Three Bulldogs place to lead 11th-place team finish at MO Valley

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 21, 2017 in Wrestling

MARSHALL, Mo. – Heavyweight Ceron Francisco made a run at a tournament title as one of three place finishers to represent the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team at this weekend’s Missouri Valley Invite in Marshall, Mo. Francisco piled up 17 of the team’s 77.5 points, which placed the Bulldogs 11th among the 33 squads included in the field.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s group finished above each of the other four GPAC teams in the field: Briar Cliff (12th, 74.0), Hastings (14th, 60.5), Northwestern (16th, 53.0) and Midland (22nd, 27.5). Fifteen of the NAIA’s top 20-ranked teams were present at the event held in Marshall, Mo.

“The takeaway from this weekend’s tournament is that we have to wrestle a full seven minutes,” Nicola said. “There were too many matches where we were giving up takedowns with 10 or 15 seconds left. Those cost us matches. I think the biggest thing is we’re getting beat on the bottom position and we just need to have more of a sense of an urgency. We’ll continue to drill that.”

Second-ranked 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr. contributed the most team points thanks to his 6-1 record (three pins) at the tournament. The only blemish came at the hands of 15th-ranked Eric Deluse of the University of Cumberlands (Ky.) in the quarterfinals. Burkhardt Jr., a two-time All-American, responded by defeating Grand View University’s (Iowa) third-ranked Evan Hansen, 4-2. Revenge came in the third-place bout when Burkhardt Jr. held off Deluse, 3-2.

Though Burkhardt Jr.’s 14-match win streak came to an end on Saturday, he continues to look like someone capable of accomplishing big things this March.

“Ken had a tough battle (with Deluse). He just got caught early and had to wrestle back from that,” Nicola said. “Fortunately we avenged that loss. I think he’s sitting in good shape. We came up with a new game plan and got the win in the third-place match.”

Fifth-ranked Francisco, now 16-2 overall this season, recorded wins on Saturday over two ranked opponents: No. 9 Javier Gonzalez of Menlo College (Calif.) and No. 14 Justin Smith of Missouri Valley College. The win over Smith pushed Francisco into the championship match with Grand View’s sixth-ranked Jacob Laden. Francisco dropped a tight 3-1 decision and settled for second place.

“Ceron wrestled great. He placed ahead of the kids ranked second and third in the country,” Nicola said. “He lost 3-1 in the finals to someone he beat earlier in the year. Ceron looked the best that I’ve ever seen him wrestle. I’m very happy with the way that he’s performing.”

Concordia’s other place finisher was Jon Lado at 157 pounds. The native of Gloucester City, N.J., went 4-1 before pulling out of his final two matches of the weekend. Lado went 2-0 on Friday to move to the quarterfinals, where he fell, 14-6, to No. 6 Sean Elkins of Dickinson State University (N.D.). Lado ended up with 10 team points.

Collectively, the 12 Bulldog grapplers at the Missouri Valley Invite combined to go 25-23 with nine pins. Eleven Concordia wrestlers contributed to the team’s point total. The top-five point scorers were Burkhardt Jr. (21.5), Francisco (17), Lado (10), Kodie Cole (6.5) and Cooper Bailey (5.5).

Seeking to defend their 2014-15 and 2015-16 GPAC dual titles, the Bulldogs (6-4, 2-0 GPAC) face a big day a week from now when they will wrestle three conference opponents in Orange City, Iowa: Northwestern (6-3, 3-0 GPAC), Morningside (1-4, 1-0 GPAC) and Midland (2-4, 1-2 GPAC). Those duals are scheduled to take place at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. CT.