SEWARD, Neb. – A lot will be on the line for both sides when the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team hosts Hastings for a 7 p.m. CT dual on Thursday. With a win, the Bulldogs will clinch an outright GPAC dual championship for the third-straight year. On the opposing side, the Broncos hope to knock off Concordia and share the conference title.
First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad enters the week with records of 10-4 overall and 6-0 in conference action. Meanwhile, third-year head coach Mike Schadwinkel’s Hastings team sports marks of 11-4 overall and 5-1 in the GPAC. The dual will be streamed live on the Concordia Sports Network.
To add to the atmosphere inside Walz Arena, the Bulldogs will honor 11 seniors as part of Senior Night festivities.
“These 11 seniors are a pretty incredible group,” Nicola said. “It’s going to be exciting to have a lot of those seniors in the lineup. I’m excited for the opportunity for them to wrestle in front of the home crowd one last time. Without them, we wouldn’t have had the success we’ve had. We have two guys in there that are two-time All-Americans.”
The current senior class will go down as the most accomplished in the history of the program to date. Over the past four seasons, the likes of Ken Burkhardt Jr., Ceron Francisco and company have starred for teams that have won a combined three GPAC dual championships and two NAIA North Group titles and have produced three top-25 national championships finishes (8th, 12th and 22nd), a combined overall record of 41-20 and a combined GPAC mark of 25-2.
A two-time NAIA All-American, Burkhardt Jr. is the winningest wrestler in program history with a career record of 116-55. He’s looking to go out in his style in his final home match as a Bulldog.
“My time here at Concordia has been a dream come true,” Burkhardt Jr. wrote in a senior reflection. “We have accomplished a lot and made memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so proud of all my teammates including those from year’s past, my brothers standing here with me today, and those that will stand here in the coming years. This University and wrestling program gave me more than I could ever ask for. They gave me role models, mentors, friends, brothers and a second family.”
The senior class includes two additional All-Americans in Kodie Cole (2015, 2016) and Francisco (2015). Ranked No. 5 nationally at 285 pounds, Francisco has been nearly unbeatable this season. He is currently 18-2 overall. Cole stands at 17-9 overall and is ranked ninth in the NAIA at 133 pounds. Other seniors that could see action on Thursday are Dmitri Smith (125), Foster Bunce (141) and DJ McIntyre (285).
Last week Concordia extended its GPAC dual win streak to 20. During that string, it has outscored opponents by a combined total of 674-180 and has won 151 out of 200 individual bouts. Winner of back-to-back-to-back GPAC titles, the Bulldogs last lost a conference dual on Feb. 13, 2014.
The Bulldogs want to keep the streak alive, but they expect to face a significant challenge in Thursday’s big matchup.
“I’ve been writing out about 15 different scenarios as far as how things could happen in this dual,” Nicola said. “I talked to Coach Schadwinkel on Saturday. I’m not sure either of us would have expected that the final dual would be the determining factor on the conference champion. Are we going to win it outright or are we going to share it with Hastings and Morningside? It will also have a lot of weight on seeds for the regional tournament.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited. The guys are in here doing the right things.”
Hastings has won five-straight conference duals since dropping a 19-18 decision to Morningside on Dec. 1. Based on the official GPAC ratings released by the NAIA on Monday (Feb. 6), the Broncos are No. 5 behind Concordia, Northwestern, Briar Cliff, Midland and Morningside. Hastings has five nationally-ranked individuals. Its highest-ranked grappler is No. 12 Chris Vaughan (149).
Concordia (10-4, 6-0 GPAC)
125 – Dmitri Smith (14-7)
133 – (9) Kodie Cole (17-9)
141 – Foster Bunce (10-8)
149 – Cameron Devers (7-8)
157 – Gabe Crawford (12-10)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (15-13)
174 – Walker Fisher (12-14)
184 – Josh Nelsen (16-15)
197 – (2) Ken Burkhardt Jr. (30-7)
285 – (5) Ceron Francisco (18-2) / DJ McIntyre (14-8)
Hastings (11-4, 5-1 GPAC)
125 – Nolan Laux
133 – Trey Trujillo
141 – (15) Christian Mesa
149 – (12) Chris Vaughan
157 – Huy Truong
165 – Brian Messersmith / (13) Austin Moyer
174 – Brian Messersmith / (13) Austin Moyer
184 – Jake Wood
197 – (16) Jeremiah Gerl
285 – Daniel Gonzalez