Bulldogs claim 33 victories at UNK Open

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 19, 2016 in Wrestling

KEARNEY, Neb. – The third tournament of the 2016-17 season featured 33 Bulldog wins and a semifinal advancement for senior Ken Burkhardt Jr., who wound up with a sixth-place claim in the 197-pound bracket at Saturday’s University of Nebraska-Kearney Holiday Inn Open. A total of 19 grapplers represented the eighth-ranked Concordia University wrestling team at the tournament.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola saw a lot of positives on a day when the Bulldogs went up against a loaded field in Kearney.

“We lost our share of matches today, but we are improving at an incredible rate every weekend,” Nicola said. “I’m seeing the things we’re implementing in our drills being used on the mat. It’s really encouraging because the guys are seeing how the things we’re working on are helping them win matches. Once again, I’m thrilled with the effort these boys are putting out there on the mats.”

Senior Ceron Francisco, the GPAC wrestler of the week, did not have a chance to shoot for his third-straight tournament title. The heavyweight was sidelined by injury. However, Burkhardt Jr. made a bid for a title of his own. He defeated Eric Schultz of the University of Nebraska, 7-2, and Hastings’ Jeremiah Gerl, 2-1, to put himself in the semifinals. That’s where he was taken down by highly-rated Jon Inman of NCAA Division II Fort Hays State University (Kan.). Burkhardt Jr. then withdrew from the remainder of the open.

Several freshmen caught the eye of Nicola, who made note of the work of rookie Gabe Crawford in the 157-pound bracket. Crawford posted a team high four victories on the day. The native of Virginia Beach, Va., defeated two NAIA opponents, including Baker University’s (Kan.) Owen Tuckfield, who was pinned in 4:22 by Crawford. Three other freshmen – Nate Bennett, Deandre Chery and Darrin Miller – combined for seven victories at UNK.

Many of Concordia’s nationally-ranked wrestlers did not compete on Saturday, including No. 12 Giovanni Castillo (125), No. 10 Kodie Cole (133), No. 12 Foster Bunce (149) and No. 4 Francisco (285). Nicola has made it clear that duals will be the top priority until the NAIA North Qualifier on Feb. 18.

Some minor injuries haven’t put a damper on Nicola’s outlook for what’s on the horizon for this year and beyond.

“Every single one of these kids just does what we ask of them,” Nicola said. “We’re going to win, and we’re going to win a lot. We’re building an awesome culture here. The feedback that I’m getting from the parents and the athletes is incredible. It’s encouraging and keeps me motivated to do what I’m doing. We’re headed in the right direction.”

Concordia will break for Thanksgiving week. The Bulldogs are set to return to action on Friday, Dec. 2 when they pay a visit to Crete for a GPAC dual with Doane. Concordia won its opening dual of the 2016-17, 51-0, over Dakota Wesleyan on Nov. 11. That result pushed the Bulldogs’ GPAC dual win streak to 15.