SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Underdog Jerry Stepps III has shown no regard for rankings throughout his senior season for the Concordia University wrestling program. In Thursday’s (Feb. 8) dual at Morningside, Stepps completed an 8-0 GPAC dual record while highlighting what resulted in a 22-11 dual loss for the Bulldogs. It was the final dual of the 2017-18 campaign for both sides.
Thursday’s dual came with significant implications in terms of final conference placement. The winner would finish in a three-way tie for second while the loser would drop down to fifth. Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad concluded dual action at 8-8 overall and at 5-3 in the conference.
“The story of the night was people that were putting themselves in position to score were that people that had success,” Nicola said. “We were winning several matches coming down to the wire. We shut down and they were firing off offensive attacks. They earned it and they won. It was a tough day, but the better team today won.”
Stepps III (17-15) continues to be one of the feel good stories of the season for Concordia. The St. Louis, Mo., native rarely got an opportunity to compete in dual during his first three collegiate seasons. At the GPAC duals on Jan. 27, Stepps defeated two more highly rated wrestlers as part of a 4-0 day. On Thursday, he pushed his winning streak to six by upending Devin Phaly, 12-10 (TB-1), avenging a loss from earlier this season.
Stepps’ performance is even more impressive when considering the circumstances of the day. He wrestled with a heavy heart.
Said Nicola, “It was a special win for Jerry because not only had that guy beaten him earlier in the year and was ranked ahead of him, but Jerry did a solid for the team. About 15 minutes before the dual he got a phone call that his grandmother had passed away. He didn’t wrestle his best match and was still able to come out with a victory. He’s a resilient young man.”
Other Bulldog victories were delivered by Cam Devers (141) and Darrin Miller (184). The team wins leader, Devers (24-7) dominated with a victory by technical fall (18-3) over Maren Cahill. Later in the night, Miller kept hopes of a team victory alive with a 10-6 win over Kegan Putnam. At the time, the Mustangs (6-5, 6-2 GPAC) owned a 16-11 lead.
Ultimately, the team outcome came down to six matches that were decided by two points or less. Concordia went 1-5 in those bouts, dropping decisions at 133, 157, 165, 174 and 197. At 133 Morningside’s Alex Schmitz came through with the biggest upset of the night. He eked out a 4-3 decision over Giovanni Castillo (8-4), who jumped all the way up to No. 3 in this week’s NAIA national rankings.
It’s tournament time for the Bulldogs and the rest of NAIA wrestling programs around the country. Concordia’s top 12 competitors will compete as part of the field at next Saturday’s (Feb. 17) GPAC championships hosted by Hastings. The Bulldogs have won each of their last three regional/conference tournament championship events.