SEWARD, Neb. – Visiting Hastings spoiled Concordia’s senior day by cruising to victory in a GPAC dual that lasted just over 30 minutes. The Broncos (6-11, 3-3 GPAC) posted five pins and a major decision on the way to a 52-6 win over the Bulldogs (2-10, 1-5 GPAC) inside Walz Arena on Thursday.
Concordia senior Frank Ayala went out in style in his final appearance at Walz Arena. The heavyweight from West Covina, Calif., fell behind Hastings’ Pat Mattfeld 4-1 early on, but quickly turned the tide with a powerful move that sent Mattfeld to his back. Ayala wiped Mattfeld out in 2:15 to pick up his sixth win by fall on the season while improving to 19-19 overall.
“He came out with a jab that I wasn’t ready for,” Ayala said. “But I continued to wrestle and I was able to stick him.”
Ayala, Concordia’s leader in wins this season, was thankful for the chance throughout his career to compete in the Bulldog singlet.
“It was a great opportunity. It’s bittersweet,” Ayala said. “I’m sad I’m leaving the program, but I’m glad I got to come and experience Concordia and all the great people here. I’m just glad I had this opportunity.”
Fellow seniors Brandon Starkey and Jordan Fowlkes were acknowledged along with Ayala prior to the dual for their contributions to the program. Fowlkes has been sidelined all season by injuries while Starkey sat out on Thursday as well. Starkey, the program’s all-time wins leader with 70 for his career, is expected to be back for the national qualifier as he makes another run at a national championships appearance.
The Bulldogs could have used the services of Starkey against an aggressive Bronco bunch. Nationally-ranked grapplers Blake Fruchtl (No. 7 at 141) and Jared Leithead (No. 10 at 149) came in and took care of business quickly. Both registered first-period falls as Hastings poured it on.
The only contested match that did not result in a pin occurred at 157 where the Broncos’ Connor Blanco won by major decision (11-3) over Austin Starkey after tacking on a point for riding time.
The Bulldogs have finished the regular-season slate and now look forward to qualifying action on Feb. 16 in Fremont, Neb. The top four finishers from each weight class at regionals will advance to the National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, March 1-2. Concordia currently has three wrestlers ranked in the North qualifying group: Brandon Starkey (No. 6 at 157), Kale Hintz (No. 6 at 174) and Ayala (No. 3 at 285).
For Ayala, the goal is not only to simply qualify for nationals, but to finish off his collegiate wrestling career with a splash.
“My goal is to place first so I get a good seed at nationals,” Ayala said. “Hopefully I qualify, but I just want to go out and wrestle tough. We have this week off so I’m just going to practice hard with my coaches and my teammates and see what happens at regionals.”
Freshman Austin Starkey (14-15) and junior Alex Stepanek (18-20) also figure to be in competition for top-four finishes in their respective weights among North qualifying group participants.