2016-17 Wrestling

11-4 Overall | 7-0 GPAC | Season Stats

2016-17 Wrestling Roster

Head Coach: Andrew Nicola

Assistant Coach: Levi Calhoun

Graduate Assistant Coach: Junior Lule

Vote headed to Iowa State after four-year run at Concordia

Sep. 5, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – After four years spent building the Concordia wrestling program into a GPAC powerhouse and national player, Dana Vote has resigned his post as head coach. Vote has accepted the position of director of wrestling operations at Iowa State University. He is set to officially begin duties as a member of the Cyclone wrestling program on Tuesday (Sept. 6).

Vote parts ways following a successful tenure that saw him earn a pair of GPAC coach of the year awards while winning conference dual and tournament titles in each of the past two seasons. At Concordia, Vote coached eight All-Americans and tutored the program’s first-ever individual national champion this past March.

“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made in my life,” Vote said. “It’s a good group of kids here. The commitment they’ve shown is what made it so hard to leave. It’s also what’s helped me feel better about the decision because I know that they’re going to succeed in whatever they do. They’ve all shown tremendous growth.

“My time here is time I’ll never forget. I went through basically every emotion you can go through as a coach. We went from being one of the least competitive programs in the country to being nationally relevant and having a national champion and GPAC team championships. It was an awesome opportunity. I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Director of Athletics Devin Smith appreciated the work Vote put in to build Concordia wrestling into a well-respected program.

“Prior to Coach Vote’s arrival, our wrestling program had fallen on hard times and it was extremely evident within his first year that Dana was the right coach at the right time to invigorate our program using the resources and structures already in place,” Smith said. “He expected greatness out of others and under his direction the program became nationally relevant in four short years. Vote had a knack for identifying and landing talented student-athletes, developing them in the classroom and on the mat, while connecting this group with our campus and community in a number of positive ways. Coach Vote will be missed by many, and we wish him and his family the best as he transitions into this new professional role.”

Full-time assistant wrestling coach Levi Calhoun remains on staff at Concordia. The athletic department has opened up a national search to find a replacement for Vote. Smith expects the program to remain a player on the national scene.

Nicola named to head wrestling post

Oct. 7, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – Most recently assistant wrestling coach at NCAA Division II California Baptist University, Andrew Nicola has been named head wrestling coach at Concordia University, as announced by the athletic department on Friday (Oct. 7). Nicola becomes the third head coach since the program’s rebirth in 2009. He takes over a team coming off back-to-back Great Plains Athletic Conference titles.

Nicola fills the role vacated by Dana Vote, who left Concordia to become the director of wrestling operations at Iowa State University following four seasons with the Bulldogs.

“It is an honor beyond measure to be the head coach at Concordia University,” Nicola said. “Concordia is an opportunity for me to use my God-given talents and passion for wrestling to lead this program. It is my duty to serve these young men in every capacity to help them achieve their goals socially, academically and athletically. I was drawn to the family atmosphere of the school and of the community and to the school's investment in athletics. My vision for Concordia wrestling is for it to continue be a nationally recognized and respected program both on and off of the mats.”

Nicola, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., has coached as an assistant in the collegiate ranks since 2009. As a two-year member of head coach Lennie Zalesky’s staff at California Baptist, Nicola helped the Lancers reach heights that had been unprecedented for the program. The 2015-16 Cal Baptist squad won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship and then placed second in its region and sixth at the NCAA Division II National Championships, where four Lancers earned All-America awards. Heavyweight Joe Fagiano took home the program’s first ever NCAA title. In addition, CBU finished in the top 10 nationally in terms of grade point average during both of Nicola’s seasons spent in Riverside, Calif.

Prior to landing at CBU, Nicola made coaching stops at NAIA Cumberland University (Tenn.) and NCAA Division II University of Central Missouri. Additionally, he served two different Indiana high schools, Bloomington South and Culver Academies.

Cumberland also made big waves during Nicola’s two seasons as an assistant. The 2013-14 Bulldogs recorded the program’s highest-ever finishes at the NAIA National Championships (sixth), National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals (third) and NWCA Academic All-American Team standings (fourth). Six Cumberland wrestlers found their way to the All-America stand at the 2014 national championships. One won a national title and another finished runner up.

Nicola has also coached on the international scene. He holds a USA Wrestling Silver Certification. He’s served on the Indiana National Team coaching staff for more than a decade. In 2013, Nicola traveled to Budapest, Hungary, for the World Championships while working as a Team USA Senior World Team Coaching Ambassador. He garnered 2012 Indiana Cadet/Junior Coach of the Year honors.

The Hoosier State native graduated from Indiana University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He went on to complete a master’s degree in athletic and sport business administration in 2012 from Central Missouri. He also earned a master’s degree in education from Cumberland.

This past season, the Concordia wrestling program captured GPAC dual and postseason championships and placed eighth at the NAIA National Championships on the strength of its first-ever individual national champion. Levi Calhoun remains the assistant wrestling coach for the Bulldogs.

Statement from Devin Smith, Concordia University Director of Athletics

We’re blessed to welcome Andrew Nicola to the Bulldog Nation as our new Head Wrestling Coach. Andrew has spent his coaching career preparing for this moment. We have no doubt that he will continue the momentum that has been built within our wrestling program by his predecessor, Coach Dana Vote. Andrew brings strong Christian character and instant credibility into the room as a technician and as a strong recruiter with many connections throughout the country. He’s been part of championship programs and we’re excited about the winning pedigree he brings to Concordia. Andrew’s passion for the sport and for life are clearly evident. We are looking forward to seeing what heights our wrestling program will reach with Andrew leading the way.

Statement from Lennie Zalesky, California Baptist University Head Wrestling Coach
Andrew has been a big help in growing our wrestling program here at CBU. He relates well to the student-athletes and excels in recruiting. He will be missed here, but the job offered to Andrew is an incredible opportunity for him. I believe he will do a fantastic job there at Concordia.

More from Coach Nicola
I want anyone and everyone who hears about our boys to associate them with respect, hard work, discipline and loyalty. That's a recipe for success in all facets of our lives. There's such a solid group returning and coming in that our goal should not be short of a top five finish in the classroom, at nationals and at the national duals this season. We will continue to build off of the success that Coach Vote had and we will set our sights on earning a NAIA National Championship. 

I have had such an advantage of learning so much from previous coaches that I've worked with. My biggest college coaching influences have been Leroy Vega (who is the reason I am where I am today in the coaching world), Lennie Zalesky and Arsen Aleksanyan. Without their guidance and patience with me, I don't believe that I would be in the position that I am. I am blessed knowing the three of them are only a phone call away when I have questions. There is a lot of coaching experience between the three of them.

Wrestling begins 2016-17 No. 1 in GPAC, No. 8 in NAIA

Oct. 19, 2016

NAIA preseason coaches’ poll

SEWARD, Neb. – Coming off back-to-back GPAC titles, the Concordia University wrestling program will open up 2016-17 with lofty regional and national rankings. This week the Bulldogs were placed atop the preseason NAIA North Group/GPAC preseason rating while also landing at No. 8 in the NAIA national coaches’ poll. Concordia placed eighth at the 2016 NAIA Wrestling National Championships.

From an individual perspective, 11 Bulldogs attained preseason North Group ratings. Four of them garnered No. 1 regional rankings: Kodie Cole (133), Tommy Bailey (165), Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) and Ceron Francisco (285). On a national level, Cole made the biggest waves by rising to No. 1 at 133 pounds. Cole is one of eight nationally-ranked Bulldogs (see list at bottom).

Concordia has now been ranked in 16-straight national coaches’ polls, including every rating throughout the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. The program’s highest-ever national ranking was sixth, where it was placed on Feb. 11, 2015. The Bulldogs appeared inside the top 10 in all eight polls during the 2015-16 campaign.

The Bulldogs will follow the lead of a new head coach in 2016-17. Andrew Nicola was announced on Oct. 7 as the third head coach for Concordia wrestling since the program’s rebirth in 2009. Nicola previously served as an assistant coach at NCAA Division II California Baptist University. He replaces Dana Vote, who left after four seasons with the Bulldogs.

The season officially gets started on Saturday, Nov. 5 when Concordia will compete at the Grand View University Open, set to take place in Pleasant Hill, Iowa.

North Group Ratings
125 – Dmitri Smith: No. 2
125 – Giovanni Castillo: No. 4
133 – Kodie Cole: No. 1
149 – Foster Bunce: No. 2
157 – Jon Lado: No. 6
165 – Tommy Bailey: No. 1
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski: No. 3
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr: No. 1
197 – Alexander Reimers: No. 5
285 – Ceron Francisco: No. 1
285 – DJ McIntyre: No. 4 

NAIA National Ratings
125 – Dmitri Smith: No. 12
125 – Giovanni Castillo: No. 13
133 – Kodie Cole: No. 1
149 – Foster Bunce: No. 11
165 – Tommy Bailey: No. 9
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski: No. 16
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr: No. 3
285 – Ceron Francisco: No. 4

View from the athletes: seniors embrace Nicola 

October 21, 2016

On the day they first met, Ceron Francisco bear hugged Andrew Nicola. It was more than just a warm welcome. It symbolized the embracement of a new leader. It meant a lot to Nicola, whose title as Concordia head wrestling coach is still barely two weeks old.

“I’m supposed to lead by example,” Francisco said. “It was important for me to find out what Coach Nicola was about and welcome him so guys can see he’s not an enemy.”

In some ways, the likes of All-Americans in Francisco, Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Kodie Cole are still getting over the shockwaves that hit them in early September when former head coach Dana Vote left to become director of wrestling operations at Iowa State University. Vote had been all the seniors knew.

Burkhardt Jr. put it bluntly when asked for his reaction.

“To be honest, I was quite ticked off,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “There were a lot of emotions. Then again, Coach Vote’s done a lot for me. I’m just happy for him to move forward in his career. I love the guy to death and hope the best for him at Iowa State.”

Though their world was shaken up, Concordia wrestlers have remained unified by a common goal: they want a team trophy this coming March. Nicola hasn’t shied away from talking about that lofty aspiration in practices. The Bulldogs are buying in.

Says Burkhardt Jr., “That’s definitely one of my top priorities for this season. I want to achieve big things, but I also want to put in the time to help the other guys achieve big things.”

Big things will be expected of stalwarts such as Burkhardt Jr., ranked No. 3 nationally at 197 pounds, as well as others like Cole (No. 1 at 133), Francisco (No. 4 at 285) and Dmitri Smith (No. 12 at 125).

One thing Nicola emphasized immediately? An expectation of success.

“He wants to win,” Cole said. “He’s ready to do what we need to do in order to be at the top, not only individually, but as a team – and not only on the mat, but off the mat as well. Academics are something big that we’re going to focus on. We’re just going to continue to make strides until we’re where we need to be.”

Nicola is highly confident and highly energetic and brings a winning pedigree after helping raise the California Baptist program to new heights over two seasons as an assistant in Riverside, Calif. Success has followed Nicola throughout his journey that has taken him to Cumberland University (Tenn.) and the University of Central Missouri, among other stops.

Sure there is an ongoing adjustment period, but the group of senior leaders has helped build a bridge in the transition to a new coaching era.

“We’re still getting used to it,” Francisco said. “But the transition was real smooth. Devin (Smith) and Angela (Muller) brought in a great coach. Everybody’s buying into the stuff he’s implementing and our training. I’m just excited about what we can do this year.”

Nicola has been pleased with the response he’s gotten in the room so far. He even rewarded them on Thursday (Oct. 20) with a shortened practice – precisely 27-and-a-half minutes. But they would only finish in that amount of time if everyone went all out during the grueling workout. That’s exactly what happened.

One thing Nicola never lacks: energy.

“I like the intensity he brings to the room,” Smith said. “I like that he’s always with us and expects us to grind. He’s emphasized picking up the tempo in practice and to always work hard.”

