SEWARD, Neb. – The GPAC and NAIA North Qualifying Group champions will take the mats for one final tournament of the 2014-15 season. Conference and regional coach of the year Dana Vote will travel a group of 10 Bulldogs to the 2015 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, held Friday and Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan.
After 22nd-place national finish a year ago, 10th-ranked Concordia looks to climb the ladder on the grand stage.
“I think we definitely want to crack the top 10, and the goal has always been to try to crack the top five,” Vote said. “For us to get in the top five we’re going to have to have the best tournament we can possibly have and wrestle lights out. It’s not out of the question by any means.”
The Bulldogs carry plenty of positive momentum on the heels of a dominant effort at the NAIA North Group Qualifying Tournament on Feb. 21. Three different Concordia wrestlers won regional titles and a total of nine Bulldogs placed within the top four of their respective weight classes. Nine days earlier Concordia trounced Hastings, 42-3, to finish with a 7-0 GPAC dual record.
The breakthrough campaign has been made possible by the likes of senior Enrique Barajas, who won the 149-pound North title and was named the GPAC wrestler of the year last week. Barajas has won each of his last nine matches. Meanwhile, fellow North champions Kodie Cole (133) and Andrew Schulte (141) hold active win streaks of 11 and eight, respectively.
In other words, the Bulldogs are coming in hot.
“Those guys have done a great job,” Vote said. “They’ve worked hard all season long. They’ve focused on the right things. We said that if you put in the time and you do the right things, it will work out for you in the end. I think that’s what has happened along the way. Hopefully we’ll have one more good tournament.”
Last season Concordia brought six wrestlers to nationals. None had ever experienced the NAIA championships. This time around half of the Bulldogs’ 10 qualifiers are making the trip for the second year in a row. That list includes Barajas and Cole, as well as 133-pound senior Emilio Rivera (2013-14 GPAC wrestler of the year) and sophomores Austin Fehlhafer (184) and Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197).
Vote expects the experience at the 2014 national championships to pay off this weekend.
“I think any time you have experience going into the national tournament it’s a positive and it can help you,” Vote said. “I feel like last year we were a little tight in some matches. We lost a few close matches. I hope we can overcome that this year.”
Schulte is one of five Bulldogs who will get their first tastes of the NAIA championships. Schulte, one of nine Concordia all-conference selections, has burst onto the NAIA scene with 17 wins in his first 19 matches in a Bulldog singlet. Other first-year Bulldogs in No. 10 Jr Lule (149) and No. 13 DJ McIntyre (285) enter the event with national rankings next to their names.
Session one action inside the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., is scheduled to get underway Friday at 10 a.m. CST. The 58th annual event will consist of four sessions, concluding Saturday with the championship finals starting at 7 p.m. View preliminary brackets HERE.
There will be 211 wrestlers representing 44 institutions taking to the mat, including six defending national champions and 40 returning All-Americans
Stretch Internet, the NAIA’s official video streaming company, will be broadcasting the 10 title bouts (Session IV) of the 2015 NAIA Wrestling National Championships on March 7 on www.NAIANetwork.com. Packages can be purchased for $10.
For additional information on the 2015 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, click here.
2015 Bulldog national qualifiers
125 – No. 12 Dmitri Smith (15-12)
133 – No. 7 Kodie Cole (15-5)
133 – No. 15 Emilio Rivera (27-9)
141 – No. 3 Andrew Schulte (17-2)
149 – No. 5 Enrique Barajas (25-8)
149 – No. 10 Jr Lule (15-6)
184 – Austin Fehlhafer (16-10)
197 – No. 9 Ken Burkhardt Jr. (29-15)
285 – No. 13 DJ McIntyre (27-13)
285 – Ceron Francisco (28-14)