Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
As just a true freshman, Kellyn March has been tasked with a tall order within North Dakota State’s wrestling program.
Wrestling at 133 pounds, March is filling a position that produced NDSU’s first Big 12 champion in Cam Sykora last season. For some, that role can be filled with over-the-top expectations and pressure. Regardless of if that is true or not, March has helped continue making 133 pounds a dangerous spot for Roger Kish and the Bison. In only his first year on campus, the Canton, S.D., native has eyes set on wrestling’s top prizes.
March began his path to success in his very first collegiate match. Facing Oregon State, the Beavers trotted out Devan Turner, the seventh-ranked 133 pounder in the country, for March to battle. The freshman, March, not only won said match, but he dominated the seventh-ranked Turner. March won by a major decision 14-5 and picked up another victory when the Bison faced Missouri later that day.
In total, March picked up five wins in the regular season including two wins in his last three matches leading into the Big 12 Championships. This included his first collegiate pin on South Dakota State’s Greg Coapstick.
With big goals in mind, we sat down with the South Dakota native to discuss the hot start and carrying the 133-pound baton for NDSU.
NDSU has had a lot of success at 133 pounds, especially in the last four or five years with Cam [Sykora] becoming the first Big 12 champion for the program. How did you approach this role from a mental standpoint, knowing all of the history behind this weight class and the fact that it has been so successful for a very long time?
To fill the shoes that Cam left is a big thing. It’s one of those things where you want to live up to those expectations and more. For me, I always have had big goals for my wrestling and stuff like that. I’m that type of person that’s going to try to one-up everyone. So now, I’m going to try to shoot for at least two Big 12 titles. Hopefully, I can be a part of that great group of 133-pounders one day. That would be something really cool.
What did winning your first few matches do for your confidence? Being able to get some victories in the early going, especially in your first collegiate matches. How important was that to really get off to a hot start?
I think it’s huge because of the COVID year. There are a lot of downsides and upsides to it. It’s good for us freshmen because normally we’d only have open tournaments, and we’d only be wrestling kids that are other freshmen. Being able to actually wrestle throughout the season as our redshirt year and getting to gauge and see where we’re at is something very special that nobody has really ever had. For us freshmen, it’s an advantage.
Was there a point where you and the coaching staff discovered that this is a situation where you could step in right away and not need to take a redshirt year?
We knew that because we had such a young team that our young guys were just going to get better and better for us as a team. For me just getting in the wrestling room and getting to learn was big. Even the conditioning and the techniques are way different at the Division I level compared to high school. When I was getting in the room, I started making some of the transitions and getting a lot better in some of those positions. It kind of just made sense that it was time to step on the mat.
It’s good for us freshmen because normally we’d only have open tournaments, and we’d only be wrestling kids that are other freshmen. Being able to actually wrestle throughout the season as our redshirt year and getting to gauge and see where we’re at is something very special that nobody has really ever had.
What were some of the biggest hurdles for you in making that jump?
You need to be very precise with your techniques. You can have good technique when you are competing, but when it comes to the difference between high school and Division I, it is that difference in your technique. You could be making little mental errors in some of the techniques that can cost you positions. Being able to get in the room and wrestle with some of those Division I guys that have been there and getting to pick their brains was important. You’ll end up making some of the moves that you have done in high school and over the course of doing that, you’ll learn that some of you old moves won’t work at this level. From there, you can diagnose what to fix. Fixing those little mental errors that you had in high school helps you make that big jump in college.
What was your decision-making process to take that jump across the border to North Dakota State instead of a school closer to home in South Dakota?
A lot of it was the coaches and just the fan base. When recruiting first opened up for me, [Roger] Kish and all those guys were the first coaches to contact me. Through the entire recruiting process, they never pressured me into making decisions, they did everything based on my timeline, they never forced me into making decisions. They were very nice to me. When I finally got to come on my official visit, just getting to witness the fan base for the football team and stuff like that, it just draws you in. You want to be a part of something like that.
You get to compete on the biggest stages in wrestling. Be that the Big 12 Championships or the NCAA Championships. You grew up competing in tournaments in Tulsa where the Big 12 Championships are held. Does that opportunity bring this thing full circle for you? Knowing that you became a great wrestler as a youngster in Tulsa and now you can prove your one of the nation’s best in the same city?
Yeah, it’s gonna be something really special because the last time that I went to Tulsa was my eighth grade year. It was for a big national tournament and so getting to see the difference will be special. From being there as a middle school kid going to a high school national tournament to being Division I and getting to go back to Tulsa and wrestle there again is going to be something really special.
Hometown: Canton, S.D.
The Big 12 Wrestling Championships kick off on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Tulsa, Okla.