SEWARD, Neb. – For the second-straight season, the Concordia University wrestling program is home to the conference wrestler of the year. On Wednesday the GPAC tabbed senior Enrique Barajas for the league’s highest honor, a year after Emilio Rivera earned the same award. In addition, third-year leader Dana Vote garnered GPAC coach of the year accolades and a total of nine Bulldogs collected some form of all-conference recognition.
Barajas is joined by three other Bulldogs on the all-conference first team: Rivera (133) and sophomores Ceron Francisco (285) and Andrew Schulte (141). Concordia representatives on the second team include juniors Jr Lule (149) and Dmitri Smith (125) and sophomores Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) and DJ McIntyre (285). Fellow sophomore Kodie Cole (133) was placed on honorable mention.
Barajas grabs the title of GPAC wrestler of the year after rolling through all conference opponents placed in front of him. A national qualifier for the second year in a row, the native of Hayward, Calif., will enter the national championships with a mark of 10-0 against GPAC opponents. His overall record of 25-8 includes a mark of 14-3 against NAIA foes. Barajas captured the 149-pound NAIA North Group Qualifying Tournament title at York, where he picked up two of his six pins on the season. He owns an active nine-match winning streak.
“Enrique’s had a great season. He’s been very dominant this year,” Vote said. “We’ve always known that he’s always had the capability of going out and performing at that level. It’s just a matter of getting him to open up there and really believe in himself. When he starts attacking he can wrestle with anybody.”
Rivera (27-9), unbeaten last season against GPAC grapplers, went 9-1 in 2014-15 when facing a conference opponent. He placed fourth at 133 pounds in the North and is headed for the national championships. He owns a two-year record of 50-17. Both Francisco (28-14) and Schulte (17-2) are first-time first teamers. Schulte has taken the NAIA by storm since transferring from Santa Ana College, while Francisco has improved by leaps and bounds over his freshman campaign.
Burkhardt Jr. (29-15) rises to the second team after honorable mention recognition last year. Meanwhile, Cole (15-5), Lule (15-6), McIntyre (27-13) and Smith (15-12) have received their first career honors from the GPAC. Cole has been one of the nation’s hottest wrestlers, winning 133-pound titles at the Briar Cliff Open and NAIA North Qualifier in his last two outings. He owns a win streak of 11. Both Lule and McIntyre are in their first seasons as Bulldogs after transferring in to Concordia.
All nine Bulldogs who received all-conference honors will be headed to next week’s 2015 NAIA Wrestling National Championships (March 6-7) in Topeka, Kan. They will also be joined by Austin Fehlhafer (184).
Together they helped the Bulldogs win the NAIA North Group Qualifying Tournament as well as the GPAC title with a league dual record of 7-0. Bulldog individuals went a combined 43-14 at the regional and 53-17 in the seven GPAC duals. Vote’s 10th-ranked squad has nine nationally-ranked individuals.
“It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction,” Vote said. “It shows we’ve come a long ways. Even out of this group of 33 guys, we don’t have a single one who was a high school state champ. It really shows that we’ve done a great job in developing guys and getting them to perform at another level.”