SEWARD, Neb. – The buzz the Concordia University wrestling program generated last season will carry into 2014-15 as the Bulldogs begin a new campaign with some lofty ratings. In the NAIA group polls released on Tuesday, Concordia appeared at No. 1 among 13 teams in the North. Then on Wednesday, the Bulldogs received a No. 15 preseason national ranking.
“We’re going to approach it the same way as we did before,” head coach Dana Vote said. “We’re going to come in every day ready to work, make gains and get a little bit better every day. You have to believe in the process more than the results.”
On an individual level, nine of Vote’s wrestlers find themselves ranked on the regional level. Another six Bulldogs have been given national preseason ratings. Both senior Enrique Barajas (149) and sophomore Austin Fehlhahfer (174) have received top billing in the North for their respective weight classes.
Concordia’s six nationally-ranked wrestlers:
No. 7 Emilio Rivera (133); 23-8*
No. 8 Eric Franklin (133)
No. 16(t) Foster Bunce (141); 16-10*
No. 7 Enrique Barajas (149); 18-16*
No. 8 Austin Fehlhafer (174); 28-11*
No. 9 Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197); 21-18*
Concordia’s nine North Group-ranked wrestlers:
No. 6 Dmitri Smith (125); 13-13*
No. 2 Emilio Rivera (133); 23-8*
No. 3 Eric Franklin (133)
No. 4 Foster Bunce (141); 16-10*
No. 1 Enrique Barajas (149); 18-16*
No. 4 Austin Starkey (157); 15-19*
No. 1 Austin Fehlhafer (174); 28-11*
No. 2 Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197); 21-18*
No. 5 DJ McIntyre (HWT)
Barajas, Burkhardt Jr., Fehlhahfer, Rivera and Kodie Cole are all returning national qualifiers for Vote. Among those Bulldogs ranked either regionally or nationally, two are new to the program: junior college transfers Eric Franklin and DJ McIntyre. Vote also expects significant contributions from transfers Jr. Lule (149) and Andrew Schulte (141).
Last season Rivera and Fehlhafer burst onto the scene in their first seasons as Bulldogs. Rivera went 23-8 overall, won the 133-pound North Group title, was named GPAC wrestler of the year and qualified for the national championships. Meanwhile, Fehlhafer topped Concordia in both wins (28) and pins (20) while also qualifying for nationals as a freshman.
As a team, the Bulldogs are rated No. 1 among the eight GPAC institutions that sponsor wrestling (according to regional ratings). Defending conference champion Morningside checks in at fifth in the North Group and No. 19 in the national poll. Other nationally-rated teams in the North Group include No. 7 Midland, No. 13 William Penn (Iowa), No. 17 York and Morningside.
At the 2014 national championships, Concordia finished 22nd as a team. The Bulldogs cracked the coaches’ poll once last season, coming in at No. 20 in the final poll leading up to the national championships. The current national ranking of 15th is the highest for the program since it checked in at No. 10 in February 2012.
The Bulldogs will host a Blue-White Halloween Dual at 7:30 p.m. in the PE Gym on Oct. 31. Vote’s squad will officially open the season on Nov. 8 at the Harold Nichols Cyclone Open, hosted by Iowa State University.
North Group rankings
1. Concordia – 140 points
2. William Penn (Iowa) – 124
3. York – 113
4. Midland – 92
5. Morningside – 84
6. Northwestern – 74
7. Briar Cliff – 67
8. Doane – 58
9. Jamestown (N.D.) – 51
10. Dakota Wesleyan – 30
11. Waldorf (Iowa) – 29
12. Hastings – 18
13. Graceland (Iowa) – 10