InterMat recently caught up with Kish.
You're coming off a season in which you won the WWC dual meet title, finished second in the West Regional, and 30th at the NCAAs. What's your overall assessment of the season you had?
Kish: Overall, we had an up-and-down season. Our guys compete hard. They continue to work and train hard. That's all we can ask out of them. We made a lot of mistakes throughout the year. But we keep bouncing back, learning, and getting better. Overall, I think the boys did a good job. We're happy with where we're at. Our ultimate goal is to continue to get better.
Trent Sprenkle became your first All-American by placing fifth at 125 pounds. How gratifying was it for you as a coach to see him finish his career on the All-American podium?
Roger Kish (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Kish: That's an important piece. The guy has worked hard. He has been there. He's had the experience. He was a round of 12 finisher the last three years. He came across some tough guys. A couple years back he caught Ryan Mango in the round of 12. The previous year he wrestled Zach Sanders in the round of 12. And this year obviously he wrestled Matt McDonough in the round of 12. I think having that experience under his belt and being put in those pressure situations and being able to learn from it is important. Outside of that you couldn't ask for a better ending to a career for a kid like that. He's just one of those guys who works hard day in and day out. He does it with a smile on his face. It's good to see a young man who has been there and worked so hard to come away with the All-American title. That was big for him. We were happy as coaches to see him succeed in that way.
As you touched on, Sprenkle had a win over three-time NCAA finalist Matt McDonough of Iowa in the round of 12. What did you tell him before he faced McDonough?
Kish: Our conversation really revolved around an opportunity. We talked a bit about going out there, wrestling hard, and laying it all out there. We were expecting a low-scoring, hard-fought match. We knew it was going to tough. I think that kind of played to our advantage. We capitalized on his mistakes. For us, the conversation was, 'Hey, we've got to be tougher than this guy for seven-plus minutes. If we do that and wrestle with confidence and take advantage of opportunities, then we'll be successful.
Steven Monk entered the NCAAs as the No. 5 seed at 165 pounds, but fell short of All-American honors when he lost in the round of 12. What does he need to get to the next level?
Kish: Steve is a unique talent. He has the ability to wrestle through positions that you see a lot of wrestlers uncomfortable in. That played in his favor throughout the year. He just has to continue to get better. There are different positions he has to work on. He has to find some more opportunities to attack and score points. He knows that's what he needs to work on.
You have landed a recruiting class that includes three InterMat Top 100 recruits in Mitch Bengtson, Preston Lehmann, and Clayton Ream, plus several state champions. What excites you about the recruiting class you're bringing in?
Mitch Bengtson (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Kish: Ultimately, the biggest deal is these kids are seeing our program continue to improve and take big steps. They recognize it. They understand it. And they want to be a part of it. They see the tradition of North Dakota State. That's important. As far as the individuals, they're all experienced kids. These are kids that have wrestled every day their whole lives. That experience is an important part of being successful at this level ... having all those matches under your belt and ultimately continuing to want to get better. Our goal is to recruit kids who really fit the culture here ... that is having the work ethic and the style of wrestling we're looking for. We're going to be in-your-face, let's wrestle hard, push the pace, and continue to pressure. Just that style of wrestling is something we look for. That's a big part of being successful. It all plays a role in what we're looking for ... and continuing to build a program here.
Do you anticipate all of your incoming freshmen will redshirt? Or is there a chance that some could content for spots in the lineup?
Kish: There are opportunities for guys who come in at a high level to earn their spot within the ten starters. It will take time. We want to definitely get them in here, get them on the mat, have an opportunity to see where they're at and see their potential, and make a decision down the road.
How do you sell your program at North Dakota to potential recruits?
Kish: The wrestling tradition is strong here. That's important. When we talk to different recruits it's being able to share with them the same visions that we have. The university itself is a great academic school. There's a rich tradition of wrestling here. That's what kids like. As we continue to have success in the wrestling area, it will continue to grow and stand out. Every piece is important when you try to share that with potential recruits.
In what area have you grown the most as a head coach in your two seasons at North Dakota State?
Kish: I think it's being able to help our student-athletes on a personal level, getting to know them personally and help them through different situations along the way. The majority of your kids are going to have some tough times along the way, so you need to adjust to each individual and help them personally and help them continue to be successful. That's the piece I'm confident we'll continue to do well with ... creating those personal relationships and make sure they know we're here for them.
How much does it benefit your program to have the Junior & Cadet Nationals in Fargo every summer?
Kish: I think that's important. They've had it here for 17, 18 years now. Having the opportunity to show off our program, our university, our campus, and the city of Fargo when all these kids are right here in town is important. We often have kids talk to us about it. We get a lot of people interested in the program because of the tournament. It's nice to have a lot of the best kids in the country right in our backyard.
Roger Kish battling Jake Varner in the 2008 NCAAs (Photo/The Guillotine)As a competitor at the University of Minnesota, you were an NCAA runner-up as a sophomore, finished third at the NCAAs as a junior, and then battled an injury as a senior. How much do you look back on your own career and wonder what could have been if you would have stayed healthy?
Kish: That's a great question ... It's wrestling, it's part of the sport. Injuries are part of the sport and being able to adjust to those. I'm one of a million different wrestles who have come across injuries along the way. You could definitely look back. But ultimately I try to look forward. I try to move on, look forward, and try to help the sport of wrestling. I try not to look back too much on the difficult parts. I look back and focus on all the good things my career has brought me. That's what I focus on.
Did you contemplate wrestling freestyle after you college career? Or weren't you healthy enough to be able to do that?
Kish: After so long your body just doesn't hold up. I definitely thought about it. I contemplated it a lot of times. Unfortunately, there are limitations on what your body can do. I opted to go the coaching route. I wanted to be involved in wrestling ... It's my biggest passion. I want to continue to grow my career as a coach and do everything I can to help young guys that way.
When you came out of high school as one of the nation's top recruits, did you even know North Dakota State existed?
Kish: Yeah, I competed in Fargo myself years ago, so I was familiar with Fargo and the big national tournament out here. When you get out here for a week at a time, you get opportunities to walk around and see the campus and university ... so I was very familiar with the university and the program. There are a lot of great things about this place. Then I went to Minnesota and became even more familiar with North Dakota State. We are only a few hours up the road. We would always come out here for the Bison Open.
Roger Kish and Bret Maughan coaching at the NCAAs in Des Moines (Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)Where do you see the North Dakota State wrestling program going in the next five years?
Kish: We're just going to try to get better every year. We're going to continue to help our young guys develop and be successful. Our ultimate goals are to continue to compete for the conference championships. We want to get as many guys to the NCAA tournament as possible. We want to start producing multiple All-Americans year in and year out. We want to start finding some guys in that national title match, and winning NCAA titles. Those are our goals. That's what we're going to continue to train for, compete for, and recruit for. That's where we want this program and I think we're headed in the right direction.
This story also appears in the May 10 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.