MITCHELL, S.D. – There were few complaints from second-year head coach Dana Vote after his team put forth an impressive performance at the NAIA North Qualifying Group Tournament in Mitchell, S.D., on Saturday. Concordia junior Emilio Rivera won the North’s 133-pound title and was one of five Bulldogs to clinch berths in the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships.
As a team, the Bulldogs piled up 97 points to earn a runner-up among the 12 teams in the North. Only No. 10 Morningside (128.5 points) finished higher. Concordia’s eight pins were second to Dickinson State’s nine for the most on the day.
The Bulldogs, who finished second in the GPAC dual standings with a 5-2 conference mark, improved significantly in year two under Vote.
“It’s a great testament to how hard we’ve worked as a program and as a coaching staff,” said Vote of the team’s turnaround a year after failing to put a single wrestler in the national championships. “We went from not winning a match on the front side of the bracket to placing second as a team. Guys are peaking at the right time and we won matches against guys that beat us earlier in the season.”
Rivera, ranked eighth in the NAIA at 133 pounds, met Dakota Wesleyan’s ninth-ranked Richard Rios in the championship match. Rivera took a 6-3 decision to secure his second win over Rios in less than four weeks and seize the title.
The native of Escondido, Calif., went 4-0 on the day to move to 22-6 overall and bump his winning streak to 10. Rivera breezed to the semifinals with a
“He had a very good tournament,” Vote said. “He only gave up one offensive score all day in a real tough weight bracket.”
Concordia’s other four wrestlers to claim bids to the national championships were senior Austin Mogg (125, third place), junior Enrique Barajas (149, fourth place) and freshmen Austin Fehlhafer (174, second place) and Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197, third place).
Fehlhafer (27-9) added to more pins to give him 19 on the season. He wiped out his first two opponents by fall and then recorded a 14-7 decision over York’s 15th-ranked Joe Madison to move on to the championship bout. Fehlhafer could not hold a lead and dropped a 13-11 decision to Briar Cliff’s 11th-ranked Anthony Pike, who snared the 174-pound title.
“I thought he had a great day,” Vote said of Fehlhafer. “He wrestled strong and got those two pins right away. He’s put himself into good position going into the national championships.”
Mogg, frustrated recently by injuries, returned to form and went 4-1 at the qualifier. He bullied No. 12 Diego Quintana of Northwestern in a 17-4 major decision in the quarterfinals. Mogg’s lone loss came at the hands of 15th-rated Josh Heinzer of Midland by a count of 7-3.
“Mogg had a huge day,” Vote said. “He definitely deserves mention. He beat three returning national qualifiers and closed the gap on Heinzer, who beat him earlier in the season.”
Barajas’ day included a dominant 19-3 technical fall of Dakota Wesleyan’s Dusty Paulsen, whom Barajas defeated twice on Saturday. Both of the Heyward, Calif., native’s losses came by a single point, including a 5-4 setback against No. 5 Tyler Lashbrook of Morningside.
Burkhardt Jr. upset Morningside’s Jared McCoy (ranked fourth at 197 in the North) in sudden victory to reach the semifinals. That’s where Burkhardt fell victim to the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler, Jesse Hellinger of Dickinson State. Burkhardt closed the afternoon by beating Northwestern’s Forrest Marx and Dickinson State’s Skyler Carroll to nab third place.
A total of 12 Bulldogs competed on Saturday. Freshman Kodie Cole came close to earning a top-four finish needed for an automatic berth to nationals. Cole placed fifth at 133 and was chosen as the North’s first alternate for the national tournament.
The 57th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships take place March 7-8 in Topeka, Kan. The NAIA will release the official list of national qualifiers on Thursday, Feb. 27. For more information on the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, click here.
Find bracket results from the North Qualifier at TrackWrestling.com.
North Group team scoring
1. Morningside College – 128.5
2. Concordia University – 97.0
3. Northwestern College – 96.5
4. York College – 96.0
5. Midland University – 92.5
6. Dickinson State University – 84.0
7. Dakota Wesleyan University – 73.5
8. Briar Cliff – 59.0
9. Waldorf College – 56.5
10. Hastings College – 55.0
11. Jamestown College – 42.5
12. Doane College – 15.0