Photo by Paul Flessland
Featured photo by Mike Smith | MatShots
On November 14, 2015, South Dakota State 125-pounder Cam Sykora was locked in a heated match inside the Fargodome only three months into his college wrestling career. The five-time Minnesota state champion had fought his way to the title match at the Bison Open.
Sykora was taking his redshirt year for the Jackrabbits. The Top 100 recruit, according to Flowrestling, had to wait behind a talented class of junior and seniors, and overall, more polished college wrestlers before he could start wearing the SDSU singlet.
In the meantime, he wrestled unattached, entering as many tournaments as he could to get the experience he needed. His first match came at the Daktronics Open, where he came away victorious and eventually finished the day with three wins and three losses.
The next time he would step in a Fargo ring was at the Bison Open, a place where he had wrestled for years growing up only 45 minutes out of town in Wheaton, Minnesota. Sykora wrestled for his high school team, Border West co-op, where he accumulated a 163- 1 record his last four seasons. But high school wrestling and state championships weren’t enough.
“If you’re going to nationals, you have to have the mindset that you’re going to win it no matter what. No matter who it is, that’s the goal – to win.”
— Freshman Cam Sykora, Wrestling
Sykora joined Tech Team Wrestling Club out of Fargo when he was in elementary school. He would travel two-to-three times a week to the gym ran by Ryan Kringlie and Steve Walton. This is where Sykora said he was exposed to the best wrestlers in the nation and the top college coaches.
Wrestling in the biggest tournaments in the nation is where South Dakota State head coach Chris Bono and NDSU head coach Roger Kish found Sykora. Originally, Sykora picked NDSU to continue his wrestling career before changing his mind and officially signing with the Jackrabbits.
He was back in Fargo on that mid-November night in 2015. The unattached redshirt, Sykora, was set to battle North Dakota State’s Josh Rodriguez. The future three-time NCAA Championship qualifier Rodriguez handled Sykora with ease, winning a major decision 20-7. It was the final match Sykora would wrestle for South Dakota State.
“It just started with two of my really good buddies who both quit the team and left right before me,” Sykora said. “Me and Coach Kish always had a good connection throughout high school because I used to come up in the summer and train with Josh (Rodriguez). This was the only place I was considering when I was transferring.
Sykora remained at SDSU last spring, taking classes even though he was off the wrestling team. He transferred to NDSU last fall and started wrestling after Christmas.
When Sykora hit the mat for the first time as a Bison, he won his first match at 133 pounds, in NDSU’s dual with Northern Colorado. He eventually finished the season undefeated in dual matches, going a perfect 12-0. Sykora amassed 25 total wins, including a third-place finish in the Big 12 Championship, qualifying him for the NCAAs as a redshirt freshman.
The goal is always a national championship for Sykora. He finished 1-2 in this year’s NCAAs, but the Bison know he’ll return to this stage again with a title in sight.
Speaking With Sykora
Why did you end up going to SDSU originally?
“My family, we had some family ties there. That had some stuff to do with it. My uncle is a big booster at SDSU, but it just wasn’t the school for me. It wasn’t the atmosphere, I guess.”
“It just started when two of my really good buddies both quit the team and left right before me. Our team captain that I was pretty close with ended up quitting too, so a lot of stuff played into that. Me and Coach Kish always had a good connection throughout high school because I used to come up in the summer and train with Josh and stuff like that. This was the only place I was considering when I was transferring.”
The SDSU dual was an intense match this year. What was that experience like going against the old team?
“There’s definitely bad blood no matter what. I mean, I transferred out to North Dakota State from South Dakota State. I don’t think they really like me right now, I mean, I got nothing against them. I have friends there still, but it’s just that rivalry. No one really likes each other when you step out to the mat. I thought it was really fun. The atmosphere was really cool.”
What’s your mindset like right now knowing that you’re about to wrestle at your first NCAA Championships?
“I’m not nervous at all. I was really excited for two days, but now, it’s like what our coaches say, you have to refocus, change the goal. The goal in mind for the year was to qualify, get that out of the way first, and now, cross that off and now it’s about trying to get on that podium and on top of the podium. If you’re going to nationals, you have to have the mindset that you’re going to win it no matter what. No matter who it is, that’s the goal – to win.”