Bulldogs defeat Briar Cliff, clinch share of GPAC dual title

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 2, 2017 in Wrestling

SEWARD, Neb. – Ken Burkhardt Jr. reached 30 wins in a season for the third-straight season and the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team clinched at least a share of the GPAC dual title by the conclusion of Thursday’s action. In a battle of teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NAIA North Group ratings, the Bulldogs protected their home mat with a 23-10 win over visiting Briar Cliff.

The Concordia wrestling program has earned a GPAC championship trophy for the third season in a row. The Bulldogs’ GPAC dual win streak has stretched to 20. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s 2016-17 squad now stands at 10-4 overall, including a perfect 6-0 conference mark.

“The thing that pumps me up is that we won seven of 10 matches over the team ranked second in the conference,” Nicola said. “I was probably even more excited that we’re closing the gap on our losses. We’re scoring bonus points, but we’re not giving up bonus points. I really like how the guys are scrapping hard for the team.”

Burkhardt Jr. (30-7) put forth by far the most dominant effort of the night. The 197-pound Milford native came within an eyelash of picking up his 12th pin of the year. Briar Cliff’s Jacob Spencer provided little resistance as Burkhardt Jr. piled up 12 near fall points and recorded a pair of takedowns on the way to a victory by technical fall (17-0).

Burkhardt Jr. was one of seven Bulldog winners on the night. His victory came right in the middle of a string of five-straight Concordia triumphs in a dual that began with Walker Fisher at 174 pounds. Fisher, Josh Nelson (184), Burkhardt Jr., Ceron Francisco (285) and Dmitri Smith (125) set the tone for yet another big night inside Walz Arena.

But the Bulldogs still needed one more win to lock up the team victory. Cameron Devers surfaced with the clincher at 149. Devers pulled away from Zac Funderburk with a takedown and two near fall points in the third period and won, 6-1. Two bouts later, junior Kirk Kaliszewski of Ramona, Calif., ended the night in style, upsetting 16th-ranked Zach Davis, 3-2, at 165 pounds.

Kaliszewski took his opponents by storm during last week’s 3-0 run at the GPAC duals hosted in Orange City, Iowa, by Northwestern. Kaliszewski won two of his bouts by pin last week. The transfer from Palomar College (Calif.) is on a roll.

“That was big. We crushed those teams,” Kaliszewski said of last weekend. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that. We rolled off three big wins and we come here and get another big one. We’re showing our dominance after a little bit of a tough start. We really kept it going tonight, which is huge for us.”

Fisher’s win goes down as a mild upset. He was ranked fifth in the region compared to the No. 3 ranking held by opponent Nathaniel Garcia. The other highlight victory for the Bulldogs was delivered by Francisco. Ranked fifth nationally at 285 pounds, Francisco (18-2) came up just short of a major in a 10-3 win over No. 16 Brian Ervin.

Concordia’s first loss of the night came at 133 pounds, where ninth-ranked Kodie Cole dropped a 2-0 decision to seventh-ranked Michael Andreano. It was a tighter match than when Andreano topped Cole, 15-7, in the 133-pound title match at this season’s Dakota Wesleyan Open.

Select Bulldogs will take the mats at Saturday’s Morningside College Open in Sioux City, Iowa. The action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will wrap up its dual schedule next Thursday (Feb. 9) when Hastings (10-4, 4-1 GPAC) makes a visit to Walz Arena.

Though the Bulldogs sewed up at least a tie for the conference championship, they hope to secure another outright title a week from tonight.

“When I took this job there was a lot of hearsay with people saying, ‘This is the year Concordia is going to fold,’” Nicola said. “New coach. Old coach left them. Those kinds of things. I think this shows the resilience of the young men on this team. They decided to prove those people wrong. They put the work in.

“The plan is to win it outright next week.”