SEWARD, Neb. – Concordia senior Brandon Starkey was given the option: wrestle at his customary 157 weight class or move up to 165 and take on Northwestern’s top grappler in seventh-ranked Zach Fishman. Starkey, not one to back down from a challenge, chose the latter and wound up with a dominant upset victory to carry the Bulldogs to a 24-19 dual win over conference foe Northwestern inside Walz Arena on Thursday.
The elder Starkey started out slow in falling behind 2-1 after the first period. The fireworks started soon after as the St. Paul, Neb., native notched three second-period takedowns to pull in front 7-4. Playing the role of aggressor, Starkey went for three more takedowns in the final stanza en route to a 13-6 win, just short of a major decision.
“I can’t even explain how proud I am of how he wrestled tonight,” Vote said. “It was probably the best match anyone on our team has wrestled all year. He just attacked, attacked. He broke the guy. He almost majored him at the end. It was domination.”
For Starkey, who improved to 15-10 on the season, his philosophy was simple. With Fishman on his heels, Starkey pounced like a shark getting a whiff of blood in the water.
“I just kept pressure on him,” Starkey said. “My shots and everything were just working tonight. I just kept opening up and feeling more comfortable and more comfortable. Next thing I knew I was winning, and I won.”
For Vote, a first-year head coach, it’s his first dual victory at the helm of the Bulldogs.
“It feels good getting a conference dual win in the GPAC,” Vote said. “We had some tough matches tonight. We knew coming in it was a dual we had a chance to win. We just had to fight. The guys did a great job.”
Even with Starkey’s surprise win at 165, Concordia trailed 15-9 and needed more big performances. Junior Alex Stepanek relinquished a 6-1 lead before scoring a third period takedown and adding a point for riding time to secure a 9-6 win over the Red Raiders’ Nathan Manfull at 141. Bulldog junior Martin Dobler then used a late escape to squeak out a 3-2 decision over Roger Fender at 149 to put Concordia within 12-6.
After Brandon’s brother Austin fell 13-6 to John Lynch at 157, Brandon began a run of three-consecutive victories for the Bulldogs. Concordia junior Nick Sheppard (174) rallied back from an 8-4 deficit to eke out an 11-10 decision thanks to a point for riding time.
That set the stage for the only pin of the night with Concordia’s Kale Hintz (184) stepping onto the mat against Northwestern’s Luis Rivera-Santiago. Hintz led 5-4 after the first period and held a 9-6 advantage when he wiped out Rivera-Santiago in 4:48 to claim his fourth pin of the season.
Hintz’s pin staked the Bulldogs to an 18-15 lead and clinched the match with the Red Raiders having an open weight at 285, where Frank Ayala got credit for his 15th victory of the campaign.
“We had a lot of good matches. A lot of kids were working really hard out there,” Brandon Starkey said. “We had a couple close ones and a pin, which was really good. Everybody really went out there with a game plan and it seemed to work for us tonight.”
Vote’s Bulldogs showed vast improvement in comparison to their GPAC dual with Briar Cliff one week ago. Vote especially liked the toughness and resiliency his team showed in coming back from early deficits.
“Guys just wrestled tough,” Vote said. “We talked about it before the dual. It’s an attitude. We just got to fight for seven minutes and out-tough these guys and we did it. Three of the matches that we won we were down at one point in the match. We just kept coming back.
“Kale Hintz was losing and came back and got a pin. Sheppard was losing and came back and got a win at the end. And right away Brandon was getting controlled. Their guy got the first takedown and doubled him right away. We just kept battling, battling, battling. Great job tonight.”
Concordia will step outside the GPAC for a rematch at No. 19 York at 7 p.m. on Jan. 24. The Panthers picked up a 36-12 win at Walz Arena on Nov. 29.