Some outsiders probably hoped that Vote’s departure would fracture the program, perhaps drive an emotional dagger into the seniors who were recruited and coached by Vote. But you won’t find any Debbie Downers inside the PE Center that houses the Bulldog wrestling room. Concordia is all in on Nicola. Most importantly, the team’s accomplished seniors have embraced him.

“A lot of us probably looked at Coach Vote leaving as a downfall or a setback,” Cole said. “After we met Coach Nicola and saw what he can bring to the team, we’re really excited about what’s going to happen this year.”

Added Burkhardt Jr., “Right now everybody’s looking at Concordia like, ‘Oh, they’re going to choke. They’re missing this guy and this guy. Their coach left them.’ I think with Coach Nicola, we’re just going to defy all those doubts and achieve things people didn’t think we could achieve.”

Season preview: 2016-17 Concordia wrestling

Oct. 28, 2016

At a glance:
2015-16 Dual Record:
 13-4 overall, 7-0 GPAC (1st); won NAIA North Qualifier
2016 NAIA National Championships finish: 8th
Head Coach: Andrew Nicola (1st year)
Returning National Qualifiers: Tommy Bailey (165); Foster Bunce (149); Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197); Kodie Cole (133); Ceron Francisco (285); Dmitri Smith (125)
Key Losses: Matt Atwood (184); Travian Cooke (174); Junior Lule (157); Andrew Schulte (141)
Key Newcomers: Giovanni Castillo (125/133); Cameron Devers (141); Victor Haro (149); Jon Lado (157)
2015-16 GPAC All-Conference: Matt Atwood (first team); Ceron Francisco (first team); Junior Lule (first team); Andrew Schulte (first team, GPAC wrestler of the year); Tommy Bailey (second team); Foster Bunce (second team); Ken Burkhardt Jr. (second team); Dmitri Smith (honorable mention)
2016 NAIA All-Americans: Andrew Schulte (141, 1st); Kodie Cole (133, 5th); Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197, 7th)

Season Outlook
The 2016-17 Bulldogs won’t feel complete satisfaction unless they’re posing with a team trophy come March 4, 2017, the date the 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships commence. Under previous head coach Dana Vote, the program improved each year. Last season Concordia polished off GPAC and regional titles for the second year in a row and recorded an eighth-place national finish, the best in program history.

Six national qualifiers are back in the fold this year for a team loaded with seniors – 12 to be exact. Three of them – Ken Burkhardt Jr., Kodie Cole and Ceron Francisco – own a combined five All-America plaques.

There’s a lot of familiarity inside the program. The one major difference? Gone is Vote. In is new leader Andrew Nicola, who spent the previous two seasons helping build NCAA Division II California Baptist University into a national power. For Nicola, the time and the opportunity was right to make Concordia his new home.

“I’m pretty fortunate,” Nicola said. “I was given a team that’s really solid. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Cal Baptist. We had a pretty good thing going there, but I’m excited to see how I can perform as a head coach, how I can relate to the boys and to get my own program running.”

Nicola has been greeted with immediately high expectations. Preseason rankings placed the Bulldogs atop the GPAC/NAIA North Group and at No. 8 in the national coaches’ poll. Nicola has a ready-made winner that boasts eight nationally-ranked individuals. The likes of Burkhardt Jr. (No. 3 at 197), Cole (No. 1 at 133) and Francisco (No. 4 at 285) are expected to make returns to the podium.

With an accomplished senior group at the forefront, Nicola knew he had to get it to buy in from the start. It didn’t take long for that to happen. Nicola’s expertise and passion have won his new wrestlers over.

“I love every aspect of his coaching,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “He’s caring. He’s passionate. He brings a whole load of energy to the room. In these two weeks that I’ve spent with him I’ve learned tremendous amounts of technique and mental aspects of wrestling. I think he’s going to really keep this program going in the right direction.”

Burkhardt Jr. and Cole will both have the opportunity to become the first three-time All-Americans in the school history. Burkhardt Jr. is the winningest wrestler in the history of a program that was reborn in 2009. At 86-48 overall in his first three seasons at Concordia, Burkhardt Jr. simply needs to remain healthy to eclipse the 100-win mark. Meanwhile, Cole is determined to start stronger this season. He’s saved his best for the national tournament in each of the past two years.

Three other seniors also qualified for the national tournament in 2016: Tommy Bailey (165), Foster Bunce (149) and Dmitri Smith (125). All three carry national rankings. Smith has been especially impressive from Nicola’s standpoint. The native of Beaumont, Calif., has progressed steadily throughout his college career. He wants to end it by reaching the podium at nationals.

“These seniors have been awesome,” Nicola said. “I think that’s a direct reflection of why the rest of the guys are on board. They’re seeing the older leadership. They’re embracing the change. They’ve done way more than I thought they would. They could sulk in it and then not achieve their goals, but that’s not the group that we have.”

This team is more than just a senior class. Transfers and California natives Giovanni Castillo (No. 13 at 125) and Kirk Kaliszewski (No. 16 at 165) both garnered preseason national rankings. Castillo, a California junior college state champion, will give Smith a strong push for the starting spot at the top of the dual lineup. Concordia also has high hopes for other junior college imports in Victor Haro (149) and Jon Lado (157). At 141 pounds, freshman Cameron Devers has a chance to make a splash.

Devers and fellow rookie Gabe Crawford (157) have caught the eye of Burkhardt Jr. with their early work in the room.

“One of the things that stands out to me is that a lot of the younger guys have great work ethic, especially Cameron and Crawford,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “Those guys have a lot of talent but it’s not the talent that surprises me, it’s the work they’re putting in. They’re staying after practice and lifting like crazy. They’re sweating. They’re always moving. They’re always attacking. I think that’s the kind of style they need to be successful in college.”

One thing Nicola hasn’t had to worry about is getting his team to work hard. As someone who can never get enough time in the room himself, Nicola has neglected sleep in an effort to maximize his talented roster. Morning and post-practice sessions and study tables three nights per week have become the norm for Concordia.

“Every day I’ve been here I’ve worked out in the morning with a group of guys and every day after practice I have between five and 15 people sticking around,” Nicola said. “Those are the kinds of things that have to happen in order to be a championship team. Putting the time in is imperative. Everybody’s practicing for two hours in the afternoon. You have to put the extra time in and show me that you want to win. I’ve got a group of guys that is showing that every single day.”

Work ethic combined with talent and a belief in a new leader have the potential to take Concordia to great heights this coming March. The Bulldogs expect to continue their dominance at the GPAC level (14-straight conference dual wins) before making a bid for the program’s first-ever team trophy.

Things might look just a bit different with Nicola having replaced Vote, but confidence within the program is as high as ever.

“I don’t want to come across the wrong way,” Nicola said. “I’m just confident in what these guys can do. I see it in them every single workout when I’m asking them to dig a little deeper and give a little more. If we can keep this up how we’re going, mentally and physically, the future is very bright.”

Nicola will make his debut as a head coach when the season opens on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Grand View University Open in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. The action will get started at 9 a.m. CT.

The winding road to No. 1: Cole welcomes target

Oct. 30, 2016

The Oct. 19 unveiling of the NAIA preseason wrestling national rankings came with at least one surprise. Concordia senior Kodie Cole appeared atop the ratings for the 133-pound weight class. This is the same young man who at one time didn’t want to go to college. It’s also the same Bulldog who struggled early last season. He was 5-6 after his first 11 matches.

He turned it in on a big way, eventually claiming All-America honors for the second year in a row. He’s helped put Concordia wrestling on the map. Four years ago he would have had no idea.

“I was a little hesitant at first to make the big move. To be honest, I didn’t really know where Nebraska was on the map,” Cole said. “A lot of different things influenced me to come here. For one, I didn’t grow up with the best opportunities so when one came up like this, I knew I had to make the best of it.”

More mature. Wiser. More academically focused. Cole has come a long way in a short time. He’s never won more than 18 matches in a single season, but he always seems to hit his stride at just the right time, as his All-America plaques and three national tournament trips would attest. Now he’s got a target on his back as a No. 1-ranked wrestler.

Cole has embraced it and he’s putting more time in the room than ever before to try to back it up.

“I feel like it puts a bigger bulls eye on my back,” Cole said. “That’s just going to make me want to work that much harder because everybody’s coming for it. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of. I’m finally in a place where I can make dreams reality. I’m really determined to do everything right.”

Cole is one of several Bulldogs that regularly get out of bed early to work out with new head coach Andrew Nicola, who has been immediately impressed with the native of Palmdale, Calif. Says Nicola, “Kodie’s ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason. That kid is a workhorse.”

Cole’s ability is undeniable. Even during times when he wasn’t getting the results he wanted or was limited by injury, Cole drew the attention of opposing coaches. He had only mild success on the mat last season – until the most important tournaments came about. Elite competition has a way of bringing out the best in Cole.

All he did was take second place at the NAIA North Qualifier and then fifth place at the national championships. Those were the types of performances former head coach Dana Vote expected from Cole. Sometimes the two squabbled, but Vote’s wild celebration after Cole clinched All-America honors stood out as one of the lasting images of the 2016 national championships.

“I love the kid to death. He’s a great kid,” Vote said of Cole following the 2015-16 season. “He had some struggles this year with weight cutting and some different things. We butted heads at times, but things came together and he worked hard. He started believing in the coaches and the system. We got down to the end of the year and he wanted it bad. He had a goal and he fought with every ounce he had. He did a great job. He performed at a high level at the national tournament.”

As a youngster, Cole played Pop Warner football. Wrestling had no part in his life until the head football coach at Highland High School told Cole he was “too small” to see any playing time at the varsity level. But the freshman football coach also served as head wrestling coach and saw potential in Cole, who was convinced to make a switch.

This was a watershed moment in the life of Cole, an impressionable young man who admits, “I might have a little different story than others.” At just three months of age, Cole was adopted by his grandparents. It’s been a unique situation for Cole, who does know his parents. He doesn’t see his dad. He also rarely interacts with his siblings. On the other hand, he has visits with his mom “every so often.”

“Growing up wasn’t bad. It was just different,” Cole said. “A lot of people didn’t really understand. Through all of that I learned to make the most of what was given to me and to be thankful for that. Not everybody gets the same opportunities that have come my way. It could be a lot worse.

“I’m beyond blessed to have ended up where I am. It’s the people who have raised me that have put this head on my shoulders. They showed me right from wrong and taught me many, many things.”

Those lessons helped Cole develop a work ethic that has served him well as a wrestler. The Californian fell in love with the sport. While other friends were hanging out on weekends, Cole was grappling at tournaments. It became more and more apparent that he had the ability to wrestle at the collegiate level.

Cole just didn’t know for sure if that was what he wanted. The student part of student-athlete was not exactly Cole’s favorite aspect of life.

“My senior year didn’t end the way I would have liked it to go,” Cole said. “I started to fall off all together. I wanted to just work. I didn’t really want to go to school anymore. But I kept up with the wrestling world a little bit.”

Vote first saw teammates of Cole’s at a tournament in Virginia Beach. They raved about Cole, who couldn’t afford to be at the tournament. Vote got in touch and mutual interest developed quickly.

Now here Cole is with a target on his back as the top-ranked 133-pound wrestler in the NAIA. Never before has he been in a better spot both physically and mentally. He enjoys seeing his name on the left side of the honor board that hangs inside the Concordia wrestling room. He’s proud of being an All-American, but he insists that he also wants to be listed on the right side of the board, which displays academic award winners.

“This is my senior year. This is it,” Cole said. “I want to be the best person in all aspects of who I can be. I had never really been big into school. I’ve never been an academic All-American and I was only a couple points off last year. I want to be on both sides of that board. I don’t feel like I’m doing my part because I’m not. That drives me – and so does this whole No. 1 thing.”

Burkhardt Jr., Francisco claim titles at season-opening Grand View Open

Nov. 6, 2016

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa – A new era of Concordia University wrestling got underway as Andrew Nicola made his head coaching debut for the eighth-ranked Bulldogs, who opened up the 2016-17 season at the Grand View University Open in central Iowa on Saturday. The biggest waves were made by returning All-Americans Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco. Both of whom claimed titles in their respective brackets.

