2012-13 wrestling season preview

By on Nov. 7, 2012 in Wrestling

2012-13 wrestling season preview

At a glance
2011-12 Finish: 3-3 in GPAC duals (T-third); 19th place at NAIA National Championships; ranked No. 17 in postseason coaches’ poll
Head Coach: Dana Vote (first year)
Key Returners: Jordan Fowlkes (125); Alex Stepanek (141); Brandon Starkey (149); Alfredo Torres (174); Seth Crane (184); Dillon Heesch (285); Frank Ayala (285)
Key Losses: Adam Joseph (133); Jacob Williams (141); Julian Silva (197)
Key Newcomers:
-Austin Mogg: 2010 NCAA DIII All-American; 92 career collegiate wins in three seasons at Buena Vista (Iowa)
-Austin Starkey: Three-time Nebraska state high school runner up
2011-12 GPAC All-Conference: Adam Joseph (first team); Jake Williams (first team); Alfredo Torres (second team); Dillon Heesch (second team)
2011-12 NAIA All-America: Joseph; Williams; Julian Silva

A breath of fresh air has been breathed into the Concordia wrestling program, which saw the addition of first-year head coach Dana Vote and a new wrestling practice facility during the offseason. Vote, most recently the top assistant at NCAA Division III Buena Vista University (Iowa), has quickly sought to cultivate a championship attitude and approach in each of his wrestlers.

“The championship lifestyle that we’re preaching here is just doing the right things all the time,” Vote said. “Whether you want to do it or not, do it anyway. That means getting the right amount of sleep, doing the right things in the classroom, doing the right things in the wrestling room.

“Guys are buying in. Our grades are going up from where they were last year. Guys are committing to the practices. Our body fat percentages are going down. You can just see – we look like more fit athletes.”

Vote hopes his program of high-energy practices will allow the Bulldogs to offset some of the roster turnover that included the losses of three All-Americans from a squad that finished 19th as a team at nationals last year. However, seven wrestlers who have National Championships experience are back in the fold for 2012-13.

Headed by senior Brandon Starkey at 149 pounds and junior Dillon Heesch, ranked as the No. 10 heavyweight in the nation at the conclusion of last season, the Bulldogs plan to have several more individuals make a splash on the national stage.

Other former national qualifiers include Alex Stepanek (133), Alfredo Torres (184), Seth Crane (184) and Frank Ayala (285). While the overall numbers are low, the Bulldogs believe the quality of their lineup will allow them to compete in a difficult GPAC field.

“I have big expectations,” Starkey said. “I would like to see us in the top 10 in the nation this year. We might not have a lot of guys, but we’re all good wrestlers and we all work real hard. That’s what it takes.”

Unfortunately, Concordia will likely be without senior standout Jordan Fowlkes (125) this season as he recovers from a neck injury that also sidelined him last year. However, the Bulldogs should be able to fill out the remaining nine spots in the lineup with quality wrestlers, including two who are ranked individually to begin the season: Crane (No. 15 in the NAIA at 184) and Heesch (No. 8 at 285).

Stepanek, a junior from St. Paul, Neb., returns after eclipsing the 20-win mark last season. He is making the transition from 141 last season to 133 this year, opening the door for freshman Chandler Brandert (Adams, Neb.) at 141. Brandert has already shown a lot of improvement in practice, according to Vote.

Starkey serves as the team’s leader and most experienced wrestler at 149. The St. Paul, Neb., native, who has competed in 97 matches as a Bulldog, is expected to be high on the stand by season’s end. Brandon Starkey is joined on this year’s squad by his younger brother in incoming freshman Austin, who was a three-time Nebraska high school state runner up. Austin will compete with junior Martin Dobler for time at 157.

The Starkey sibling rivalry has created an interesting dynamic at practice.

“In high school we were on the same team, but it was a big weight difference,” the elder Starkey said. “We weigh almost the same amount now, and I practice against him a lot. Neither one of us wants to lose to each other so we practice pretty hard.”

Junior Nick Sheppard and sophomore Kale Hintz come in next at 165 and 174, respectively, while Cameron Bruce holds down 197 after a prep career that included two state qualifier appearances in Kansas.

The Bulldogs have the most depth at 184 and 285, with two potential All-Americans at each spot. Vote says both Crane and Torres at 184 have set a great example for the rest of the team through their hard work. At 285, Ayala and Heesch have their sights set on earning a place on the stand come early March after falling short in past seasons. Heesch will first have to overcome injury to get back on the mat.

Concordia begins the season just outside the NAIA Wrestling Coaches' Preseason Top 20 Poll, grouped in the “others receiving votes” category. While conference and national titles may be out of reach this season, Vote plans to take Bulldog wrestling to great heights in a timely fashion.

“We’re hoping that second year we’re competing for that GPAC conference title,” Vote said. “It’s in our grasp. We want to splash onto the national scene in the top five of the country quick. Obviously with facilities like this there’s the opportunity for us to compete for a national title. We have it in our plan and in our system, and that’s what we’re working towards.”

In this his first season at the helm, in only the fourth season of the program’s existence, Vote says his grapplers will focus on enjoying great individual seasons.

“Right now we’re focused on working towards that national title as a team down the road,” Vote said. “We’re focusing on having individual success. Guys are putting in individual workouts. We’re putting plans together for guys and we’re just trying to get the most out of every athlete we can.”

Buena Vista transfer Austin Mogg (133) will make a big impact next season after he redshirts during the 2012-13 campaign. Mogg, who has one season of eligibility left, is a 2010 NCAA Division III All-American with 92 career collegiate victories under his belt. His arrival, along with the determination of the current roster, signals a bright future for Concordia wrestling.

“It shows people that he believes in the coaching system,” Vote said of Mogg’s transfer. “He knew what to expect and he knows where we’re going. He’s excited about it and he’s getting other guys excited about it, too. It’s a huge asset for us.”

The Bulldogs will take to the mat for the first time under Vote at the Swede Open on Saturday. The event, hosted by Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., gets started at 9 a.m. Vote will debut at home on Nov. 29 when Concordia welcomes York College for a dual meet.