PLEASANT HILL, Iowa – A new era of Concordia University wrestling got underway as Andrew Nicola made his head coaching debut for the eighth-ranked Bulldogs, who opened up the 2016-17 season at the Grand View University Open in central Iowa on Saturday. The biggest waves were made by returning All-Americans Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco. Both of whom claimed titles in their respective brackets.
Of the 17 Bulldogs who competed on Saturday, five earned place finishes while combining for a total of 27 wins amid a loaded field that included many NCAA Division I wrestlers.
“I needed to see what kind of style these guys wrestle,” Nicola said. “It allows me to make adjustments with how we run practice and individual drills. Now I’m becoming more comfortable with how they wrestle and how they compete.”
Francisco competed just fine at Grand View. Determined to have a big season after finishing with a disappointment at the 2016 national championships, the No. 4-ranked heavyweight made a splash by upsetting the University of Northern Iowa’s JJ Everard, who is ranked 20th in NCAA Division I. Francisco beat Everard by a 7-6 decision to advance himself to the title match. That bout was never contested though, as defending national champion Dean Broghammer of Grand View withdrew due to injury.
“That’s a huge win beating a kid ranked 20th in Division I,” Nicola said. “Ceron was really looking forward to getting a shot at the defending national champion as well. Ceron is a big strong man and is incredibly talented wrestling on bottom. He’s just wrestling very well and his mind is right.”
Burkhardt Jr. also held off a Division I opponent, taking a 7-5 decision over Southern Illinois Edwardsville’s Jake Tindle in the 197-pound semifinal match. Burkhardt Jr. also defeated No. 14 Johnathen Dennis of Grand View before pinning Iowa Lakes Community College’s Christian Dulaney in the championship tussle.
“Ken is giving up very few points to anybody because the kid just doesn’t come out of position,” Nicola said. “He hand fights well and head blocks well.”
Also in the “open” division, sophomore Alexander Reimers earned a fifth-place finish at 197 pounds. He went 4-2 on the day. Place finishes in the “freshman” division were turned in by Gabe Crawford (second at 157), Deandre Cherry (fourth at 174) and Darrin Miller (fifth at 174).
Ranked No. 1 nationally at 133 pounds, Kodie Cole suffered losses to No. 7 Hunter Genco of Grand View and to No. 6 David Berg of Midland as part of a challenging bracket. Cole’s lone win on the day came over William Penn University’s Tommy Rios.
A favorite to win the GPAC for the third-straight year, Concordia has its first dual of the season coming up on Friday (Nov. 11) when it will be at Dakota Wesleyan. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT in Mitchell, S.D.