Of the 17 Bulldogs who competed on Saturday, five earned place finishes while combining for a total of 27 wins amid a loaded field that included many NCAA Division I wrestlers.

“I needed to see what kind of style these guys wrestle,” Nicola said. “It allows me to make adjustments with how we run practice and individual drills. Now I’m becoming more comfortable with how they wrestle and how they compete.”

Francisco competed just fine at Grand View. Determined to have a big season after finishing with a disappointment at the 2016 national championships, the No. 4-ranked heavyweight made a splash by upsetting the University of Northern Iowa’s JJ Everard, who is ranked 20th in NCAA Division I. Francisco beat Everard by a 7-6 decision to advance himself to the title match. That bout was never contested though, as defending national champion Dean Broghammer of Grand View withdrew due to injury.

“That’s a huge win beating a kid ranked 20th in Division I,” Nicola said. “Ceron was really looking forward to getting a shot at the defending national champion as well. Ceron is a big strong man and is incredibly talented wrestling on bottom. He’s just wrestling very well and his mind is right.”

Burkhardt Jr. also held off a Division I opponent, taking a 7-5 decision over Southern Illinois Edwardsville’s Jake Tindle in the 197-pound semifinal match. Burkhardt Jr. also defeated No. 14 Johnathen Dennis of Grand View before pinning Iowa Lakes Community College’s Christian Dulaney in the championship tussle.

“Ken is giving up very few points to anybody because the kid just doesn’t come out of position,” Nicola said. “He hand fights well and head blocks well.”

Also in the “open” division, sophomore Alexander Reimers earned a fifth-place finish at 197 pounds. He went 4-2 on the day. Place finishes in the “freshman” division were turned in by Gabe Crawford (second at 157), Deandre Cherry (fourth at 174) and Darrin Miller (fifth at 174).

Ranked No. 1 nationally at 133 pounds, Kodie Cole suffered losses to No. 7 Hunter Genco of Grand View and to No. 6 David Berg of Midland as part of a challenging bracket. Cole’s lone win on the day came over William Penn University’s Tommy Rios.

A favorite to win the GPAC for the third-straight year, Concordia has its first dual of the season coming up on Friday (Nov. 11) when it will be at Dakota Wesleyan. The match is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT in Mitchell, S.D.

Bulldogs blank Dakota Wesleyan in season's first dual

Nov. 11, 2016

MITCHELL, S.D. – The streak lives on. Host Dakota Wesleyan served as little threat for the eighth-ranked Concordia University wrestling program, which has now won 15-consecutive GPAC duals. On Friday evening, the Bulldogs won all seven contested matches and benefited from three forfeits in the process of trampling the Tigers, 51-0.

Andrew Nicola picked up his first career dual win as a head coach. Nicola inherited a program that has won GPAC titles in back-to-back seasons while being perfect in conference dual action.

New coach. Same GPAC dominance.

“I was really happy with the way the boys came to work tonight,” Nicola said. “They were staying on the attack. Everybody just had the goal to go out there and dominate. We didn’t want to just win, we wanted to put our hands on them and really dominate the dual. I felt like we did a solid job of doing that from top to bottom.”

After Tiger forfeits at 125 and 133, freshman Cameron Devers made quick work of Brady Schleuter, pinning him in 2:21 for the first career collegiate win for the North Carolina native. The blowout was just getting started on a night that saw Concordia record two pins and two wins each by technical fall and major decision.

The 141-pound Devers set the tone for the night.

“Devers looked incredible,” Nicola said. “He was heavy handed right off the bat. He had two beautiful high crosses and some very nice lifts. He was transition wrestling really well. I was really proud of him coming through in his college wrestling debut. It was the first match of the dual so it got everybody fired up.”

Kirk Kaliszewksi (165) recorded the other pin. He needed only 21 seconds to wipe out Zechariah Westergaard in the 165-pound weight class. That pin followed victories by technical fall for Foster Bunce at 149 pounds and Jon Lado at 157 pounds. Both Walker Fisher (174) and No. 4 Ceron Francisco (285) recorded wins by major decision.

At 197 pounds, third-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. held off Matt Schirado for the 91st victory of his career. Burkhardt Jr. is creeping closer to becoming the first Bulldog to reach 100 career wins.

Dmitri Smith (125), No. 1 Kodie Cole (133) and Josh Nelson (184) all claimed triumphs via forfeit.

The Bulldogs will remain in Mitchell overnight in preparation for Saturday’s Dakota Wesleyan Open. A large contingent of Concordia grapplers will be on hand for the second tournament of the season. Action from Mitchell will get started at 9 a.m. CT.

Francisco takes second-straight title; five Bulldogs place

Nov. 12, 2016 

MITCHELL, S.D. – Ceron Francisco still has yet to lose in the early going in his senior season for the eighth-ranked Concordia University wrestling team. Francisco took home a 285-pound title for the second-straight tournament while again highlighting the efforts of the Bulldogs, who earned a total of five place finishes at Saturday’s Dakota Wesleyan University Open in Mitchell, S.D.

Twenty-five grapplers represented Concordia at the tournament. Twenty-one of them recorded at least one win on the day.

“I’m just so proud of these guys for grinding,” Nicola said. “They refuse to quit no matter how broken their bodies are feeling. We as a coaching staff have to take it upon ourselves to make sure we get these guys healed up.

“We’re on track with the goals that we have set for the season. The boys came to do work and they did just that. They just go so hard. They do everything we ask of them at practice.”

Francisco, now 9-0 on the year, defeated four NCAA Division II opponents as part of his run through the heavyweight bracket in Mitchell. In the championship match, Francisco dominated Augustana University’s (S.D.) Michael Lowman, winning by major decision, 12-2. It marked the third victory of the day that came by a major for Francisco, a 2015 All-American currently ranked No. 4 in the NAIA. Francisco appears poised for his best season yet.

After a pair of losses to highly-rated opponents last week, No. 1-ranked 133-pounder Kodie Cole got back on track on Saturday, advancing to the title bout. That’s where Cole suffered his only loss of the day – a 15-7 major decision at the hands of No. 8 Michael Andreano of Briar Cliff. It was an otherwise dominant outing for Cole, who earned pins in three of his four wins.

“He looked night and day different compared to how he competed last week,” Nicola said. “I was very proud to see the senior step up his game. He was always mat side cheering on his teammates as well.”

At 149, Foster Bunce rattled off four wins in a row before withdrawing from the title match that would have put him up against Augustana’s Colin Ayers. Bunce, ranked 11th in his weight class notched two pins on the day.

Other place finishers for Concordia were sophomore Alexander Reimers and senior Ken Burkhardt Jr., both at 197. The two were set to face each other in the third-place match, but the decision was made not to contest it. Burkhardt Jr. added three wins to his career total as he continues his pursuit of victory No. 100. Meanwhile, Reimers shook off a loss in his first match by pinning his next four opponents.

At 125, transfer Giovanni Castillo made his Concordia debut and won a pair of matches by decision before withdrawing. At that same weight, teammate Dmitri Smith posted three wins on the day.

The Bulldogs will return to action on Thursday (Nov. 17) when they travel to nearby York College for a dual with the 19th-ranked Panthers. In last season’s meeting with York in Seward, Concordia won going away, 38-8. The Bulldogs are 1-0 in duals this season having defeated Dakota Wesleyan, 51-0, on Friday.


Undefeated Francisco collects first GPAC weekly award of 2016-17

Nov. 16, 2016

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – On the strength of a 9-0 start, senior heavyweight Ceron Francisco is making waves in the early part of the 2016-17 wrestling season. On Wednesday the conference tabbed Francisco the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week. This marks Francisco’s second career conference weekly award.

A native of Fayetteville, N.C., Francisco went a perfect 6-0 last week while claiming his second tournament title already this season. As part of eighth-ranked Concordia’s 51-0 win Dakota Wesleyan on Nov. 11, Francisco defeated Trevor Peter by major decision, 10-1. Ranked fourth nationally in the 285-pound weight class, Francisco then went 5-0 (three wins by major decision) at the next day’s Dakota Wesleyan University Open in Mitchell, S.D.

Now 83-50 in his four seasons at Concordia, Francisco turned in perhaps the most impressive win of his career at the Grand View University Open on Nov. 5. At the season-opening tournament, Francisco toppled NCAA Division I 20th-ranked JJ Everard, 7-6, of the University of Northern Iowa.

Francisco and head coach Andrew Nicola’s Bulldogs are scheduled to return to the mat on Saturday for the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open. The action is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. CT.

Bulldogs claim 33 victories at UNK Open

Nov. 19, 2016

KEARNEY, Neb. – The third tournament of the 2016-17 season featured 33 Bulldog wins and a semifinal advancement for senior Ken Burkhardt Jr., who wound up with a sixth-place claim in the 197-pound bracket at Saturday’s University of Nebraska-Kearney Holiday Inn Open. A total of 19 grapplers represented the eighth-ranked Concordia University wrestling team at the tournament.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola saw a lot of positives on a day when the Bulldogs went up against a loaded field in Kearney.

“We lost our share of matches today, but we are improving at an incredible rate every weekend,” Nicola said. “I’m seeing the things we’re implementing in our drills being used on the mat. It’s really encouraging because the guys are seeing how the things we’re working on are helping them win matches. Once again, I’m thrilled with the effort these boys are putting out there on the mats.”

Senior Ceron Francisco, the GPAC wrestler of the week, did not have a chance to shoot for his third-straight tournament title. The heavyweight was sidelined by injury. However, Burkhardt Jr. made a bid for a title of his own. He defeated Eric Schultz of the University of Nebraska, 7-2, and Hastings’ Jeremiah Gerl, 2-1, to put himself in the semifinals. That’s where he was taken down by highly-rated Jon Inman of NCAA Division II Fort Hays State University (Kan.). Burkhardt Jr. then withdrew from the remainder of the open.

Several freshmen caught the eye of Nicola, who made note of the work of rookie Gabe Crawford in the 157-pound bracket. Crawford posted a team high four victories on the day. The native of Virginia Beach, Va., defeated two NAIA opponents, including Baker University’s (Kan.) Owen Tuckfield, who was pinned in 4:22 by Crawford. Three other freshmen – Nate Bennett, Deandre Chery and Darrin Miller – combined for seven victories at UNK.

Many of Concordia’s nationally-ranked wrestlers did not compete on Saturday, including No. 12 Giovanni Castillo (125), No. 10 Kodie Cole (133), No. 12 Foster Bunce (149) and No. 4 Francisco (285). Nicola has made it clear that duals will be the top priority until the NAIA North Qualifier on Feb. 18.

Some minor injuries haven’t put a damper on Nicola’s outlook for what’s on the horizon for this year and beyond.

“Every single one of these kids just does what we ask of them,” Nicola said. “We’re going to win, and we’re going to win a lot. We’re building an awesome culture here. The feedback that I’m getting from the parents and the athletes is incredible. It’s encouraging and keeps me motivated to do what I’m doing. We’re headed in the right direction.”

Concordia will break for Thanksgiving week. The Bulldogs are set to return to action on Friday, Dec. 2 when they pay a visit to Crete for a GPAC dual with Doane. Concordia won its opening dual of the 2016-17, 51-0, over Dakota Wesleyan on Nov. 11. That result pushed the Bulldogs’ GPAC dual win streak to 15.

Dual at Doane awaits No. 9 Concordia

Dec. 2, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – It’s been more than 1,000 days since the Concordia University wrestling program has tasted defeat in a conference dual. The Bulldogs will again put their streak on the line on Friday when they grapple with Doane. The dual is set for 7 p.m. CT inside the Fuhrer Field House in Crete.

Doane will provide a live stream of the dual. It can be accessed HERE

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola inherited a squad favored to capture the GPAC crown for a third-straight year. The Bulldogs were dominant in their only conference dual so far this season. Concordia earned bonus points at nine of 10 weights as part of a 51-0 blanking of Dakota Wesleyan on Nov. 11. The victory marked the Bulldogs’ 15th in a row over GPAC opponents. Concordia went 7-0 in conference dual action in both 2014-15 and 2015-16.

