Bulldogs rally, top defending GPAC tournament champs

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 16, 2018 in Wrestling

FREMONT, Neb. – Redshirt freshman Michael Stann capped an impressive team rally with a dual-clinching pin in the heavyweight clash in a Thursday night (Nov. 15) battle between rivals. Having trailed 17-3 after six matches, the Concordia University wrestling squad stormed back, won the final four matches and emerged from Fremont with a 21-17 victory over 13th-ranked Midland, the defending GPAC tournament champions.

This is the most significant moment of Levi Calhoun’s young head coaching career to date. In Thursday’s dual, he went up against former Bulldog head coach Dana Vote, now the leader of the Midland program. Concordia improved to 2-0 in GPAC duals.

“You just think match to match,” Calhoun said of facing the 17-3 disadvantage. “You don’t really dwell on if this guy does this, this and this what will happen. I knew we were strong in the upper weights. We have some experience up there, especially with Josh Nelsen coming up with that big pin. That was huge. You get down like that and it’s tough but I think our guys showed grit and determination. They came back and it was a great win.”

Both sides understood that the Bulldogs would have more favorable matchups in the back half of the dual, but it wasn’t exactly ideal for Concordia to drop five bouts in a row. Midland surprised everyone by throwing All-American David Berg into the lineup at 157 (up two weights from his standard 141). Ranked second nationally at 125, Julian Gaytan also bumped up two weights and got the Warriors a win at 141.

Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs began their comeback at 174 with star Deandre Chery. The only disappointment for the defending GPAC champ was that he did not pin his opponent, Stephon Gray. After Chery won by decision, Concordia’s Josh Nelsen wiped out Devin Brown by pin in the first period. Darrin Miller then squeaked out a 4-2 victory over Turah Reed at 197. Suddenly, the Bulldogs were down only 17-15, setting the stage for a possible team triumph – if Stann could come through.

“It happens a lot in high school, especially being a heavyweight (dealing with the pressure in the last match),” Stann said. “You just have to wrestle like every other match and wrestle like you’re going against No. 1 in the nation and take every second as it comes. You don’t think about it.”

A native of Temecula, Calif., Stann has made the heavyweight spot a strength in Calhoun’s lineup. Stann was a tournament finalist at the Dan Harris Open and is out to a 10-2 record after his latest win. Under pressure, Stann came through with a pin in the second period to topple Alton Johnson.

The dual began with Bulldog 125-pounder Maria Ybarra earning a 6-0 decision over Daniel Vargas. Ybarra did not get the anticipated matchup with Julian Gaytan. The Concordia lineup also included Zack Moistner (133), Cam Devers (141), Kyle Carey (149), Issiah Burks (157) and Jason Watkins (165). The night’s first four matches were won by decision before Midland took the next two by major decision.

It’s early, but this win is a sign that the Bulldogs may have a shot to make a push for a GPAC dual title. Concordia won three conference championships in a row prior to placing fifth in the league standings in 2017-18. Vote was the head coach for the first two. There is work to be done, but for now, Calhoun and his guys will soak this one in.

“It means a lot,” Calhoun said, “It’s a confidence builder for our guys just knowing that we’re capable of winning a title and getting back to that point. We obviously still have a lot of work to do. There’s always something to improve on.”

The Bulldogs will take roughly 15 guys to the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open on Saturday. The tournament will get started at 9 a.m. CT.