GPAC champion Bulldogs aiming for regional three-peat

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 16, 2017 in Wrestling

SEWARD, Neb. – Rested up after wrapping up the outright GPAC dual title last week, members of the 15th-ranked Concordia University wrestling are readying for the stretch run. Twelve Bulldogs will compete on Saturday at the NAIA North Group Qualifier/GPAC Championships with spots in the national championships on the line. This year’s event will be hosted by Doane inside the Fuhrer Field House in Crete. Neb. The action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT.

Doane will provide a live webcast HERE. The championship bouts will be held in the evening after a coaches meeting is held to determine at-large qualifiers for the national championships. The top-three finishers in each weight class earn automatic bids to nationals.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola is hopeful that his guys will carry over their recent run of dominance in GPAC duals. The Bulldogs won eight of 10 matches in last week’s 28-6 team victory over Hastings, which would have shared the conference title had it upset Concordia.

“We’ll change nothing with our training this week,” Nicola said during Tuesday’s Bulldog Athletic Association gathering. “I think the boys have been getting exponentially better every week the last four weeks. I’m not sure we could peak any better. I’m very excited for the opportunity. I know the guys are amped up.”

Based on the most recent conference rankings (Feb. 6), the Bulldogs are projected to have seven top-three finishers at Saturday’s tournament. Ceron Francisco is the GPAC’s top-rated heavyweight while four teammates sit at No. 2 in the conference ratings: Dmitri Smith (125), Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Walker Fisher (174) and Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197). From a team perspective, Concordia is once again the favorite in the GPAC.

Four Bulldogs won NAIA North titles last season. Of them, Francisco is the only returner. Both Burkhardt Jr. and Cole were runner-up finishers in their weight classes in 2016. Additionally, Bunce (149) and Smith (125) placed third in their weight classes. Concordia wound up sending 10 wrestlers to the 2016 national championships.

Half of Concordia’s regional representatives are seniors. The senior class has put together an impressive list of accomplishments. As a collection, it has an overall dual record of 42-20, including a sparkling 26-2 GPAC record. In addition, they have been integral in the Bulldogs’ three conference dual titles, two regional championships and three top-25 national finishes (8th, 12th and 22nd) over the past few seasons. The group of seniors also possesses five All-America awards (two apiece for Burkhardt Jr. and Cole and one for Francisco).

The Bulldogs have established a regional dynasty. They have won 21-consecutive GPAC duals while going unbeaten in conference action in each of the past three years. During that string, they have outscored opponents by a combined total of 702-186 and have won 159 out of 210 individual bouts. Concordia last lost a conference dual on Feb. 13, 2014.

The 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will take place at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., March 3-4. For more information on the event, click HERE.

Concordia postseason wrestling roster
125 – Dmitri Smith (14-8) – RR: 2 | NR: 13
133 – Kodie Cole (18-9) – RR: 3 | NR: 9
141 – Foster Bunce (11-8) – RR: 5
141 – Cameron Devers (7-9)
157 – Jon Lado (13-9) – RR: 4 | NR: 16
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (16-13) – RR: 2 | NR: 16
174 – Walker Fisher (13-14) – RR: 2 | NR: 16
184 – Josh Nelsen (17-15) – RR: 3
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr. (31-7) – RR: 2 | NR: 5
197 – Alexander Reimers (17-13) – RR: 4
285 – Ceron Francisco (19-2) – RR: 1 | NR: 3
285 – DJ McIntyre (14-8) – RR: 4
RR = regional ranking | NR = national ranking

GPAC team rankings
1. Concordia – 175
2. Northwestern – 143
3. Briar Cliff – 133
4. Midland – 120
5. Morningside – 116
6. Hastings – 107
7. Doane – 76
8. Dakota Wesleyan – 10

Final team scoring at 2016 North Group Qualifier
1. Concordia 169.0
2. Morningside 115.5
3. Northwestern 110.0
4. Doane 102.5
5. Briar Cliff 95.5
6. Midland 90.0
7. Dakota Wesleyan 63.5
8. Hastings 43.0