In terms of national rankings, this year’s squad is headlined by the likes of returning All-Americans in second-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197), fourth-ranked Ceron Francisco (285) and 10th-ranked Kodie Cole (133). Due to injury, Francisco will not compete in Crete. The heavyweight from Fayetteville, N.C., is off to a 9-0 start with two tournament titles. He’s expected to return in time for the National Duals (Jan. 5-6). Meanwhile, Burkhardt Jr. is in hot pursuit of becoming the first wrestler in program history to reach 100 career wins. He enters the weekend with an overall record of 96-53.

In place of Francisco will be DJ McIntyre at the heavyweight spot. McIntyre qualified for the national championships in 2015 before sitting out last season. Friday’s expected lineup also features 12th-ranked Foster Bunce (149) and Dmitri Smith (125), two of the program’s 10 national qualifiers last season.

Matt Hansen’s Tigers were tagged with a 29-24 home loss to Midland on Nov. 22. Doane made a splash at the 2016 NAIA National Championships by finishing sixth behind 197-pound national champion Cody Linton. Both Linton and fellow All-American Kevin Corbett exhausted their eligibility. The lone returning 2016 All-American is 197-pounder Chandler Knight, who is not in Friday’s probable lineup. Two nationally-ranked grapplers are expected to go up against the Bulldogs: No. 10 Martin Phillips (157) and No. 14 Kyle Hoffman (184).

Doane returned to the wrestling landscape in 2013-14. Since then, Concordia has won all three meetings with the Tigers.

Concordia vs. Doane series
1/21/16 – W, 24-15
11/18/14 – W, 35-12
1/14/14 – W, 39-6 

Following Friday’s dual, the Bulldogs will shift focus to Saturday’s Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa. Action is set to get underway at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will make its home debut on Friday, Dec. 9 when Northwest Kansas Tech makes a visit to Walz Arena.

Projected lineups

Concordia: 1-0, 1-0 GPAC
125 – Dmitri Smith (4-4)
133 – No. 10 Kodie Cole (6-3)
141 – Cooper Bailey (0-0)
149 – No. 12 Foster Bunce (5-1)
157 – Jon Lado (2-2)
165 – No. 15 Kirk Kaliszewski (4-4)
174 – Walker Fisher (5-4)
184 – Josh Nelsen (3-6)
197 – No. 2 Ken Burkhardt, Jr. (10-5)
285 – DJ McIntyre (3-4) 

Doane: 0-2, 0-1 GPAC
125 – Jackson Bates (1-4)
133 – John Fletcher (1-6)
141 – Preston Jurgens (6-4)
149 – Josue Solis (7-4)
157 – No. 10 Martin Phillips (1-0)
165 – JohnMark Reddick (5-5)
174 – Zach Linton (1-0)
184 – No. 14 Kyle Hoffman (4-4)
197 – Craig Hudiburgh (3-3)
285 – Jake Smith (1-4)

Bulldogs clip Doane, extend win streak

Dec. 3, 2016

CRETE, Neb. – This wasn’t quite the dominant win the Concordia University wrestling program has grown accustomed to, but in the end, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs found a way to extend their lengthy win streak. All-Americans Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Kodie Cole pinned their opponents as part of a 23-22 team victory at Doane on Friday evening.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad has improved to 2-0 this season in conference duals. The Bulldogs have now won 16-consecutive duals against GPAC rivals.

“Doane wasn’t interested in just laying down,” Nicola said. “They’re obviously a very good team. We won this as a collective unit. It’s frustrating the way that it went down, but we won. We just need to do a better job of executing the small things.”

After Concordia heavyweight Alexander Reimers got pinned in the night’s final match, the dual came down to a tiebreaker (total match points) that went in the Bulldogs’ favor. Concordia survived after Josh Nelsen edged out 12th-ranked Kyle Hoffman, 2-1, at 184 and second-ranked 197-pounder Burkhardt Jr. pinned No. 12 Chandler Knight in 3:47.

In addition, Cole (ranked 10th at 133) took care of Jonathan Fletcher in 1:28 for his third pin of the season. Other Bulldog wins came from No. 12 Foster Bunce (major decision) at 149 and Dmitri Smith (decision) at 125.

Concordia had led 9-0 after the first two lightweight bouts of the night, but the Tigers came roaring back to take a 16-13 lead after Doane’s Zach Linton pulled out a 5-2 decision over Walker Fisher in the 174-pound tussle. Two matches later, Burkhardt Jr. surfaced with his 97th career victory. The native of Milford, Neb., is knocking on the door in regards to becoming the first wrestler in program history to rack up 100 career wins.

For a program that expects to win the GPAC, Friday’s dual serves as a wakeup call.

“We need to do better at very simple things like sticking to the game plan,” Nicola said. “We have to build off this. We won this dual because we had more match points, but we have to continue training with the philosophy that if there’s time on the clock, then there’s time to score. I’m not disappointed. I’m proud of the guys. Everyone’s anxious to get back to work.”

The Bulldogs returned to action on Saturday (Dec. 3) morning at the Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa. Concordia will make its 2016-17 home debut on Friday, Dec. 9 when Northwest Kansas Tech visits Walz Arena for a dual. The match is set to get started at 7 p.m. CT.

Bennett wins title, three other Bulldogs place at BVU

Dec. 4, 2016

STORM LAKE, Iowa – A day after the ninth-ranked Concordia University wrestling team clipped Doane in a GPAC dual, a group of 14 Bulldogs made their way to the Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa. In Saturday’s tournament action, freshman Nate Bennett claimed the 165-pound ‘B’ bracket title and three others earned place finishes for Concordia. The Bulldogs recorded a combined 19 wins on the day.

Assistant coach Levi Calhoun traveled with the team. Calhoun oversaw additional place finishes by junior Kolton Larsen (second in 157 ‘B’), sophomore Tristain Sichmeller (third in 174 ‘B’) and sophomore Demitrius Miller (fourth in 184 ‘A’). None of the Bulldogs who competed in Friday’s 23-22 victory at Doane made the journey to Storm Lake.

Bennett entered the day having gone 3-4 over his outings at the Dakota Wesleyan and University of Nebraska-Kearney opens. The native of Carrollton, Texas, was a perfect 4-0 at Buena Vista. He earned decisive victories (technical fall and a pin) on his way to the semifinals, where he defeated Wayne State College’s Caleb Thomas, 7-3. He then prevailed, 12-6, over Chris Paulsen of Briar Cliff in the title bout.

Larsen equaled Bennett’s team best four wins on the day. Larsen pinned Trenton Simpson of Iowa Lakes Community College and then snuck past North Iowa Area Community College’s Colby Winnett on a tiebreaker, moving him to the championship match. That’s where Augustana College’s Jackson Sweeney majored Larsen, 15-5.

Demitrius Miller emerged as the lone Bulldog to place in the ‘A’ brackets. Miller advanced to the semifinals at 184 by winning his first two matches. That run included a 12-10 victory over Grand View University’s (Iowa) Casey Crawford.

Miller, Tommy Andrews (285) and Sichmeller each collected two wins at the BVU Open. Another five Bulldogs picked up exactly one victory.

The Bulldogs will make their home debut on Friday (Dec. 9) when Northwest Kansas Tech visits Walz Arena for a 7 p.m. CT start time. The Mavericks have not yet competed in a dual. Concordia has won its first two duals of the season, collecting wins over GPAC foes Dakota Wesleyan and Doane.

Thirteenth-ranked Bulldogs set to make home debut Friday

Dec. 7, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – After four tournaments and two duals, the 13th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team will make its home debut on Friday when it welcomes Northwest Kansas Technical College to Seward. The dual is set to get started at 7 p.m. CT inside the Walz Arena.

The match will be carried live on the Concordia Sports Network with Aaron Sweazy calling the action.

The Bulldogs have emerged victorious from their first two duals. Last Friday they narrowly escaped Crete with a 23-22 win that came down to the third tiebreaker (total match points). Returning All-Americans Kodie Cole (133) and Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) did their part, recording pins over their Tiger opponents. Second-ranked Burkhardt Jr. wiped out No. 12 Chandler Knight in 3:47 for the 97th victory of his career.

Concordia’s projected lineup for Friday looks similar to the one it used last week. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is still without the services of senior heavyweight Ceron Francisco (9-0), who has been nursing an injury. Sophomore Alexander Reimers moved up a weight to 285 last week to replace Francisco. Reimers is one of five national qualifiers that appear in the projected lineup which also includes seniors Dmitri Smith at 125 and Foster Bunce at 149.

Burkhardt Jr. is the team leader with 11 wins. Reimers is right behind him with 10 victories. Reimers paces the Bulldogs with six pins. Freshman Deandre Chery has five and Cole has four.

New national rankings were released on Wednesday (Dec. 7). Concordia checked in at No. 13 in the team rankings. Six individual Bulldogs appeared in the national rankings: No. 9 Cole (133), No. 13 Bunce (149), No. 14 Nelsen (184), No. 2 Burkhardt Jr. (197), No. 10 Reimers (197) and No. 4 Francisco (285).

Northwest Tech will enter the dual ranked 17th in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll. Maverick heavyweight Odgerel Batkhishig of Mongolia is ranked third individually. Dominique Evans is ranked eighth at 149. Northwest Tech owns a dual mark of 2-2.

Following Friday’s dual, Concordia will compete at the Doane University Open on Saturday. Action in Crete is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT.

Projected lineups

Concordia: 2-0
125 – Dmitri Smith (5-4)
133 – No. 9 Kodie Cole (7-3)
141 – Cooper Bailey (0-1)
149 – No. 13 Foster Bunce (6-1)
157 – Jon Lado (2-2)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (4-5)
174 – Walker Fisher (5-5)
184 – No. 14 Josh Nelsen (4-6)
197 – No. 2 Ken Burkhardt Jr. (11-5)
285 – Tommy Andrews (4-4) or No. 10 Alexander Reimers (10-6) 

Northwest Kansas Technical College (2-2)
125 – Fabian Guerrero
133 – Jesus Morales or Austin Hernandez
141 – James Taylor
149 – No. 8 Dominique Evans
157 – Ryan Snow
165 – Adrian Kois
174 – Schyler James
184 – Turah Reed
197 – Kyle Rodriguez
285 – No. 3 Odgi Batkhishig

McIntyre, 13th-ranked Bulldogs dominate Northwest Tech

Dec. 9, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – This was more like the dominant GPAC powerhouse Concordia University wrestling team we have come to expect. While playing host for the first time in the 2016-17 season, the 13th-ranked Bulldogs won eight of 10 matches, including six that came with bonus points as part of a 38-8 win over Northwest Kansas Technical College on Friday night.

First-year head Andrew Nicola’s squad remains undefeated in duals at 3-0. The latest win proved much more decisive than last week’s 23-22 squeaker over rival Doane.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past, but I think we still had a little bit of Doane taste in our mouth this whole week of practice,” Nicola said. “This was one of those weeks where it wasn’t just great practice. The camaraderie in the room was great, too. We prepared hard. We expected this outcome. We’re going to keep working.”

Heavyweight DJ McIntyre put an exclamation mark on the victory by wiping away the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) third-ranked 285-pounder, Odgi Batkhishig. Leading 6-3 in the third period, McIntyre brought the house down when he took his counterpart to the mat and finished him off with 38 seconds showing on the clock.

With Ceron Francisco still out of the lineup, McIntyre’s return to the mat is essential for Concordia to be able to close out duals the way it did on Friday.

“DJ and I discussed strategy before our workout this afternoon,” Nicola said. “We knew his opponent was a freestyler. We knew he wanted to be on his feet. If there’s anyone I feel comfortable with in that situation, it’s DJ. He’s big. He’s strong. He doesn’t have any second guesses when he decides to go with it. He stuck to the game plan. That’s a big win for him.”

