Wrestling set to host NAIA North National Qualifier

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 17, 2016 in Wrestling

SEWARD, Neb. – Reigning GPAC and NAIA North champions, the seventh-ranked Concordia University wrestling team will make history on Saturday when it hosts a national qualifying event for the first time in program annals. Action from the 2016 NAIA North National Qualifier is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT on Saturday from Walz Arena. The tournament will open up with a three-mat format before shifting to a single mat for the finals that night.

The entire event will be streamed live via the Concordia Sports Network (not all matches during the three-mat format will be available). TrackWrestling.com will feature live results throughout the tournament.

A year ago Concordia won the regional by racking up 165 team points to beat out runner-up Dickinson State University (N.D.) (120.5 points). The regions have been restructured for 2015-16 with the NAIA North Group consisting of solely the eight GPAC wrestling institutions.

In front of the home fans, fourth-year head coach Dana Vote has hopes of qualifying more than the 10 guys he took to the 2015 NAIA National Championships.

“I’m excited to have the tournament here,” Vote said. “I think we’re going to have a great crowd and a great atmosphere. We want to make it the best tournament we possibly can and send these seniors out on a high note. Jr Lule has been unbelievable in the conference this year – just dominating everybody. I want to see those guys have a good tournament and enjoy the process.”

Concordia will enter the tournament as a favorite to win it once again. In last week’s North Group ratings, the Bulldogs amassed 176 total team points, distancing themselves from Morningside and Midland (tied for second with 137 points apiece). Concordia has nine wrestlers ranked in the top three of the region of their respective weight classes. The top-three placing individuals in each weight class on Saturday will earn automatic berths to the national championships.

Three Bulldogs went a perfect 7-0 in GPAC duals and are ranked atop the conference: Andrew Schulte (141), Jr Lule (157) and Ceron Francisco (285). Lule and Schulte will be overwhelming favorites in their weight classes after rolling through GPAC opponents. Lule (30-7) earned wins by technical fall over the second and third-ranked grapplers in the 157-pound class of the GPAC. Schulte (32-6) has been similarly impressive and is the NAIA’s top-ranked 141-pounder.

Concordia clinched its second-straight outright GPAC dual title with last week’s 32-7 win over Morningside. During its active 14-match conference win streak, Concordia has outscored opponents by a combined total of 482-123 while triumphing in 107 of 140 individual bouts. This season the Bulldogs won each of their GPAC duals by a margin of at least nine points while outnumbering conference foes by a collective 240-64.

Four of the 2015 North champions are back to defend their titles. The list includes Concordia’s Kodie Cole (133) and Schulte (141), Doane’s Kevin Corbett (174) and Northwestern’s Nicholas Null (won at 184 in 2015; now wrestles at 197). The 2015 event was hosted by York College, which is now part of the NAIA South Group.

Official brackets will be announced after a seeding meeting on Friday evening. Wrestlers will weigh in early Saturday morning in preparation for the 9 a.m. start. The approximate time for finals matches is 5:30 p.m. An awards ceremony will be held promptly at the conclusion of the finals.

Team North Group rankings
1. Concordia – 176
T2. Morningside – 137
T2. Midland – 137
4. Northwestern – 116
5. Doane – 115
6. Briar Cliff – 98
7. Dakota Wesleyan – 63
8. Hastings – 48 

Individual North Group rankings (top three)
1. Hugo Perez, Midland
2. Austin Boles, Northwestern
3. Dmitri Smith, Concordia

1. David Berg, Midland
2. Michael Andreano, Briar Cliff
3. Kodie Cole, Concordia

1. Andrew Schulte, Concordia
2. Sonny Gulesian, Briar Cliff
3. Lane Nicholas, Morningside

1. Steven Garcia, Morningside
2. Foster Bunce, Concordia
3. Kyle Fowler, Morningside

1. Jr Lule, Concordia
2. Martin Phillips, Doane
3. Dakota Drenth, Morningside

1. Trever Devestern, Dakota Wesleyan
2. Tommy Bailey, Concordia
3. Aaron Lopez, Midland

1. Zach Fishman, Northwestern
2. Tyler McMichael, Midland
3. Kevin Corbett, Doane

1. Tyree Cox, Northwestern
2. Matt Atwood, Concordia
3. Luis Rivera-Santiago, Northwestern

1. Cody Linton, Doane
2. Ken Burkhardt Jr., Concordia
3. Nicholas Null, Northwestern

1. Ceron Francisco, Concordia
2. Dalton Presley, Briar Cliff
3. Aaron Rafalko, Midland