Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography and Nolan Schmidt
Cam Sykora leads a talented core of Bison grapplers.
Wrestling is usually an individual sport. An athlete going toe-to-toe with his competitor in a test of strength, will and grit. In collegiate wrestling, individual successes also pave the way to overall team success. For Cam Sykora, he embraces team success over individual glory. Sykora believes this year’s wrestling program is different, a “brotherhood” as he describes it. Given the talent they have top to bottom, it’s safe to say Bison wrestling is ready to take the next step up the Big 12 ladder.
A perfect way to take that next step for the Bison was their victory over then17th ranked Northwestern in their first dual. Sykora earned a decision victory in his match at 133 pounds. For NDSU, it was a vital victory to attain on the road to success on the mat. “We went in and we were expecting to win, most people probably thought we couldn’t beat that team, Big Ten team like that,” Sykora said. “We have a pretty special group and a really good bond where I think we’re just going to keep rolling.”
Sykora has only seen success in his wrestling career, both high school, and college. He was a five-time Minnesota state champion and collected a combined 70-0 record his junior and senior seasons at Wheaton High School.
As for his time at NDSU, Sykora has qualified for the NCAA championships twice. Thanks to this tremendous output on the mat, Sykora is consistently ranked at 133 pounds by national wrestling media outlets. The redshirt junior does not put a ton of stock in the numbers though.
“It’s Division I wrestling so no matter if they’re ranked or not, it’s going to be a good opponent. It’s nice to see your name ranked and when you’re wrestling someone that’s ranked, it’s kind of hard not to get a little extra edge to it,” he said. “I just keep my focus and take it one match at a time and whoever I’m wrestling, I’m just going to go out there and have fun win or lose.”
While the Bison wrestlers enjoyed three home duals in November, they went West for the rest of the month. They traveled to Fresno and Bakersfield, California, and competed at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas. Wrestlers, who are on a strict diet to make weight, are challenged when the team hits the road. It’s no different for a veteran like Sykora.
The Sykora File
- Redshirt Junior
- 133 pounds
- Wheaton, Minnesota
- Major: Sports Management
- A two-time NCAA qualifier for the Bison, Sykora has gone 2-4 in NCAA Championship matches.
- In 2017, Sykora finished second in the country in tech falls with 12 in a time of 47:59.
- At Wheaton High School, Sykora was a five-time Minnesota state champion and racked up a 70-0 record in his junior and senior seasons combined.
“It’s not so much about the travel, it’s more so about the weight and the weight management,” he said. “You have to really be disciplined in your diet earlier in the week. When you’re on the road, you’re not going to be at home getting the meals you’re expecting to eat every night that your body is used to. You got to be prepared for that when you’re eating out at restaurants when food has more sodium in it than your body is used to intaking. You really got to manage your weight. It’s nice being at home, but it’s also nice being on the road, you get to bond a lot with your team. That’s how we grow closer.”
Because wrestling is an individual sport, it can become difficult to build a leadership base. Sykora and ND SU the NDSU wrestlers do not find that to be a problem. “It’s basically me, Cordell (Eaton) and Andrew (Fogarty), we’re all the same age, so we’re kind of the leaders in the room right now,” he said. “Try to lead by example, everyone has their own way of leading too. Andrew is a little more soft-spoken, I’m probably more of the outspoken one, me and (Brent) Fleetwood are like that. The younger guys in the room see us working hard, seeing the success we’re having then I think they should be following the same regiment. That’s kind of what they see, if we’re having success on the mat and they see all the work we’re doing in the room, they’re going to want to do that too so they can have the same amount of success.”
The NDSU wrestling team has seen plenty of transition in its 61-year history. While it is still in its relative infancy in the Big 12 conference, the team looks poised to take the next step forward. Sykora looks at the team’s talent and cohesiveness and sees the growth compared to past teams. “Just by the bond that we have and it’s kind of just like a brotherhood,” he said. “We’ve never really had that in the past when I’ve been here. It’s kind of been more a clique-type thing, but when you’re all doing something together, it makes you want to win that much more.”
Much of that is thanks to the culture coach Roger Kish has instilled within the program. Sykora and the other Bison wrestlers enjoy putting their best effort in and they have adopted Kish’s mindset. “Every day coming into the room, last day before weighins they’re normally kind of crabby, but the positive vibe that they have, it’s going to put you in a positive mood,” he said. “It makes you want to go out and fight for them because it’s their job too. If you’re not putting up results, it could end badly for them, so it makes you want to fight for your coaches and teammates too.”
As for individual goals, Sykora knows he wants to perform well at the NCAA championships. He has a career record of 2-4 in NCAA tournament matches. While that is not the record he would like, that experience is sure to be to his benefit. “I’d like to be a Big 12 finalist, Big 12 champ,” he said. “I’ve been to the national tournament twice now, I’ve went 1-2 the last two years so the goal is to be top three, top five in the country and a national champ. I only got two years to do it, so the time is now. The clock is ticking.”
The Bison wrestling brotherhood is something that has not existed in the past. Thanks to veterans like Cam Sykora, they have been able to create relationships with one another in the most individual of sports. Because of that, the North Dakota State wrestling program is poised to succeed this season and beyond.