Bulldogs continue hunt for title, host Briar Cliff Thursday

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 31, 2017 in Wrestling

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University wrestling program moved within striking distance of a GPAC three-peat last week when it blew through three conference duals that took place in Orange City, Iowa, on Jan. 28. The Bulldogs barely survived a close call at Doane on Dec. 2, but on this occasion they won three times in dominant fashion, handling No. 20 Northwestern, 27-12, No. 17 Morningside, 30-9, and No. 15 Midland, 38-4, as part of a big day.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad sports dual records of 9-4 overall and 5-0 in the conference. Concordia sits alone atop the conference standings. Second-place Hastings and Morningside are both 4-1 in GPAC duals.

The Bulldogs will put their unbeaten GPAC record and string of 19-straight conference dual wins on the line again on Thursday when Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC) visits Walz Arena for a 7 p.m. matchup. Concordia and Briar Cliff are the top-two rated teams in the official NAIA North Group ratings that were released on Jan. 16. The dual will be streamed live via the Concordia Sports Network with Aaron Sweazy calling the action.

Dmitri Smith is riding high into this week’s action after upsetting the nation’s top-ranked 125-pounder, Hugo Perez of Midland, at last week’s GPAC duals. Perez finished as the 125-pound NAIA runner up at the 2016 national championships. A senior from Beaumont, Calif., Smith has cleaned up against GPAC opponents, going a perfect 7-0 so far against them.

At 197, second-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. (29-7) needs one win to reach 30 for the third-straight season. The two-time All-American was upset by Northwestern’s Luis Rivera-Santiago last week, but still owns a sparkling 10-1 record in dual meets and is the team leader with 11 pins.

Based on rankings, the featured match of the night will be at 133, where seventh-ranked Michael Andreano of Briar Cliff is set to square off with Concordia’s No. 9 Kodie Cole. The two foes met in the 133-pound championship match at the Dakota Wesleyan Open earlier this season. Andreano majored Cole, 15-7.

Nicola would love to see Kirk Kaliszewski continue the dominance he displayed last week. The native of Ramona, Calif., pinned Northwestern’s Brock Brenneman and Morningside’s Alias Starkovich and defeated Midland’s David Moran, 4-0, at the GPAC duals. Kaliszewski has pinned three of the five GPAC competitors he’s faced this season.

The Chargers possess four nationally-ranked grapplers: No. 7 Andreano (133), No. 7 Sonny Gulesian (141), No. 16 Zach Davis (165) and No. 16 Brian Ervin (285). In conference dual action, Briar Cliff has claimed wins over Midland, Dakota Wesleyan and Doane. It has dropped matches to Northwestern, Morningside and Hastings.

During Concordia’s active GPAC dual win streak, it has outscored opponents by a combined total of 651-170 and has won 144 out of 190 individual bouts. Winner of back-to-back GPAC titles, the Bulldogs last lost a conference dual on Feb. 13, 2014.

Concordia will also be at Saturday’s Morningside College Open in Sioux City, Iowa. Its final dual of the season will be next Thursday (Feb. 9) when Hastings pays a visit to Seward.

Projected lineups

Concordia (9-4, 5-0 GPAC)
125 – Dmitri Smith (13-7)
133 – (9) Kodie Cole (17-8)
141 – Foster Bunce (10-7)
149 – Cameron Devers (6-8)
157 – Kolton Larsen (16-11)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (14-13)
174 – Walker Fisher (11-14)
184 – Josh Nelsen (15-15)
197 – (2) Ken Burkhardt Jr. (29-7)
285 – (5) Ceron Francisco (17-2) / DJ McIntyre (14-8)

Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC)
125 – Kyle Robison
133 – (7) Michael Andreano
141 – (7) Sonny Gulesian / Nathan Ryan
149 – Zac Funderburk
157 – Skylar Weber
165 – (16) Zach Davis
174 – Nathaniel Garcia
184 – Josh Tapia
197 – Jacob Spencer
285 – (16) Brian Ervin