At 197, second-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. simply keeps doing his thing. He jumped out to a 10-0 lead with a takedown and eight near fall points before ending Chance Shull’s night in 2:40. It was Burkhardt Jr.’s fourth pin of the season and 98th victory of his career. He’s on the cusp of becoming the first wrestler in program history to reach 100 wins.

“I just look at it as another notch in the belt,” Burkhardt Jr. said. I’ve got bigger and better things to worry about as far as regionals and nationals. That’s my main concern. One-hundred wins is good, but there are bigger things than that.”

Other impressive victories were earned by 125-pounder Dmitri Smith (technical fall), 141-pounder Cooper Bailey (technical fall), 165-pounder Kirk Kaliszewski (technical fall) and 174-pounder Walker Fisher (pin, 2:01). In addition, ninth-ranked Kodie Cole (133) turned in an 8-5 win by decision and No. 14 Josh Nelsen defeated Turah Reed, 7-3.

The only other nationally-ranked Maverick was No. 8 Dominique Evans at 149. He toppled Kyle Carey by technical fall. Northwest Tech, ranked 17th at the NJCAA level, also got a 7-5 victory from Ryan Snow at 157 pounds.

Unofficially, the Bulldogs combined for 19 takedowns and 30 total near fall points. Smith set the tone with six takedowns and four near fall points in the night’s opening bout. Kaliszewski racked up 12 near fall points in the first period alone while up against Adrian Kois.

The Bulldogs will turn around quickly and wrestle at the Doane University Open in Crete, Neb., at 9 a.m. CT. It will mark the fifth tournament of the season for Concordia. Owner of one tournament title, Burkhardt Jr. will attempt to make history at Doane.

Burkhardt Jr. makes history, wins 197-pound title at Doane Open

Dec. 10, 2016

CRETE, Neb. – A large number of family members were on hand to see senior Ken Burkhardt Jr. become the first competitor in the history of the Concordia University wrestling program to reach 100 career wins. The Milford native and two-time All-American achieved that milestone in dominant fashion as part of an impressive series of performances. Burkhardt Jr. went a perfect 4-0 and was one of eight Bulldogs to earn place finishes inside the Fuhrer Field House at the Doane University Open on Saturday.

Burkhardt Jr. claimed his second tournament championship of the season. Meanwhile, teammates Walker Fisher (174) and DJ McIntyre (285) turned in second-place finishes in their respective brackets. The 21 Bulldogs who scrapped on Saturday combined for a total of 39 wins.

“I was really happy with the performance of the team overall,” said first-year head coach Andrew Nicola. “I was very proud of Walker for making the final. It just shows that these kids want to continue working hard and putting the time in. We’ll get back to work on Monday.”

Burkhardt Jr. is on a tear. He pinned all four of his opponents on Saturday, pushing his run of consecutive pins to six. He finished off Nebraska Wesleyan’s Austin Lampkin in 2:44 to give him career win No. 100. He bumped his total to 102 by the time his day concluded with a pin of unattached Trey Schlender in 6:28.

The team leader with 16 wins (eight by pin) on the year, Burkhardt Jr. has put together a sterling career.

“Four and oh with four pins. He looked like a man all day today,” Nicola said. “He’s been sticking to the game plan all season, which is why he’s having so much success. He just does not come out of position and he’s relentless with his hands. He’s got nasty snaps. He’s hard to score on. We just need to keep him healthy and he’s going to be pretty hard to beat.”

McIntyre came on strong this weekend. He ended Friday’s 38-8 dual victory over Northwest Kansas Technical College by pinning the third-ranked heavyweight in the National Junior College Athletic Association. He pinned that same foe again Saturday as part of his 4-1 showing. His only defeat occurred in the championship bout that came soon after he gutted out a close battle in the semifinals against the University of Nebraska-Kearney’s Aaron Griffith.

It was also a big weekend for Fisher, who was fresh off a pin of his own the previous night. The native of Ashland, Neb., eked out one-point decisions in both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches in the 174-pound bracket. In the championship, Fisher got pinned by York College’s Nick Meck.

Five additional Bulldogs ended up placing at the Doane Open, including Kirk Kaliszewski (fourth at 165), Kolton Larsen (sixth at 157) and three that advanced to seventh-place bouts that were not contested: Jon Lado (157), Tristain Sichmeller (174) and Josh Nelsen (184).

The eight place finishes made for a solid day in a tournament with a quality field of wrestlers at Doane.

Said Nicola, “It was a fun tournament with some good competition.”

The Bulldogs do not have any competitions scheduled next week during final exams. They will return to action on Monday, Dec. 19 for the Oklahoma City Duals. National Duals are also coming up Jan. 5-6 in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Burkhardt Jr. dominance leads to GPAC weekly award

Dec. 14, 2016

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – A dominant weekend allowed senior Ken Burkhardt Jr. to claim the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week award, as announced by the conference on Wednesday (Dec. 14). This marks the first career weekly honor for the two-time All-American. The Concordia University wrestling program has had a stranglehold on the award since the beginning of last season. Out of the last 15 GPAC wrestler of the week awards handed out, the Bulldogs have won nine of them.

A native of Milford, Neb., Burkhardt Jr. made history last week, becoming the first Bulldog ever to record 100 career wins. Now 102-53 as a Concordia grappler, Burkhardt Jr. pinned all five of his opponents last week, extending his run of consecutive pins to six. His 100th victim was Nebraska Wesleyan’s Austin Lampkin, who was wiped out by Burkhardt Jr. in 2:44. Ranked second nationally at 197 pounds, Burkhardt Jr. won his respective bracket at last week’s Doane University Open for his second tournament title of the season.

Burkhardt Jr. now has eight pins on the season and 39 for his career. He’s been named second team All-GPAC each of the last two years. His junior season saw him place second in the NAIA North Group and seventh at the NAIA national championships.

Burkhardt Jr. and the Bulldogs will return to action on Monday (Dec. 19) when they compete at the Oklahoma City Duals. They will wrestle four different teams that day in an event hosted by Oklahoma City University.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last two seasons)

2016-2017
Dec. 14 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Nov. 16 – Ceron Francisco

2015-2016
Feb. 16 – Jr Lule
Feb. 9 – Andrew Schulte
Feb. 2 – Ceron Francisco
Jan. 26 – Jr Lule
Jan. 12 – *Andrew Schulte
Jan. 5 – Andrew Schulte
*NAIA national wrestler of the week

Milford's Burkhardt Jr. soaring as a Bulldog

Dec. 15, 2016

This isn’t exactly the way Ken Burkhardt Jr. planned it. Then again, he really didn’t have a plan after he tore his ACL as a high school senior and things fell through on a possible landing spot at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. This could have been the story of Ken Burkhardt Jr., outside linebacker and member of a nationally-ranked Concordia football team.

Still in his hometown Milford following a successful high school run, Burkhardt Jr. took classes at Southeast Community College while he plotted his next move. “I was kind of desperate at that time,” admitted Burkhardt Jr.

But the third of five siblings clearly had the ability to compete collegiately in something. Then head football coach Vance Winter came with an offer that sounded good enough for Burkhardt Jr. to sign on the dotted line.

“My first semester here I did (spring) football and wrestling and my GPA suffered because of that,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “I sat down with Coach (Dana) Vote and had a heart-to-heart. He was like, ‘You can be average at both of these sports or pick one and be really good at one.’ Fortunately, I was able to excel in wrestling. I’m blessed that I had that conversation with him.”

If you’ve been following his career, you know Burkhardt Jr.’s decision was the right one. That point was made loud and clear last week as Burkhardt Jr., wrestling in Crete, the town where he was born, celebrated career win No. 100. That victory, like all of them that weekend, came in dominant fashion. Many family members and friends were on hand as Burkhardt Jr. reached a lofty win total that no other Bulldog grappler has ever touched.

This was just the latest accomplishment for the NAIA’s second-ranked 197-pounder, who seeks to become the first competitor in program history to earn three All-America plaques. The 100th win was something he was ready to knock out and move on from, but it’s likely a moment he won’t forget. Said Burkhardt Jr., “I could hear my family the whole time I was wrestling. It was pretty cool.”

Burkhardt Jr. will enter next week’s Oklahoma City Duals with a career record of 102-53. The GPAC wrestler of the week has been on a tear. He’s pinned six-straight opponents and is fresh off a 197-pound title at the Doane University Open.

“He looked like a man all day today,” said first-year head coach Andrew Nicola following the Doane Open. “He’s been sticking to the game plan all season, which is why he’s having so much success. He just does not come out of position and he’s relentless with his hands. He’s got nasty snaps. He’s hard to score on. We just need to keep him healthy and he’s going to be pretty hard to beat.”

Though Seward and Milford High School are separated by only 13 miles, Concordia was hardly a consideration for much of Burkhardt Jr.’s prep career. But fellow Milford Eagle and good friend Kyle Rakow helped set a new trend of Eagles turned Bulldogs. Rakow, who became an all-conference defensive end on the football team, helped sway Burkhardt Jr., who initially thought he was headed to Concordia to compete solely on the gridiron.

But Vote noticed that Burkhardt Jr. had indicated an interest in wrestling on his application. That spurred a conversation that then inspired Burkhardt Jr. to find his way to the wrestling room. So began a career that has seen the well-put together Nebraskan improve each season. He went 21-18 and qualified for nationals as a freshman. That wasn’t bad, but he’s so much better now.

“The main thing is the mentality,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “You have to go out there with confidence that you’re No. 1 and that you’re going to beat your guy. You have to be relentless with your attacks. Freshman year I wasn’t confident at all. Basically I was beating myself before I was even wrestling. I was thinking about way too much instead of just going out and wrestling. I had some talks with Coach Vote and Coach (Ryan) Pankoke that helped me out. Then this year, Coach Nicola has helped me out.”

There were times when Vote was tough on Burkhardt Jr. There were also the good-natured ribbings. Now director of operations for Iowa State University wrestling, Vote developed a strong bond with Burkhardt Jr. Vote believed in him.

“He’s a guy that flies under the radar,” Vote said of Burkhardt Jr. following the 2016 national championships. “He doesn’t do a lot of flashy things, but he finds ways to win. He found his way on the podium again. He’s a good student. I couldn’t be more proud of Ken and what he’s done.”

Part of a pipeline of recent Milford-to-Concordia success stories such as Rakow and Chandler Folkerts, Burkhardt Jr. has made a name for himself. Says Burkhardt Jr., “It’s a small community, but we have that hard-work mentality that’s produced a lot of high-quality athletes.”

A hard worker who likes to snowboard, hunt and fish in his free time, Burkhardt Jr. aspires for a higher perch on the podium this March. Last season the program broke through with its first-ever individual national champion. Having soaked in that moment, Burkhardt Jr. would like to add his name to the list.

“I’m just trying to do all the right things,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “I’m helping the guys underneath me. I’m trying to get extra workouts in and lifts. I’m eating right – Thanksgiving I ate a lot. I’m trying to live the right lifestyle so hopefully I come out on top.”

In many respects, Burkhardt Jr. has already come out on top. In addition to his triumphs on the mat, he worked his way onto the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic list. Plus, he conquered his older sisters, Keelee and Kelsey. Says Burkhardt Jr., “As a little kid I was getting beat up by my sisters quite a bit.”

They must be proud of not-so-little brother now. Supported by his father Ken Sr., Burkhardt Jr. often went to multiple wrestling tournaments every weekend as a youngster. The linebacker-turned-All-American wrestler has found his passion – and he’s thriving. Says Burkhardt Jr., “Wrestling was where my heart was.”

Four top 15 foes await Concordia at Oklahoma City Duals

Dec. 16, 2016

SEWARD, Neb. – The field at the Oklahoma City Duals is loaded. The 13th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team will take on four teams ranked in the top 15 of national polls as part of the event set to take place on Monday (Dec. 19) on the Oklahoma City University campus. Concordia’s schedule at the Oklahoma City Duals can be viewed below.

