DES MOINES – Trent Sprenkle knew it wouldn’t be easy. But he also knew it could be done.
The North Dakota State senior knocked off two-time 125-pound national champion Matt McDonough of Iowa in the Round of 12 at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on Friday evening, securing the first All-American finish by a Bison wrestler since the school joined the Division I ranks.
Sprenkle went 4-0 in the 125-pound consolation bracket on Friday to ensure a finish of no worse than sixth place, but there was no debating which moment would fill the highlight reels. Sprenkle’s takedown of McDonough 21 seconds into the first overtime period gave him a 3-1 victory over the three-time national finalist and two-time national champion.
The Billings, Mont., native went on to record a 6-2 decision over No. 12 seed Tyler Cox of Wyoming in the consolation quarterfinals, guaranteeing a top-six finish at the national tournament.
In a moment that saw five years of hard work culminate with one signature victory, Sprenkle etched his name alongside the all-time greats at NDSU. He became the seventh Division I placewinner in school history, joining names like Lee Petersen, Brad Rheingans and Mike Langlais, who achieved the feat during NDSU’s Division II days. Pat Johannes was the last Bison to earn a top-eight Division I finish, taking seventh at 177 pounds in 1988.
“Trent stood toe-to-toe with arguably one of the best 125-pounders to ever come out of Division I wrestling,” said NDSU head coach Roger Kish of Sprenkle’s win over McDonough. “He was able to hang in there until the end and capitalize on a mistake.”
“Trent deserves it,” Kish continued. “He wrestled hard, he wanted it, he stayed after it, and he was a man on a mission. He willed himself to win, and that’s something you can’t coach.”
The significance of the moment was shared, Sprenkle said.
“So many people have been so supportive – coaches, my family, my wife and girls,” reflected Sprenkle, a father to three-year-old and one-year-old daughters. “They’ve been there and it’s been harder on them than it has been on me. For them to see their hard work and my hard work pay off – it’s great. I owe so much to them.”
Sprenkle won two matches on Friday morning just to have a chance at an All-American finish, pinning Josh Martinez of Air Force in 1:07 and defeating Sean Boyle of Michigan 6-3.
No. 1 seed Alan Waters (32-1) of Missouri awaits Sprenkle (33-5) in the consolation semifinals after being upset by Penn State’s Nico Megaludis in the semifinals Friday night. Waters and Sprenkle will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
Fifth-seeded Steven Monk lost to No. 7 seed Conrad Polz of Illinois at 165 pounds by a 5-3 decision. Monk came up one win shy of All-America honors for the second straight season. The junior from Wausau, Wis., concluded his season with a 36-4 record.
Sprenkle, though, was the story of the day for the Bison. Following Sprenkle’s final match of the night, Kish could already appreciate the significance of his performance.
“You don’t put a three-time NCAA finalist out of the tournament without it being remembered,” said Kish. “It’s a big deal. He’s going to be remembered for many years to come.”
Kish also noted the statement made by Sprenkle to his Bison teammates.
“It sends a message to the rest of our guys that it can be done. It doesn’t matter where you go to school. It matters how hard you train to put yourself in a position to win big matches. I think Trent is living proof that you can go out and beat the best wrestlers in the country and do it for North Dakota State.”