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Franek gunning for NDSU's first Division I wrestling title

The North Dakota State senior has a No. 4 seed and a title-seeking mentality heading into the NCAA championships that begin Thursday.

Northwestern's Ryan Deakin wrestles North Dakota State's Jared Franek in the 157 weight class during the quarterfinals of the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports<br/>

FARGO — There are two steps remaining in the North Dakota State wrestling career of Jared Franek. The first is to plow through the early rounds of the Division I Wrestling Championships that begin Thursday in Tulsa, Okla.

The second is to reach the top row.

The NDSU senior who has another year or eligibility remaining, and plans to use it, is gunning to become the first Bison to win a D1 national title. Steven Monk holds the school’s highest finish placing third in 2014 at 165 pounds.

“Nobody’s given anything here,” Franek said. “Nobody deserves anything. Everybody has trained for it so I do believe I’ve earned the right to be on top of the podium but a lot of people believe that. You have to make it happen.”

Franek will be joined in Tulsa by five teammates: McGwire Midkiff at 133, Kellyn March at 149, Michael Caliendo at 165, DJ Parker at 184 and Owen Pentz at 197. He’s coming off a Big 12 Conference championship and will take the No. 4 seed into nationals.


There’s also a redemption factor of sorts from Franek’s past two national tournaments built into his motivational portfolio. He was a Big 12 runnerup in 2021 but went 2-2 and didn’t reach the final eight at the NCAA Championships. Last year, he took a No. 6 seed into the tournament, but finished 2-2 once again and didn’t reach All-American status, which comprises the top eight finishers.

“You learn something every match,” Franek said. “Going into that tournament, seeds don’t really matter. You have to be ready, match No. 1 is just as tough as the last match so being ready right out of the gate and only focusing on the match in front of you is my mentality.”

Franek admits he ran into some tough opponents who were national-title level.

“Yeah, unfortunate ending but there’s definitely motivation not wanting to finish like last year or the year before,” he said.

The NDSU wrestlers who qualified for nationals were about the only ones left in the Bison practice room at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex earlier this week. The workouts were short and not very intense, with the intent to build toward on-match performance starting Thursday.

“Getting my mental state right, that’s probably the biggest thing,” Franek said.

If Franek, 22-1, is 1-A in NDSU’s best shot at a high finish, Caliendo is 1-B. The redshirt freshman turned in a breakthrough season and appears to be on pace to reach Franek’s high standing in the NCAA wrestling circles.

Caliendo notched a No. 7 seed and will face the 26th seed in his first match. The winner faces the winner of the No. 10 vs. No. 23 seeds. In other words, getting off to a good start looks doable for Caliendo, who is 23-3.


“I think I have a good spot in the brackets,” he said. “You have to beat everybody to win anyway so just going to go in there and do what I need to do. I always believe I can win every single match.”

Bison head coach Roger Kish said all of his qualifiers are healthy for this time of the year. NDSU hasn’t had an All-American since Hayden Zillmer and Kurtis Julson finished sixth and eighth respectively in 2015.

Franek, for starters, is out to change that.

“I think he has something to prove to himself,” Kish said. “He knows he’s able to compete with the best guys. For him, it’s about doing it at the right time and I think that’s what it really comes down to this week.”

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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