FARGO — Home for Dan Stibral is Tabor, S.D., although the North Dakota State heavyweight wrestler went to high school in Scotland, S.D., his freshman and sophomore years before the school partnered with Bon Homme, S.D., his last two seasons. Confused?
It’s a typical small-town story for an NDSU athlete with a farm background. Home, to be precise, is a 1,500-acre farm consisting mainly of soybeans and corn that is about 15 miles from both Scotland and Bon Homme.
In other words, the kid isn’t afraid to work.
During the school year it was school, wrestling practice and weightlifting.
“In the summer, it was working fence, working cattle and working fields,” Stibral said.
He’s working on his fifth and final season at NDSU in a wrestling career that has been a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
“It’s had its ups and downs, just like life pretty much,” Stibral said. “But I’ve enjoyed my time here being a Bison. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
NDSU is hosting its last two home duals of the season Saturday against Stanford and Sunday against Air Force. It’s a heavy-duty doubleheader. Stanford from the Pac-12 Conference is the No. 21-ranked team in the country and with Air Force, the Bison have another chance to continue their fine Big 12 Conference season.
NDSU is 4-1 in league duals and the Air Force match will be Senior Day. Five seniors will be honored: 133-pounder Cam Sykora, 165-pounder Andrew Fogarty, 174-pounder Lorenzo De La Riva, 197-pounder Cordell Eaton and Stibral.
Of those five, Stibral is the least highly regarded on the mat. Off it? That’s another story. The bio on the NDSU athletic website calls him “Gentleman Dan.”
“Always being courteous and respectful,” Stibral said. “It’s about good sportsmanship, attributes like that.”
It’s about hanging in there, despite getting beat out of a starting spot as an upperclassmen. That’s not easy to swallow for most college athletes.
“It’s difficult not being ‘the guy,’” Stibral said. “But we’re a team here and we all have our responsibilities. It’s just not about yourself. Like any other sports here at NDSU, we’re a big family and we try to make each other better every day.”
Stibral spent his first two years as the primary backup to Ben Tynan, who was an NCAA qualifier his senior year.
The following season will go down as Stibral’s best. Taking advantage of being the full-time starter, he went 22-14 including a 4-4 dual mark in Big 12 Conference matches. He just missed reaching the NCAA tournament, going 4-2 in the Big 12 Championships.
He had two highlights that year that will probably never be forgotten. He recorded the decisive points in a 19-16 win over No. 18 Central Michigan, coming from behind to win his match. Two weeks later, with NDSU leading No. 12 Cornell 17-16 but with Stibral trailing in his match, he recorded a takedown with 11 seconds remaining to take an 8-7 victory and secure a Bison win.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Metz took over as the primary dual starter at heavyweight in the past two seasons. Metz heads into this weekend ranked 21st in the country. It’s the reality of the sport: The spot is usually earned by performance in practice, not given to somebody just because they’re a returning starter.
Stibral came from a small-town environment where he was the dude. He was a two-time South Dakota state champion who put together a 76-match winning streak. He had a career record of 146-16 with his last loss during his sophomore season.
In the summer, he was a USA Wrestling Junior All-American in both freestyle and Greco-Roman.
NDSU, however, was another level.
“It was a big shock when I first started practice up here,” Stibral said. “They showed you just where you were at. It was just a different level of competition.”
He stuck it out though. His best performance is yet to come — in the agriculture industry. Stibral, an all-Big 12 first team academic selection, graduated last year with a degree in agricultural systems management and is currently working on his MBA. He is vice president of the NDSU Student-Advisory Council.
He finished an internship at Bobcat and plans on making Fargo his home.
“I’ve been wrestling since I could pretty much walk,” Stibral said. “I’ll miss coming into the room seeing the guys, but not the two-a-days. It’s not easy, wrestling. It’s definitely one of the toughest college sports in my mind just because you have to compete every day for that position.”