Bulldogs split four duals against top-15 opponents in OKC

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 19, 2016 in Wrestling

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Up against some of the top competition in the nation, the 13th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team more than held its own. The Bulldogs defeated both No. 8 Campbellsville University (Ky.), 26-10, and No. 11 Wayland Baptist University (Texas), 24-15, as part of their run at the 2016 Oklahoma City Duals hosted by Oklahoma City University on Monday. Concordia was also defeated, 48-0, by NCAA Division II 14th-ranked University of Central Oklahoma and fell, 24-13, at the hands of Oklahoma City.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is now 5-2 this season in dual action. The victories over Campbellsville and Wayland Baptist gave the program 10-straight wins over NAIA teams, until the streak was ended by Oklahoma City.

These are exactly the types of events Nicola hopes will help prep his athletes for the national championships in March.

“An event like this helps us in many ways,” Nicola said. “We saw three of the best teams in the NAIA. It also helps us because we get to learn from our match against UCO. We go up against top guys from all divisions of wrestling and use that as a tool for learning. It’s important that we face those high caliber guys. The setbacks make you realize that you have to get back to work.

“I saw a different team in round three than I saw in round two. They rebounded greatly. I was really impressed with that.”

The Bulldogs got the day started positively by taking seven of 10 bouts from Campbellsville, a program that finished fifth at the 2016 national championships. Transfer Giovanni Castillo (125) grappled in a dual for the first time in Concordia blue and earned a 6-4 decision at the top of the lineup. Leading 16-10, the Bulldogs relied upon seniors Ken Burkhardt Jr. (major decision) and DJ McIntyre (pin) to put the match away. McIntyre’s pin came in the final seconds of the third period in a tussle with 16th-ranked Terrell Moore.

Though the two sides split the 10 matches, Concordia’s five wins against Wayland Baptist all came in dominant fashion. Kodie Cole, 3-1 on the day at 133 pounds, wiped out DeMarco Speller with a pin in 2:52. Three matches later, Jon Lado took care of Romen Correa in 2:07. Wrestling for the first time since Nov. 12 after being sidelined by injury, Ceron Francisco returned to the mat and finished off the Pioneers by recording a win by major decision.

The win moved fourth-ranked Francisco’s record to 10-0 entering his showdown with No. 3 Korey Walker of Oklahoma City. The heavyweight from Fayetteville, N.C., needed a pin to lift Concordia, trailing 18-13, to a team win. However, Walker got a late fall that ended a competitive bout after 6:57 had elapsed.

Against NAIA competition only, the Bulldogs won 16 of 30 individual matches. Three Concordia grapplers went unbeaten on Monday: Burkhardt Jr. (3-0), Castillo (2-0) and Lado (2-0). Burkhardt Jr., last week’s GPAC wrester of the week, has won nine-straight matches – six by pin and three by major decision.

Burkhardt Jr. and company proved they again belong with the elite programs in the NAIA.

“Today we saw that bonus points mattered,” Nicola said. “I was very proud of the guys. In my years of coaching I’ve never been part of a team that’s beaten Campbellsville in a dual. Oklahoma City slipped right by us.

“I’m happy to see Ceron back on the mat and how the boys rebounded greatly to defeat Wayland and then scrapped with Oklahoma City really tough.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a trip to Nicola’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., where the annual National Duals will take place Jan. 5-6. Pairings have not yet been released. Last season Concordia won three of its five matchups at the National Duals and took seventh place. While in Fort Wayne, the Bulldogs will practice at Nicola’s high school alma mater just as Concordia did at assistant Levi Calhoun’s prep alma mater in Oklahoma City.