Rivera stars, No. 6 Bulldogs go 1-3 at Desert Duals

By on Dec. 20, 2014 in Wrestling

Rivera stars, No. 6 Bulldogs go 1-3 at Desert Duals

LAS VEGAS – Faced with four of the NAIA’s top 20 squads, the Concordia University wrestling team went 1-3 while competing at the annual Desert Duals in Las Vegas, Nev., on Saturday. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs salvaged the day by recording a 29-13 win over No. 19 Wayland Baptist University (Texas) after dropping their first three duals at the event held inside the ballroom of the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino located along the Vegas strip.

Third-year head coach Dana Vote’s squad now sits at 5-4 overall. Vote had hoped for better results on Saturday from his GPAC-leading Bulldogs, but the reshuffled lineup again stripped Concordia of consistency and one of its top performers.

The short-handed Bulldogs experienced setbacks versus No. 7 Indiana Tech, 30-12, No. 11 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Ariz.), 30-19, and No. 7 Oklahoma City University, 28-15, before downing Wayland Baptist on Saturday.

“We some good individual performances,” Vote said. “Emilio (Rivera) and Eric (Franklin) wrestled well. It’s not fun to lose duals, but there isn’t much we can do about some of the injuries and skin issues. We’re going to get some other guys here for the second semester and now we’ve got some time to heal and get prepared for our conference duals and then regionals.”

Concordia defeated the Pioneers, who began the day with a 7-2 record, by winning seven of 10 weight classes, while losing only two contested bouts. Austin Starkey (11-9) needed only 2:16 to wipe out Brian O’Shaughnessy by pin, putting the Bulldogs up 16-10 after the 165-pound match. Concordia heavyweight DJ McIntyre (9-8) closed the event on a high note with a 7-2 decision over Travis Morgan.

Fourth-ranked 133-pounder Emilio Rivera (18-5) starred for Concordia, going 3-0 on the day. He turned in wins over a pair of ranked wrestlers – Embry-Riddle’s sixth-ranked Nick Oliver (MD, 10-2) and Wayland Baptist’s fifth-ranked Andrew Porras (D, 8-6). Rivera, who hails from Escondido, Calif., has won four-straight matches and six of his last seven. He remains unbeaten (6-0) in dual matches.

“He wrestled tough,” Vote said of Rivera. “He was finishing matches. I hope this was his turning point to get geared up for the most important part of the season. I think he and Franklin will both be in the hunt to compete for a national title at 133.”

Eric Franklin (13-6) captured the day’s signature individual win by toppling Indiana Tech’s second-ranked Mitch Pawlak (D, 10-4), a 2014 All-American, at 141 pounds. Franklin, a junior from Tampa, Fla., also defeated Adrian Gains of Oklahoma City (D, 5-2) and suffered his only loss in Vegas at the hands of Embry-Riddle’s 13th-ranked Andrew Burr by a 7-1 decision.

The dual with Indiana Tech also featured two other bouts between nationally-ranked grapplers. At 157, the Warriors’ ninth-ranked Thomas Garty edged No. 5 Enrique Barajas, 8-7, in an important battle that helped swing the dual in Tech’s favor. No. 8 LJ Grayson then put an exclamation mark on the Warrior win by pinning 11th-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. in the 197-pound tussle.

Burkhardt Jr. shook off that loss and dominated the rest of the day. He claimed two pins of his own – seventh and eighth of the season – and a victory by technical fall to improve his overall record to 15-11. The Milford, Neb., native equaled Rivera and heavyweight Ceron Francisco (17-8) for the team lead for wins at the Desert Duals. Francisco was credited with two wins by forfeit and one by major decision (15-6) over Oklahoma City’s Riley Fielder.

Of the 14 wrestlers who traveled to Vegas, 13 saw action. Thirteenth-ranked 174-pounder Austin Fehlhafer (5-5) was held out. Eleven different Bulldogs recorded at least one win in Sin City.

In its three losses, Concordia took three matches from Indiana Tech and four from both Embry-Riddle and Oklahoma City. The Bulldogs went 18-22 overall in individual bouts.

Concordia owns three wins over teams with top 25 rankings: No. 15 Midland, No. 19 Wayland Baptist and No. 25 Northwestern. All four dual losses have come against squads with a national ranking of 11 or higher.

The Bulldogs now have a sizeable break before resuming tournament action on Jan. 10 when they compete at the Hastings College Open. The new year will also bring four more GPAC duals for first-place Concordia. Next up is a showdown at Morningside on Jan. 22. The Mustangs have won 28-consecutive conference duals.