SEWARD, Neb. – A 42-3 smack down of visiting Hastings brought a fitting culmination to the dual season for the sixth-ranked Concordia University wrestling team. In a dominant run through the conference, the Bulldogs finished off a perfect 7-0 GPAC mark while locking up the outright league title thanks to Thursday night’s demolition of the Broncos inside the PE Gymnasium in Seward.
Third-year head coach Dana Vote’s squad won 53 of 70 individual matches over its seven GPAC duals. In their latest outing, the Bulldogs held advantages of 21-2 in takedowns and 11-0 in nearfalls over Hastings (5-10, 3-4 GPAC). Concordia won nine of 10 bouts, including seven that came with bonus points.
“It was a good night. Guys came out, attacked and looked to score points,” Vote said. “We’ve been talking all year long about building leads and finishing matches. It seems like as the year goes along we’re getting better and better at it.”
On a night when the Bulldogs honored their three seniors, seventh-ranked Enrique Barajas (21-8) earned a dominant 17-1 victory by technical fall over Connor Blanco (15-13) at 149 pounds. Barajas, a native of Hayward, Calif., earned nine total nearfall points in the first-period alone in helping his team wrap up an unblemished GPAC mark.
“It’s huge. I loved it, man,” Barajas said. “Every dual I was hyped up and cheering everybody on. It was great. It was a good year.”
No. 11 Austin Fehlhafer (184) and No. 8 Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) ensured that the Bulldogs put an exclamation mark on the night by swiftly pinning their overmatched opponents in 1:15 and 1:21, respectively. Fehlhafer (12-8) has now won seven of his last eight matches – six via pin. Meanwhile, Burkhardt Jr. (26-14) leads the team in wins and pins (10).
At 141 pounds, No. 3 Andrew Schulte, Concordia’s highest-ranked wrestler, attacked with a takedown immediately upon the opening whistle and never let Alex Tarin breathe. Schulte moved to 13-2 overall with his victory by technical fall (19-3) after coming up just short of his first pin as a Bulldog.
Major decisions were claimed by No. 4 133-pounder Emilio Rivera (24-7) and No. 14 125-pounder Dmitri Smith (11-11) and 165-pounder Austin Starkey (21-14). Smith has been on a tear of his own with six wins over his past seven matches. Rivera, also a senior, is 9-2 in his last 11 bouts.
Heavyweight DJ McIntyre, who just entered the national rankings at No. 13, completed the night with a 3-0 win over Hastings’ Pedro Garcia, meaning the Broncos mustered just a single win (174).
Hastings became the latest victim in Concordia’s stampede through the GPAC. The Bulldogs faced few serious threats from their conference brethren – all seven GPAC wins came by margins of 10 points or more.
“It was nice. It’s what we talked about all year since the first day of school,” Vote said. “We felt like we had a chance to win a conference championship and we wanted to do it by going undefeated. It worked out well for us. It feels good.”
In new national ratings released on Wednesday, Concordia vaulted up eight spots to No. 6, equaling the highest-ever ranking for the program. The NAIA North group’s top-ranked squad boasts 10 nationally-ranked individuals.
The most important portions of the season lie ahead as the Bulldogs now look forward to the NAIA North Qualifying Group Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 21. York College will serve as the host for an event in which berths to the 2015 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will be on the line. The top four finishers in each weight class plus a select number of at-large wrestlers advance to nationals.
“I think we’re in a good position to win the regional,” Barajas said. “We have tough guys in the room. Everybody’s mindset is set on winning. I believe 100 percent that we can get it done.”