Oklahoma City Duals Opponents (Dec. 19)
(8) Campbellsville University (Ky.), 9 a.m. CT
(14) University of Central Oklahoma, 10:30 a.m. CT
(11) Wayland Baptist University (Texas), 12:00 p.m. CT
(6) Oklahoma City University, 1:30 p.m. CT
 

The Oklahoma City Duals feature five sessions of duals on four mats. Video will be provided from at least one dual per session via Oklahoma City’s Stretch Internet portal. All of the OCU duals will be streamed in addition to one other ‘marquee dual’ at the 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. time slots. Live results for all duals will be available via TrackWrestling.com.

In addition to its streak of 16-straight GPAC dual wins, Concordia also owns 10-match overall win streak that dates back to last season’s National Duals. Six Bulldogs sport national rankings. That group includes GPAC wrestler of the week and second-ranked 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr., who has pinned each of his last six opponents and recently became the first wrestler in program history to reach the 100-win plateau. Burkhardt Jr. is 3-0 in dual meets for a squad that has defeated Dakota Wesleyan, 51-0, Doane, 23-22, and Northwest Kansas Technical College, 38-8, so far this season.

Burkhardt Jr. could get a particularly difficult test should he go up against Central Oklahoma’s Greg Wilson, the ninth-ranked 197-pounder at the NCAA Division II level. Central Oklahoma is known throughout the nation as a powerful program. The Bronchos have won 15 team national titles in their history. The other three opponents are NAIA powers. All three placed inside the top 15 at the 2016 national championships: Campbellsville (fifth), Wayland Baptist (11th) and Oklahoma City (13th). Nine Oklahoma City wrestlers appear in the national rankings.

Following the Oklahoma City Duals, the National Duals will be up next for first-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad. The National Duals (Jan. 5-6) are held in Nicola’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Nationally-ranked competitors

Concordia: 3-0
133 – No. 9 Kodie Cole
149 – No. 13 Foster Bunce
184 – No. 14 Josh Nelsen
197 – No. 2 Ken Burkhardt Jr.
197 – No. 10 Alexander Reimers
285 – No. 4 Ceron Francisco

Campbellsville: 8-3 (NAIA)
125 – No. 3 Adrian Camposano
133 – No. 15 Kolten Radaz
165 – No. 7 Shawn McGhee
174 – No. 6 Justin Brown
184 – No. 3 Charles Sharon
285 – No. 16 Terrell Moore

Central Oklahoma: 3-0 (NCAA Division II)
125 – No. 4 Josh Lindsey
197 – No. 9 Greg Wilson
285 – No. 4 Caleb Cotter

Oklahoma City: 6-2 (NAIA)
125 – No. 12 Mason Naifeh
141 – No. 10 Matt Landgraff
141 – No. 15 James Landoll
157 – No. 9 Kristian Holguin-Mendez
174 – No. 4 Ricky McCarty
184 – No. 5 Derek Sievertsen
197 – No. 14 Evan Hudson
285 – No. 3 Korey Walker
285 – No. 10 Bryson McGowan

Wayland Baptist: 3-1 (NAIA)
133 – No. 11 DeMarco Speller
149 – No. 14 Andrew Overstreet
174 – No. 2 Jose Alvarez
184 – No. 2 Michael Naiper
197 – No. 8 Riley Williams

Bulldogs split four duals against top-15 opponents in OKC

Dec. 19, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Up against some of the top competition in the nation, the 13th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team more than held its own. The Bulldogs defeated both No. 8 Campbellsville University (Ky.), 26-10, and No. 11 Wayland Baptist University (Texas), 24-15, as part of their run at the 2016 Oklahoma City Duals hosted by Oklahoma City University on Monday. Concordia was also defeated, 48-0, by NCAA Division II 14th-ranked University of Central Oklahoma and fell, 24-13, at the hands of Oklahoma City.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is now 5-2 this season in dual action. The victories over Campbellsville and Wayland Baptist gave the program 10-straight wins over NAIA teams, until the streak was ended by Oklahoma City.

These are exactly the types of events Nicola hopes will help prep his athletes for the national championships in March.

“An event like this helps us in many ways,” Nicola said. “We saw three of the best teams in the NAIA. It also helps us because we get to learn from our match against UCO. We go up against top guys from all divisions of wrestling and use that as a tool for learning. It’s important that we face those high caliber guys. The setbacks make you realize that you have to get back to work.

“I saw a different team in round three than I saw in round two. They rebounded greatly. I was really impressed with that.”

The Bulldogs got the day started positively by taking seven of 10 bouts from Campbellsville, a program that finished fifth at the 2016 national championships. Transfer Giovanni Castillo (125) grappled in a dual for the first time in Concordia blue and earned a 6-4 decision at the top of the lineup. Leading 16-10, the Bulldogs relied upon seniors Ken Burkhardt Jr. (major decision) and DJ McIntyre (pin) to put the match away. McIntyre’s pin came in the final seconds of the third period in a tussle with 16th-ranked Terrell Moore.

Though the two sides split the 10 matches, Concordia’s five wins against Wayland Baptist all came in dominant fashion. Kodie Cole, 3-1 on the day at 133 pounds, wiped out DeMarco Speller with a pin in 2:52. Three matches later, Jon Lado took care of Romen Correa in 2:07. Wrestling for the first time since Nov. 12 after being sidelined by injury, Ceron Francisco returned to the mat and finished off the Pioneers by recording a win by major decision.

The win moved fourth-ranked Francisco’s record to 10-0 entering his showdown with No. 3 Korey Walker of Oklahoma City. The heavyweight from Fayetteville, N.C., needed a pin to lift Concordia, trailing 18-13, to a team win. However, Walker got a late fall that ended a competitive bout after 6:57 had elapsed.

Against NAIA competition only, the Bulldogs won 16 of 30 individual matches. Three Concordia grapplers went unbeaten on Monday: Burkhardt Jr. (3-0), Castillo (2-0) and Lado (2-0). Burkhardt Jr., last week’s GPAC wrester of the week, has won nine-straight matches – six by pin and three by major decision.

Burkhardt Jr. and company proved they again belong with the elite programs in the NAIA.

“Today we saw that bonus points mattered,” Nicola said. “I was very proud of the guys. In my years of coaching I’ve never been part of a team that’s beaten Campbellsville in a dual. Oklahoma City slipped right by us.

“I’m happy to see Ceron back on the mat and how the boys rebounded greatly to defeat Wayland and then scrapped with Oklahoma City really tough.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a trip to Nicola’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., where the annual National Duals will take place Jan. 5-6. Pairings have not yet been released. Last season Concordia won three of its five matchups at the National Duals and took seventh place. While in Fort Wayne, the Bulldogs will practice at Nicola’s high school alma mater just as Concordia did at assistant Levi Calhoun’s prep alma mater in Oklahoma City.

Burkhardt Jr. again tabbed GPAC wrestler of the week

Dec. 28, 2016

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Continued dominance on the mat has led to another accolade for senior Ken Burkhardt Jr. On Wednesday (Dec. 28), the Milford native was named the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week. Burkhardt Jr. has garnered two of the last three GPAC weekly awards. As a team, the Concordia wrestling program has claimed 10 of the last 17 conference wrestler of the week honors.

Burkhardt Jr.’s latest recognition stems from his efforts at the Oklahoma City Duals (Dec. 19), where he went 3-0 with all three wins coming via major decision. The two-time All-American cruised past Wayland Baptist University’s (Texas) eighth-ranked Riley Williams, 11-1, at the Oklahoma City Duals. Ranked second in the NAIA at 197 pounds, Burkhardt Jr. owns a season record of 19-5 and a career mark of 105-53.

The 13th-ranked Bulldogs are now 5-2 overall this season. Their season will resume on Jan. 5-6 at the National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind., the hometown of first-year head coach Andrew Nicola.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last two seasons)

2016-2017
Dec. 28 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Dec. 14 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Nov. 16 – Ceron Francisco

2015-2016
Feb. 16 – Jr Lule
Feb. 9 – Andrew Schulte
Feb. 2 – Ceron Francisco
Jan. 26 – Jr Lule
Jan. 12 – *Andrew Schulte
Jan. 5 – Andrew Schulte
*NAIA national wrestler of the week

Bulldogs draw Wayland Baptist in first round of National Duals

Jan. 3, 2017

SEWARD, Neb. – The 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team began its trek from Seward to Fort Wayne, Ind., on Tuesday. The Bulldogs will again take part in the National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals at the War Memorial Coliseum in first-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s hometown. On Thursday’s (Jan. 5) opening day of the National Duals, the 10th-seeded Bulldogs will take on seventh-seeded Wayland Baptist University (Texas), also ranked 11th, in a tussle set for 10 a.m. CT / 11 a.m. ET.

It will be a rematch of a meeting that took place at the Oklahoma City Duals on Dec. 19 when Concordia defeated the Pioneers, 24-15. Win or lose, the Bulldogs will take the mat again in Fort Wayne at 2 p.m. CT / 3 p.m. ET against either No. 2 Indiana Tech or Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.). The NAIA bracket includes 16 teams with both winner’s and consolation rounds.

Nicola’s squad has won five of its first seven duals with victories over ranked NAIA squads Wayland Baptist and No. 8 Campbellsville University (Ky.). The Bulldogs are also 2-0 inside the conference with GPAC dual wins over Dakota Wesleyan and Doane. Concordia has won 16-straight conference duals.

Last season the Bulldogs took home a place finish from the National Duals for the first time in program history. Concordia finished seventh after taking the seventh-place match, 19-15, from then 14th-ranked Lindsey Wilson College (Ky.). During last year’s stay in Fort Wayne, the Bulldogs also picked up wins over Ottawa University (Kan.), 41-3, and over No. 10 University of Great Falls (Mont.), 28-19.

Six Bulldogs made appearances in the national rankings released last week by the NAIA. The hottest among them has been second-ranked 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr., who rides a nine-match win streak into the National Duals. During that streak, Burkhardt Jr. has won six times by pin and three times by major decision. He was named the GPAC wrestler of the week after a 3-0 run at the Oklahoma City Duals. In addition, 125-pounder Giovanni Castillo returns to the rankings at No. 12. Ceron Francisco holds steady as the fourth-ranked heavyweight.

In the Dec. 19 dual with Wayland Baptist, Castillo (125), Cole (133), Jon Lado (157), Burkhardt Jr. (197) and Francisco (285) all claimed wins with bonus points to carry the Bulldogs to the team victory. The Pioneers won five matches as well, but each of theirs was by decision.

NAIA NWCA National Duals – Seeds
No. 1 – Grand View (Iowa)
No. 2 – Indiana Tech
No. 3 – Williams Baptist (Ark.)
No. 4 – Oklahoma City
No. 5 – Southern Oregon
No. 6 – Midland (Neb.)
No. 7 – Wayland Baptist (Texas)
No. 8 – Campbellsville (Ky.)
No. 9 – Missouri Valley
No. 10 – Concordia (Neb.)
No. 11 – Life (Ga.)
No. 12 – Cumberland (Tenn.)
No. 13 – Baker (Kan.)
No. 14 – Northwestern (Iowa)
No. 15 – Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.)
No. 16 – Doane (Neb.) 

NAIA NWCA National Duals First Round Pairings
No. 1 Grand View (Iowa) vs. No. 16 Doane (Neb.)
No. 2 Indiana Tech vs. No. 15 Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.)
No. 3 Williams Baptist (Ark.) vs. No. 14 Northwestern (Iowa)
No. 4 Oklahoma City vs. No. 13 Baker (Kan.)
No. 5 Southern Oregon vs. No. 12 Cumberland (Tenn.)
No. 6 Midland (Neb.) vs. No. 11 Life (Ga.)
No. 7 Wayland Baptist (Texas) vs. No. 10 Concordia (Neb.)
No. 8 Campbellsville (Ky.) vs. No. 9 Missouri Valley 

Concordia nationally-ranked wrestlers
125 – No. 12 Giovanni Castillo
125 – No. 15 Dmitri Smith
133 – No. 9 Kodie Cole
197 – No. 2 Ken Burkhardt Jr.
197 – No. 11 Alexander Reimers
285 – No. 4 Ceron Francisco 

Wayland Baptist nationally-ranked wrestlers
133 – No. 14 DeMarco Speller
165 – No. 11 Zachary Mitchell
174 – No. 2 Jose Alvarez
184 – No. 4 Michael Naiper
197 – No. 8 Riley Williams

Bulldogs dominate Wayland Baptist before elimination at National Duals

Jan. 5, 2017

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Seniors Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco turned in perfect 3-0 days at the National Wrestling Coaches Association NAIA National Duals held at the War Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Thursday. After claiming a dominant 36-7 win over seventh-seeded Wayland Baptist University (Texas), the 10th-seeded Concordia University wrestling team got bounced from the 16-team, double-elimination bracket due to losses to No. 2 Indiana Tech, 31-18, and to No. 9 Missouri Valley College, 21-18.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad, ranked 11th in the NAIA coaches’ poll, moved to 6-4 overall this season. The GPAC-leading Bulldogs competed in the hometown of Nicola.

