Season of gains closes on day one of 2023 NAIA National Championships

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 3, 2023 in Wrestling

RESULTS: TrackWrestling

PARK CITY, Kan. – Four Bulldogs got their first taste of the NAIA Wrestling National Championships in Park City, Kan., on Friday (March 3). While faced with mighty challenging draws at the tournament, Concordia wrestlers combined for four victories, including two upsets of seeded opponents. By day’s end, Creighton Baughman (141), Tavoris Smith (157), Issiah Burks (165) and Logan Davidson (184) each saw their seasons reach a conclusion.

While Head Coach Chase Clasen’s program will return without hardware, it knows it made major leaps forward in 2022-23. Ranked sixth in the GPAC in the preseason, the Bulldogs finished third in both the conference regular season standings and in the postseason. Their four national qualifiers were also an improvement from the two the program sent to Park City in 2022.

“For our program and our culture, the idea is to go into every tournament believing we’re No. 1,” Clasen said. “It doesn’t really matter what the seeds are. If we believe we’re the best in the bracket, then you have to beat everybody. You deal with what you’re dealt. I thought our guys battled in every single match. They left it all on the line. I’m obviously disappointed in the results. Everyone would like to have four national champions, but I really can’t be disappointed in the effort. I’m just very grateful I got to coach these guys.”

Baughman and Davidson ultimately finished two wins short of earning All-America status. A two-time All-American at the JUCO level, the Papillion, Neb., native Baughman competed for all seven minutes in a 3-2 loss at the hands of No. 2 Julian Hernandez of Life University (Ga.). It then became about survival on the back side as Baughman rattled off wins by decision over Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s Dante Lopez, 8-3, and Eastern Oregon University’s 16th-ranked Jaxon Morlan, 5-1. Baughman was knocked out by St. Thomas University (Fla.)’s David Pierson, 2-0, in another tight defeat. In beating Morlan, Baughman avenged a defeat (by pin) from the regular season. Baughman closed out his first campaign as a Bulldog with 25 wins. Said Clasen, “I’m never worried about Creighton. He’ll be back.”

In returning for a sixth year as a member of the program, Burks realized a dream of qualifying for nationals. The 165-pound GPAC champion drew No. 2 seed Marty Margolis of Grand View University (Iowa) in the first round and was defeated by fall in 1:27. However, Burks didn’t go out empty-handed. On the back side of the bracket, the Hemet, Calif., native kept himself in the field by toppling Truett McConnell University (Ga.)’s Ian James, 12-9. That marked Burks’ first career national tournament win and the 77th overall victory (No. 4 in program history) as a Bulldog. In round two of the consolation bracket, Burks was eliminated by Baker University (Kan.)’s 16th-seeded Joey Hancock by a 10-3 decision.

Based on seeding, Davidson came through with Concordia’s most significant victory. The freshman from Goddard, Kan., shook off a loss via pin in his first match and upset 11th-seeded Michael Densmore of Embry-Riddle University (Fla.) in a consolation battle. In the next round, Davidson was pinned by No. 3 seed J.D. Perez of Ottawa University (Kan.). Also a member of the Bulldog Football team, Davidson collected 13 wins this season after making his collegiate wrestling debut in December.

One of three seniors honored on senior day, Smith earned his way to Park City by taking true second place in the GPAC at 157 pounds. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native had a short stay in the national tournament. Smith was pinned by 15th-seeded Aden Graves of Providence University (Mont.) in the third period of a first-round tussle. With his season on the line, Smith was defeated in a major decision, 10-0, by Kael Bunce of William Penn University (Iowa).

The four individual wins for Concordia accounted for 2.5 team points. That total puts the Bulldogs in a tie for 39th place in the NAIA. There were 50 programs that registered at least a half point on Friday. The 2023 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will continue with sessions III and IV on Saturday. As for Concordia, it will carry momentum into the offseason while looking forward to bringing back the bulk of its roster in 2023-24.

Added Clasen, “This is just the foundation. We’re not even framing the house yet. We have a lot to look forward to. We’re focused on getting the right people here – people that want to be part of something big.”