SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University wrestling program has now raked in four-straight GPAC wrestler of the year awards and three-consecutive GPAC coach of the year honors. On Wednesday, the conference named senior Ceron Francisco the Hauff Mid-America Sports/GPAC Wrestler of the Year and Andrew Nicola the Hauff Mid-America Sports/GPAC Wrestling Coach of the Year.
Francisco was one of seven grapplers from the GPAC champion Bulldogs to garner some form of all-conference recognition. The star heavyweight was joined on the first team by fellow NAIA North Qualifier titlist Kirk Kaliszewski (165), regional runner up Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) and third-place finisher Josh Nelsen (184). Second team accolades went to Alexander Reimers (197) and both DJ McIntyre (285) and Dmitri Smith (125) garnered honorable mention.
Francisco follows in the footsteps of previous Concordia GPAC wrestler of the year winners Emilio Rivera (2013-14), Enrique Barajas (2014-15) and Andrew Schulte (2015-16). Meanwhile, Nicola earned coach of the year distinction while leading the program to GPAC dual and tournament championships for the third year in a row. Nicola will take nine wrestlers to the national championships in Topeka, Kan., next week.
Ranked as the No. 3 heavyweight in the nation, Francisco has been nearly unbeatable this season. He’s 23-2 after claiming a NAIA North title for the second year in a row. His career record stands at 97-52, putting him three wins away from becoming the second wrestler in program history to reach 100 victories. This marks Francisco’s third-consecutive first team all-conference honor. He was also an All-American in 2015.
Kaliszewski has peaked at the right time. A Ramona, Calif., native and Palomar College transfer, Kaliszewski has won eight matches in a row heading into the national tournament. He is 19-14 overall after winning the 165-pound NAIA North title. He defeated Morningside’s Derik Bailey in the championship bout.
The winningest wrestler in school history, Burkhardt Jr. rose up to the first team after being named second team All-GPAC as a sophomore and junior. He has placed in the top three of the regional tournament at 197 pounds in each of his four years. He owns a career record of 119-56 and is 33-8 in his senior season. Ranked fifth nationally at 197, Burkhardt Jr. will aim for his third career All-America plaque.
Nelsen, who hails from Marysville, Kan., has a record of 21-17 in his second season wrestling for the Bulldogs. He went 4-1 at last week's NAIA North Qualifier. He clinched his berth to nationals by defeating Caleb Deemer of Morningside, 7-4, in the third-place bout. Nelsen enters nationals having won nine of his last 10 matches.
A Seward native, Reimers has locked up his first career national tournament appearance courtesy of a third-place 197-pound finish at last week’s regional event. Reimers will enter nationals with a record of 19-14. Reimers rose to the occasion at the north qualifier by majoring 13th-ranked Jeremiah Gerl of Hastings.
Both McIntyre (17-10) and Smith (16-10) both placed fourth at the GPAC tournament and received wild card national tournament selections from conference coaches. Smith has now been tabbed honorable mention All-GPAC twice and second team all-conference once. McIntyre was a second team choice in 2014-15 before red-shirting last year.
The season will continue for the nine Bulldogs who are part of the national qualifying field. The 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will unfold at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., March 3-4.