The day got off to a good start when No. 15 Dmitri Smith pulled out a 5-3 decision in the 125-pound bout with Wayland Baptist’s Adelfo Valdez. That victory spurred the Bulldogs to victories in eight of 10 matches over the Pioneers, whom Concordia also defeated at the Oklahoma City Duals on Dec. 19. Fourth-ranked heavyweight Ceron Francisco put an exclamation mark on the dual with a pin in the final match.

Francisco and Burkhardt Jr. were again the headlining performers for the Bulldogs. Francisco has lost just once all season in 14 matches. Meanwhile, Burkhardt Jr. pushed his personal winning streak to 12, though he was challenged in a 5-4 squeaker over Missouri Valley’s Alex Destra. That triumph came over Burkhardt Jr. made victims of Wayland Baptist’s eighth-ranked Riley Williams and Indiana Tech’s 10th-ranked Oscar Martinez.

In addition, Smith went 2-0, Giovanni Castillo won his only bout at 125, Kodie Cole went 2-1 at 133 and Jon Lado went 2-1 at 157. Collectively, the Bulldogs won 17 of 30 individual bouts. Lado gave his team a shot when he pinned Indiana Tech’s Mitch Roadruck after the Warriors had taken three-consecutive matches.

Concordia met Missouri Valley after dropping down to the second round of the consolation bracket. The Bulldogs raced out to a 12-0 advantage before the Tigers responded by winning the next five matches, including the last three by bonus points. That run rendered victories by decision for Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco insufficient to climb out of the team hole that had been dug.

Up next on the schedule is the Missouri Valley Invite in Marshall, Mo., on Jan. 20-21. Concordia’s next dual is slated for Jan. 28 versus Northwestern in Orange City, Iowa. The Bulldogs remain unbeaten in GPAC duals.

Bulldogs win nine matches, sit in 11th after day one at MO Valley

Jan. 20, 2017

MARSHALL, Mo. – Twelve Bulldogs represented the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team on day one of the Missouri Valley Invite held in Marshall, Mo., on Friday evening. Bulldog grapplers went a combined 9-9 and racked up 27 team points. Out of 33 teams in the field, first-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad sits in 11th place.

Concordia returned to action for the first time since the National Duals (Jan. 5). The Missouri Valley Invite is another showcase event that includes 15 of the NAIA’s top 20 ranked squads.

“It’s great competition,” Nicola said. “We definitely let some slip away – some of the matches that were within our reach like overtime, one-point matches that I think we should be closing. It was nice to get revenge specifically in two matches (involving Cameron Devers and Jon Lado). The guys showed a lot of character there.”

Lado went 2-0 at 157 with wins over Cumberlands’ (Ky.) Bobby Ehman and over Missouri Valley’s TJ Barnes. The only Bulldog more impressive on this particular night was 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr., who has been a constant all season.

Burkhardt Jr. (24-5) needed just nine seconds to dispose of Ryan Paige of Graceland University (Iowa). Then in the next round, the Milford native pinned Cumberlands’ Matt Carroll in 3:33. Seeded No. 1 in his weight class at Missouri Valley, Burkhardt Jr. will enter Saturday’s action with a 14-match win streak. Said Nicola, “It’s nice to see him dominate as the No. 1 seed and hopefully he can polish it off tomorrow.”

Five other Bulldogs posted exactly one win on the day: Cooper Bailey (133), Kodie Cole (133), Ceron Francisco (285), Devers (141), Josh Nelsen (184). After receiving two byes, Francisco defeated Nate Jackson of Campbellsville, 7-1. Francisco now owns a 14-1 record on the season.

All 12 Bulldogs remain in the hunt in their respective brackets. The second and final day of the Missouri Valley Invite will get started at 9 a.m. CT on Saturday. Results can be followed live via TrackWrestling.com.

“I think some of the guys that lost are pretty fired up to get some revenge on the back side,” Nicola said. “It shows a lot when you lose early on but can win matches on the back side for your team. I’m really looking forward to seeing those guys shine. I don’t doubt that we’re going to go home with some medalists. We just have to make sure we’re finishing our attacks. If we wrestle hard we’re going to be bringing home some hardware.”

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

Jan. 21, 2017

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.

Francisco picks up second GPAC weekly honor of 2016-17

Jan. 25, 2017

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Senior Ceron Francisco has now earned three GPAC weekly honors over the past two seasons. His latest award came on Wednesday when the conference again named Francisco the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week. Francisco and teammate Ken Burkhardt Jr. have combined for four conference weekly awards this season. As a team, the Concordia wrestling program has claimed 11 of the last 21 GPAC wrestler of the week awards.

Francisco’s honor comes courtesy of his efforts at last week’s Missouri Valley Invite. At the loaded event, the native of Fayetteville, N.C., finished as the runner up in the heavyweight bracket. During his run to the title match, the fifth-ranked Francisco toppled ranked opponents in No. 9 Javier Gonzalez of Menlo College (Calif.) and No. 14 Justin Smith of Missouri Valley. His lone loss came at the hands of sixth-ranked Jacob Laden of Grand View University (Iowa) in the title bout. He placed higher than both the second- and third-ranked heavyweights in the NAIA.

Francisco now stands at 16-2 overall this season, giving him the highest winning percentage on the team. His career record has moved to 90-52. He’s the second winningest wrestler in program history behind only Burkhardt Jr. (114).

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s 11th-ranked squad will return to action with three GPAC duals in Orange City, Iowa, on Saturday. Concordia owns a GPAC dual win streak of 16.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last two seasons)

2016-2017
Jan. 25 – Ceron Francisco
Dec. 28 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Dec. 14 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Nov. 16 – Ceron Francisco

2015-2016
Feb. 16 – Jr Lule
Feb. 9 – Andrew Schulte
Feb. 2 – Ceron Francisco
Jan. 26 – Jr Lule
Jan. 12 – *Andrew Schulte
Jan. 5 – Andrew Schulte
*NAIA national wrestler of the week

Bulldogs reassert GPAC dominance; Smith upsets No. 1

Jan. 29, 2017

ORANGE CITY, Iowa – By the time the dust settled after a trio of duals in Orange City, Iowa, on Saturday, the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team was left standing as the lone remaining GPAC squad without a conference loss. There were no close calls on this occasion as the Bulldogs thumped No. 20 Northwestern, 27-12, No. 17 Morningside, 30-9, and No. 15 Midland, 38-4, as part of a big day.

Saturday’s results mean that the win streak lives on. The Bulldog wrestling program, winner of back-to-back conference titles, has won 19-straight GPAC duals. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad now stands at 9-4 overall, including an unblemished 5-0 conference mark.

“They’re excited,” Nicola said. “It’s one of those days where it’s great to be a Bulldog. They wrestled lights out. It was awesome. To be honest, I was a little bit surprised with how we performed. We performed excellent today. The boys decided that they wanted to come here with something to prove. They’ve risen above the obstacles they’ve faced.”

From an individual perspective, 125-pounder Dmitri Smith emerged with the day’s biggest highlight. Unranked in the most recent national ratings, Smith upset No. 1-ranked Hugo Perez of Midland, 5-4. Perez finished as the NAIA national runner up at 125 pounds at the 2016 national championships. Smith also won his two other bouts earlier in the day.

Smith is now 13-7 this season and fresh off perhaps the biggest win in his four years as a Bulldog.

“Dmitri wrestled great today,” Nicola said. “He beat two kids who had previous wins over him, including Hugo Perez. Dmitri was wrestling really aggressively. He got four points all in one move. That obviously was big time for him. Dmitri stuck to the game plan and had an incredible day.”

Smith was a standout among many on Saturday. Concordia won 22 of 30 matches and gave up bonus points in only one of its defeats. Junior Kirk Kaliszewski played a starring role while recording pins over Northwestern’s Brock Brenneman and Morningside’s Alias Starkovich. Kaliszewski equaled Smith with a 3-0 day.

The Bulldogs also went 3-0 at the heavyweight position, which was split between No. 5 Ceron Francisco and DJ McIntyre. Francisco improved to 17-2 overall with his 7-2 decision over Midland’s Aaron Rafalko. McIntyre notched a pin and a win by decision.

Josh Nelsen also went 3-0 at 184 and Kolton Larsen (157) punctuated the victory over Northwestern with a pin the dual’s final bout. Gabe Crawford (157) did the same to close out the dual with Midland in a final that was stunningly lopsided. In all, 14 different Bulldogs posted at least one win on the day.

Concordia remains hopeful of repeating its perfect 7-0 GPAC records in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. The program has not suffered a conference dual loss since Feb. 13, 2014, nearly three full years ago.

The Bulldogs will make a long-awaited home appearance on Thursday when it welcomes Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC) to Seward for a GPAC dual set to get started at 7 p.m. CT. It will be a battle of the two highest rated teams in the NAIA North Group, according to the official NAIA rankings released on Jan. 16. During last season’s GPAC title run, Concordia defeated the Chargers, 33-6.

The dual will be just the second of three opportunities for Bulldog fans to see Nicola’s squad inside Walz Arena this season.

“It’s a very exciting time right now and the emotions are running high,” Nicola said. “I’m sure we’re going to have a great week of practice and hopefully put it on Briar Cliff on Thursday.

“We’re excited to wrestle in front of all the people that support us in the community.”

Bulldogs continue hunt for title, host Briar Cliff Thursday

Jan. 31, 2017

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University wrestling program moved within striking distance of a GPAC three-peat last week when it blew through three conference duals that took place in Orange City, Iowa, on Jan. 28. The Bulldogs barely survived a close call at Doane on Dec. 2, but on this occasion they won three times in dominant fashion, handling No. 20 Northwestern, 27-12, No. 17 Morningside, 30-9, and No. 15 Midland, 38-4, as part of a big day.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad sports dual records of 9-4 overall and 5-0 in the conference. Concordia sits alone atop the conference standings. Second-place Hastings and Morningside are both 4-1 in GPAC duals.

The Bulldogs will put their unbeaten GPAC record and string of 19-straight conference dual wins on the line again on Thursday when Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC) visits Walz Arena for a 7 p.m. matchup. Concordia and Briar Cliff are the top-two rated teams in the official NAIA North Group ratings that were released on Jan. 16. The dual will be streamed live via the Concordia Sports Network with Aaron Sweazy calling the action.

Dmitri Smith is riding high into this week’s action after upsetting the nation’s top-ranked 125-pounder, Hugo Perez of Midland, at last week’s GPAC duals. Perez finished as the 125-pound NAIA runner up at the 2016 national championships. A senior from Beaumont, Calif., Smith has cleaned up against GPAC opponents, going a perfect 7-0 so far against them.

At 197, second-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. (29-7) needs one win to reach 30 for the third-straight season. The two-time All-American was upset by Northwestern’s Luis Rivera-Santiago last week, but still owns a sparkling 10-1 record in dual meets and is the team leader with 11 pins.

Based on rankings, the featured match of the night will be at 133, where seventh-ranked Michael Andreano of Briar Cliff is set to square off with Concordia’s No. 9 Kodie Cole. The two foes met in the 133-pound championship match at the Dakota Wesleyan Open earlier this season. Andreano majored Cole, 15-7.

