Marcus Polak is determined not to have another season like last year.
The Minot State University junior finished 7-11 in a sophomore campaign both shortened and compromised by a recovery from a torn meniscus.
After finishing fifth, third and first in state tournaments for Minot High School and posting a 29-7 record as a freshman at MSU, dealing with successive failures was a new challenge.
"It was definitely very frustrating for me because I was always used to winning," Polak said. "To come out and have an injury, I was taking care of that more than I was taking care of matches. It was always in the back of my mind."
Those worries appear long gone now, as Polak has grappled to an 11-6 start this season. He has placed in three of four tournaments and won the 165-pound weight class at the University of Jamestown Open on Saturday.
Polak racked up 105 takedowns as a freshman, nearly doubling the next-closest MSU wrestler. He said he has improved his all-around technique since then, but still prefers to dictate matches.
"This year, I've just focused on doing what I wanna do instead of letting other people do what they wanna do," Polak said. "Just go out there, stay relaxed, stay calm and focus on what I can do. When it comes down to it, I've perfected the shots so I know they're there and I'm gonna take them."
Polak wrestled at 157 pounds last season, but said he never felt healthy with the constant weight cuts and recovering knee.
MSU coach Robin Ersland said Polak worked out hard this summer and arrived for the fall semester in the best early-season shape of his career. Polak competed in two large offseason tournaments - the FILA Junior National Championships and the Asics University Nationals - and finished one win short of the placing round at the FILA event.
That experience has helped Polak to his strong start this season, which includes victories over an NAIA All-American (Jamestown's Pat Nord) and NCAA Division II national qualifier (Southwest Minnesota State's Kyle Begin).
"He's got pretty good defense on his feet, he's got good offense on his feet," Ersland said. "He's definitely tough to take down, he can get the takedown, and then this year he's also been very good at winning close matches."
With victories like that, Ersland is convinced Polak can continue his success through the tough Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedule. Polak has even more ambitious goals, saying he believes he can win a national championship.
"It's the only emotion that you can have going into it," he said. "You can't think any less. If you think less than that, you're going to perform less than that."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.