ORANGE CITY, Iowa – By the time the dust settled after a trio of duals in Orange City, Iowa, on Saturday, the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team was left standing as the lone remaining GPAC squad without a conference loss. There were no close calls on this occasion as the Bulldogs thumped No. 20 Northwestern, 27-12, No. 17 Morningside, 30-9, and No. 15 Midland, 38-4, as part of a big day.
Saturday’s results mean that the win streak lives on. The Bulldog wrestling program, winner of back-to-back conference titles, has won 19-straight GPAC duals. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad now stands at 9-4 overall, including an unblemished 5-0 conference mark.
“They’re excited,” Nicola said. “It’s one of those days where it’s great to be a Bulldog. They wrestled lights out. It was awesome. To be honest, I was a little bit surprised with how we performed. We performed excellent today. The boys decided that they wanted to come here with something to prove. They’ve risen above the obstacles they’ve faced.”
From an individual perspective, 125-pounder Dmitri Smith emerged with the day’s biggest highlight. Unranked in the most recent national ratings, Smith upset No. 1-ranked Hugo Perez of Midland, 5-4. Perez finished as the NAIA national runner up at 125 pounds at the 2016 national championships. Smith also won his two other bouts earlier in the day.
Smith is now 13-7 this season and fresh off perhaps the biggest win in his four years as a Bulldog.
“Dmitri wrestled great today,” Nicola said. “He beat two kids who had previous wins over him, including Hugo Perez. Dmitri was wrestling really aggressively. He got four points all in one move. That obviously was big time for him. Dmitri stuck to the game plan and had an incredible day.”
Smith was a standout among many on Saturday. Concordia won 22 of 30 matches and gave up bonus points in only one of its defeats. Junior Kirk Kaliszewski played a starring role while recording pins over Northwestern’s Brock Brenneman and Morningside’s Alias Starkovich. Kaliszewski equaled Smith with a 3-0 day.
The Bulldogs also went 3-0 at the heavyweight position, which was split between No. 5 Ceron Francisco and DJ McIntyre. Francisco improved to 17-2 overall with his 7-2 decision over Midland’s Aaron Rafalko. McIntyre notched a pin and a win by decision.
Josh Nelsen also went 3-0 at 184 and Kolton Larsen (157) punctuated the victory over Northwestern with a pin the dual’s final bout. Gabe Crawford (157) did the same to close out the dual with Midland in a final that was stunningly lopsided. In all, 14 different Bulldogs posted at least one win on the day.
Concordia remains hopeful of repeating its perfect 7-0 GPAC records in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. The program has not suffered a conference dual loss since Feb. 13, 2014, nearly three full years ago.
The Bulldogs will make a long-awaited home appearance on Thursday when it welcomes Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC) to Seward for a GPAC dual set to get started at 7 p.m. CT. It will be a battle of the two highest rated teams in the NAIA North Group, according to the official NAIA rankings released on Jan. 16. During last season’s GPAC title run, Concordia defeated the Chargers, 33-6.
The dual will be just the second of three opportunities for Bulldog fans to see Nicola’s squad inside Walz Arena this season.
“It’s a very exciting time right now and the emotions are running high,” Nicola said. “I’m sure we’re going to have a great week of practice and hopefully put it on Briar Cliff on Thursday.
“We’re excited to wrestle in front of all the people that support us in the community.”