2 at 157 and showed why against Utah Valley. He followed March’s pin — the match started at 149 — with a major decision and it was quickly 10-0 Bison.

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North Dakota State's Gaven Sax works on Utah Valley's Cameron Haddock during the 174-pound match on Sunday at the Scheels Center. Sax won by fall and the Bison won 31-12.
Zachary Lucy/NDSU Athletics

Gaven Sax registered a pin at 174 and D.J. Parker pulled off a technical fall with ease at 184 and it was 24-0 at the intermission. This against a Utah Valley squad that finished in the middle of the pack in the 33-team Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and the 44-team Reno Tournament of Champions.

“The guys are buying in and they believe,” Kish said. “There’s a level of confidence that they’ve created among each other.”

At that point, NDSU went with redshirt freshman Spencer Moobery at 197 over veteran Owen Pentz, who won by pin against Wyoming. Nationally-ranked Dylan Droegemueller didn’t go at 141.

“We’ve been a really young team the past couple of years,” March said. “So we’ve been building that relationship with each other and we’re starting to click on all cylinders.”

Kish said he was happy with the way his team handled weigh-ins with a night match followed by an afternoon dual.

“To see how the guys were going to respond and how aggressive they were going to be,” Kish said. “That’s not easy for anybody but these guys handled it well.”

149: March, NDSU, pinned Delgado, 1:01. 157: Franek, NDSU, dec. Humphreys 12-4. 165: Caliendo, NDSU, dec. 10-4. 174: Sax, NDSU, pinned Haddock, 3:10. 184: Parker, NDSU, tech. fall Morse, 18-0, 2:59. 197: Forbes, UV, dec. Mooberry, 8-3. 285: Trussell, UV, dec. Moran, 3-2 (OT). 125: Mauger, UV, pinned Henningson, 2:56. 133: Midkiff, NDSU, dec. Nelms, 10-2. 141: Solis, NDSU, dec. Emmer, 12-5.

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