SEWARD, Neb. – The 20th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team will travel six individuals to the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships. The 57th annual event will play out Friday and Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan. The first of four sessions will get underway at 10 a.m. CST on Friday.
Concordia’s initial group of national qualifiers included senior 125-pounder Austin Mogg (16-7), junior 133-pounder Emilio Rivera (22-6), junior 149-pounder Enrique Barajas (18-14), freshman 174-pounder Austin Fehlhafer (27-9) and freshman 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr. (21-16). Freshman 133-pounder Kodie Cole (18-15), the first alternate out of the NAIA’s North group, was added to the field on Tuesday.
Tied for the 14th-most national qualifiers in the NAIA, the Bulldogs have already taken a big step up from a year ago. They want more.
“I think it is great for our program to go from zero qualifiers to six,” head coach Dana Vote said. “I know that outsiders think it looks good for us, but I know the kids and coaches are not satisfied with it. The coaches and kids have high expectations for what we can do with this program. I feel that five is definitely a step in the right direction. I am very proud of how the guys have developed throughout the year.”
Rivera, the GPAC Wrestler of the Year, is ranked No. 6 nationally and enters the weekend with a 10-match winning streak. The former junior college All-American won the 133-pound North Qualifier title and appears poised to add another honor on the NAIA’s grandest stage.
“Emilio has definitely picked it up since Christmas break,” Vote said. “I feel that the sky is the limit for Emilio. He has had great preparation since regionals to nationals and I see great things coming from him.”
Like Rivera, the Bulldogs’ five other national qualifiers are new to the NAIA championships. However, each has plenty of experience competing under the microscope. Mogg has over 100 career wins and achieved All-America status at the NCAA Division III level in 2010. Barajas, similar to Rivera, was an All-American at a California junior college before transferring to Concordia.
All three freshmen carried impressive credentials upon graduating from local high schools. Fehlhafer medaled all three times he reached the Nebraska state championships, where he finished runner up twice while representing Seward High School. As a Milford High School standout, Burkhardt Jr. also went to state on three occasions, garnering one second-place claim. Cole, a native of Palmdale, Calif., won a California Interscholastic Federation title in 2013.
“It is the first time that any of these six have competed in NAIA nationals but they all have some experience with big tournaments so I feel that we will be just fine,” Vote said. “We have done all the right things to prepare and I feel the guys are ready to go.”
Concordia’s six national qualifiers have a combined record of 21-30 against other competitors in their respective national brackets (see list below). Rivera is 3-0 against fellow 133-pound qualifiers. That mark includes two wins over Dakota Wesleyan’s Richard Rios. All five of Fehlhafer’s wins over national qualifiers have come via pin.
Records vs. national qualifiers in weight class:
125 – Austin Mogg: 4-5
133 – Kodie Cole: 1-7
133 – Emilio Rivera: 3-0 (also holds win over 125-pound qualifier Josh Heinzer of Midland)
149 – Enrique Barajas: 6-7 (also holds win over 141-pound qualifier Blake Fruchtl of Hastings)
174 – Austin Fehlhafer: 5-5
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.: 2-6
I feel like all of our guys have a chance at being an All-American,” Vote said. “Mogg can wrestle with anyone in the country and he seems to be wrestling his best at the right time. Enrique beat a returning All-American twice in the same day at regionals. I think that right there proves he has the ability to be an All-American.
“Burkhardt and Fehlhafer are both freshman but are very strong and ready to compete at the national tournament. I am very happy where we are at right now with our training and I’m excited for the guys to go out there and show the nation what they’ve got.”
Each weight class will have at least one returning All-American in action, with the 141-pound and 184-pound event showcasing seven All-Americans.
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 information on the 2014 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, click here.