TOPEKA, Kan. – Few wrestlers shined on the big stage in the way that Concordia senior Austin Mogg did on day one of the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, held Friday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan. Faced with a difficult draw, the El Reno, Okla., native simply pinned his way to the semifinals as part of a perfect 2-0 day.
A frustrating day of close losses for the rest of head coach Dana Vote’s additional five national qualifiers means Mogg is the only Bulldog who remains alive to grapple on Saturday. Junior Emilio Rivera (133) and freshman Austin Fehlhafer (174) both won once before being eliminated on Friday night.
Mogg (18-7), ranked No. 12 at 125, dominated his first match of the day and built a commanding lead before impressively pinning Campbellsville’s third-ranked Cody Steiner in 4:53. A tight quarterfinal bout in the evening turned into another pin when Mogg countered an aggressive move by fifth-rated Jake Stigall of Southern Oregon. Mogg whirled Stigall onto his back and finished him off in 5:39.
“Austin Mogg wrestled very well today – probably the best I’ve seen him wrestle in five years,” Vote said. “He’s dominated the tournament so far to get to the semifinals of the national tournament. That’s huge. I can’t say enough about him right now."
The 2010 NCAA Division III All-American, set to take on Grand View’s top-ranked Ryak Finch in one of Saturday’s semifinals, has overcome injury throughout this season and is wrestling at his best at the most opportune time.
“I realized I’m going to be hurt. I’m getting older,” Mogg said. “There’s really nothing I can do about it. I really just have to wrestle to my best ability, hurt or not. I have to show pride for my team.”
Rivera, the GPAC Wrestler of the Year, was never threatened in a 14-5 major decision over Andrew Burr of Embry-Riddle (Ariz.) to begin his tournament at 133 pounds. That’s when the heartbreak came for the native of Escondido, Calif. His 11-match win streak was snapped in a 6-5 quarterfinal loss to 10th-ranked Scottie Bonds of William Penn. It was more of the same in the consolation round as Indiana Tech’s Mitch Pawlak clipped Rivera, 7-6.
“Emilio’s a great kid. He works his tail off,” Vote said. “I feel like he deserves to be an All-American. He lost two close matches. We just have to build on it and come back next year.”
After struggling with Embry-Riddle’s 15th-ranked Jose Cruz, Fehlhafer rebounded in the consolation bracket by claiming his 20th victim by fall of the season. The Seward native took care of No. 12 Travis McIntosh of Campbellsville in 46 seconds. Fehlhafer ended his freshman campaign at 28-10 after getting pinned by Lindsey Wilson’s Erick Gomez.
Junior Enrique Barajas also dropped a tight elimination match, 7-5, at the hands of Kyle Terry of Campbellsville. Barajas went 0-2 in his first opportunity at the NAIA tournament.
A tough draw resulted in freshman Ken Burkhardt Jr. (Milford, Neb.) going up against a pair of top 10 nationally-ranked grapplers. Benedictine’s No. 5 Stephen Loosbrock dealt Burkhardt an 8-0 major decision loss. Concordia’s 197-pounder led No. 10 AJ Mott, 4-3, at the end of the second period before being eliminated by a 6-4 decision.
Freshman Kodie Cole, a late addition to the national qualifying field, fell in both of his matches and has been eliminated from the tournament. The native of Palmdale, Calif., suffered a 4-3 setback to 10th-ranked 133-pounder Joao Vicente of William Penn. Cole then lost 10-2 (major decision) to No. 6 Keaton Thomas of Lindsey Wilson.
The five losses by two points or less on Friday could be chalked up, at least in part, to inexperience on the national stage.
“It’s the youth showing,” Vote said. “We have six guys here. Five have never wrestled at a national tournament before. I think the pressure of being young and finding a way in those close matches was too much for us to be able to overcome today.”
In terms of team scoring, Concordia ranks 17th among the 39 teams represented at the national championships. The Bulldogs have amassed 19 points heading into Saturday.
NeuLion, the NAIA’s official video streaming company of 17 select NAIA National Championship events, will be broadcasting the title bouts (Session IV) of the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships on March 8. Packages can be purchased for $9.95. For more information and to pre-register, click here.
For additional national championships information, click here.