Nicola would love to see Kirk Kaliszewski continue the dominance he displayed last week. The native of Ramona, Calif., pinned Northwestern’s Brock Brenneman and Morningside’s Alias Starkovich and defeated Midland’s David Moran, 4-0, at the GPAC duals. Kaliszewski has pinned three of the five GPAC competitors he’s faced this season.

The Chargers possess four nationally-ranked grapplers: No. 7 Andreano (133), No. 7 Sonny Gulesian (141), No. 16 Zach Davis (165) and No. 16 Brian Ervin (285). In conference dual action, Briar Cliff has claimed wins over Midland, Dakota Wesleyan and Doane. It has dropped matches to Northwestern, Morningside and Hastings.

During Concordia’s active GPAC dual win streak, it has outscored opponents by a combined total of 651-170 and has won 144 out of 190 individual bouts. Winner of back-to-back GPAC titles, the Bulldogs last lost a conference dual on Feb. 13, 2014.

Concordia will also be at Saturday’s Morningside College Open in Sioux City, Iowa. Its final dual of the season will be next Thursday (Feb. 9) when Hastings pays a visit to Seward.

Projected lineups

Concordia (9-4, 5-0 GPAC)
125 – Dmitri Smith (13-7)
133 – (9) Kodie Cole (17-8)
141 – Foster Bunce (10-7)
149 – Cameron Devers (6-8)
157 – Kolton Larsen (16-11)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (14-13)
174 – Walker Fisher (11-14)
184 – Josh Nelsen (15-15)
197 – (2) Ken Burkhardt Jr. (29-7)
285 – (5) Ceron Francisco (17-2) / DJ McIntyre (14-8)

Briar Cliff (3-5, 3-3 GPAC)
125 – Kyle Robison
133 – (7) Michael Andreano
141 – (7) Sonny Gulesian / Nathan Ryan
149 – Zac Funderburk
157 – Skylar Weber
165 – (16) Zach Davis
174 – Nathaniel Garcia
184 – Josh Tapia
197 – Jacob Spencer
285 – (16) Brian Ervin

Bulldogs defeat Briar Cliff, clinch share of GPAC dual title

Feb. 2, 2017

SEWARD, Neb. – Ken Burkhardt Jr. reached 30 wins in a season for the third-straight season and the 11th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team clinched at least a share of the GPAC dual title by the conclusion of Thursday’s action. In a battle of teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NAIA North Group ratings, the Bulldogs protected their home mat with a 23-10 win over visiting Briar Cliff.

The Concordia wrestling program has earned a GPAC championship trophy for the third season in a row. The Bulldogs’ GPAC dual win streak has stretched to 20. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s 2016-17 squad now stands at 10-4 overall, including a perfect 6-0 conference mark.

“The thing that pumps me up is that we won seven of 10 matches over the team ranked second in the conference,” Nicola said. “I was probably even more excited that we’re closing the gap on our losses. We’re scoring bonus points, but we’re not giving up bonus points. I really like how the guys are scrapping hard for the team.”

Burkhardt Jr. (30-7) put forth by far the most dominant effort of the night. The 197-pound Milford native came within an eyelash of picking up his 12th pin of the year. Briar Cliff’s Jacob Spencer provided little resistance as Burkhardt Jr. piled up 12 near fall points and recorded a pair of takedowns on the way to a victory by technical fall (17-0).

Burkhardt Jr. was one of seven Bulldog winners on the night. His victory came right in the middle of a string of five-straight Concordia triumphs in a dual that began with Walker Fisher at 174 pounds. Fisher, Josh Nelson (184), Burkhardt Jr., Ceron Francisco (285) and Dmitri Smith (125) set the tone for yet another big night inside Walz Arena.

But the Bulldogs still needed one more win to lock up the team victory. Cameron Devers surfaced with the clincher at 149. Devers pulled away from Zac Funderburk with a takedown and two near fall points in the third period and won, 6-1. Two bouts later, junior Kirk Kaliszewski of Ramona, Calif., ended the night in style, upsetting 16th-ranked Zach Davis, 3-2, at 165 pounds.

Kaliszewski took his opponents by storm during last week’s 3-0 run at the GPAC duals hosted in Orange City, Iowa, by Northwestern. Kaliszewski won two of his bouts by pin last week. The transfer from Palomar College (Calif.) is on a roll.

“That was big. We crushed those teams,” Kaliszewski said of last weekend. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that. We rolled off three big wins and we come here and get another big one. We’re showing our dominance after a little bit of a tough start. We really kept it going tonight, which is huge for us.”

Fisher’s win goes down as a mild upset. He was ranked fifth in the region compared to the No. 3 ranking held by opponent Nathaniel Garcia. The other highlight victory for the Bulldogs was delivered by Francisco. Ranked fifth nationally at 285 pounds, Francisco (18-2) came up just short of a major in a 10-3 win over No. 16 Brian Ervin.

Concordia’s first loss of the night came at 133 pounds, where ninth-ranked Kodie Cole dropped a 2-0 decision to seventh-ranked Michael Andreano. It was a tighter match than when Andreano topped Cole, 15-7, in the 133-pound title match at this season’s Dakota Wesleyan Open.

Select Bulldogs will take the mats at Saturday’s Morningside College Open in Sioux City, Iowa. The action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will wrap up its dual schedule next Thursday (Feb. 9) when Hastings (10-4, 4-1 GPAC) makes a visit to Walz Arena.

Though the Bulldogs sewed up at least a tie for the conference championship, they hope to secure another outright title a week from tonight.

“When I took this job there was a lot of hearsay with people saying, ‘This is the year Concordia is going to fold,’” Nicola said. “New coach. Old coach left them. Those kinds of things. I think this shows the resilience of the young men on this team. They decided to prove those people wrong. They put the work in.

“The plan is to win it outright next week.”

Chery, Crawford make semifinal runs at Edmonds Open

Feb. 4, 2017

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The regulars in the Concordia University wrestling dual lineup took a break on Saturday, but 15 Bulldogs scrapped at the Dave Edmonds Open hosted in Sioux City, Iowa, by Morningside. Concordia turned in 18 total wins and advanced two individuals two the semifinals in their respective brackets.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad was fresh off Thursday’s 23-10 home dual victory over Briar Cliff.

Freshmen Deandre Chery (174) and Gabe Crawford (157) made the biggest noise among Bulldogs in the field in Sioux City. Chery stampeded to the semifinals of his weight class by pinning each of his first three opponents. He was then upended in a semifinal clash by Dylan Blackford of Grand View University (Iowa). Crawford began his day with a win by technical fall and then squeaked out a triumph in sudden victory. His two losses came against NCAA Division I opponents.

Eleven of the 15 grapplers sporting Bulldog singlets recorded at least one win on the day. Six of those 11 posted multiple wins, including Chery (3-2), Crawford (2-2), Kyle Carey (2-2), Darrin Miller (2-2), Demitrius Miller (2-2) and Alexander Reimers (2-2).

The most significant dual of the 2016-17 season awaits on Thursday (Feb. 9) when the Bulldogs will also celebrate senior night. With a win over Hastings (11-4, 5-1 GPAC) on Thursday, Concordia would lock up its third-straight outright conference dual championship. Winner of 20-straight GPAC duals, the Bulldogs have already clinched a share of the GPAC title. Meanwhile, the Broncos are aiming to get a piece of the title. Their only conference loss came by a 19-18 score versus Morningside (5-1 GPAC).

Wrestling hosts high-stakes dual on Thursday Senior Night

Feb. 7, 2017

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).

Probable lineups

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

Three-peat!

Feb. 9, 2017

SEWARD, Neb. – The most dominant wrestling program in the GPAC continues to reside in Seward. Concordia University wrestling has a way of rising to the occasion. Up against a Hastings squad hoping to share the conference dual title, the 15th-ranked Bulldogs won eight of 10 individual bouts and locked up a third-straight GPAC championship courtesy of a dominant 28-6 victory in front of the home fans on Thursday night.

It was a fitting sendoff for an 11-member senior class that grappled inside Walz Arena for the final time. The seniors have been essential pieces of a program that has extended its GPAC dual win streak to 21. First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad finished the dual season with records of 11-4 overall and 7-0 in conference action.

“I’m just pumped up because I see how elated the boys are. That excites me.” Nicola said. “We put in the work. The plan from day one when I got here was to three-peat the conference title and they came through on senior night and dominated.”

It was an emotional night for the senior class that has significantly elevated the profile of the program. Even campus pastor Ryan Matthias, also the public address announcer, choked up when reading crowd favorite Ceron Francisco’s senior message. Francisco didn’t disappoint in his last bout inside Walz Arena. He triggered a thunderous roar when he pinned Daniel Gonzalez in the second period, putting a cherry on top of the dual.

What a way to go out for Francisco, who is 19-2 and ranked No. 3 nationally at 285 pounds.

“It’s been amazing being part of this program and starting from the ground up,” Francisco said. “It was just great to be part of a program that got better each year. We faced a lot of adversity, but God was on our side the whole time. We were able to come out on top for the third time in a row.”

Francisco was one of five seniors in Thursday’s lineup. Four of them came away with victories. At 141 pounds, Foster Bunce shook off some of the frustrations he’s dealt with this season and upset No. 4 Christian Mesa. Down 3-2, Bunce took down Mesa in the final seconds in another of the night’s most memorable moments.

A horse all season long, senior and fifth-ranked Ken Burkhardt Jr. held off 13th-ranked Jeremiah Gerl, 3-2, for a victory at 197 pounds. In another battle of nationally-ranked scrappers, No. 9 Kodie Cole upended No. 11 Trey Trujillo, 5-1, at 133 pounds. All Cole needed was a pair of takedowns to register his 18th victory of the season.

At 165, junior and 16th-ranked Kirk Kaliszewski continued his incredible roll. He’s now won five-straight matches – all in GPAC duals. This time around, he recorded five takedowns and four near fall points in a 16-6 major decision and slight upset of No. 15 Austin Moyer. Other Bulldog winners were Gabe Crawford at 157, Walker Fisher at 174 and Josh Nelsen at 184.

It all added up to yet another win by a comfortable margin over a conference opponent.

“The mentality of selflessness and team is really playing in our favor,” Nicola said. “They want to fight for each other. There’s a vibe in the room where these guys want to wrestle hard for each other. There were some big upsets tonight, in particular Foster Bunce.”

The Broncos (11-4, 5-2 GPAC) picked up wins at 125 (Nolan Laux) and at 149 (Chris Vaughan). The team scored was tied, 6-6, before Concordia went on a run of six-straight wins to end the night.

Postseason tournament action looms for the Bulldogs, who now turn their attention to the NAIA North Group Qualifier hosted by Doane on Feb. 18. The event is used to determine qualifiers for the NAIA national championships (March 3-4). The NAIA North Group is made up of all eight GPAC institutions that sponsor wrestling programs. Concordia has won the regional event two years in a row.

“We don’t prepare any different,” Francisco said. “We have the same mentality going in. I was able to come out on top last year (at regionals). If it’s God’s will, I’ll do the same thing. I want to be doing my best when this time comes.”

Bunce takes down first career GPAC weekly honor

Feb. 15, 2017

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Foster Bunce produced the biggest upset win of last week’s dual with Hastings. In response, the GPAC has named him the conference’s wrestler of the week, as announced on Wednesday (Feb. 15). This marks the first time in Bunce’s career that he has garnered GPAC weekly recognition. As a team, the Concordia wrestling program has claimed 12 of the last 24 GPAC wrestler of the week awards.

Bunce was one of eight Bulldogs to record wins in the 28-6 team triumph over Hastings. Concordia completed a 7-0 run through the conference dual season and captured the outright GPAC title for the third-straight season. At 141 pounds, Bunce defeated fourth-ranked Christian Mesa of Hastings. A native of Munith, Mich., Bunce turned a one-point deficit into a one-point lead in the final seconds of the bout with a takedown.

Ranked as the No. 5 141-pounder in the NAIA North Group, Bunce sports an overall record of 11-8 this season. His career record if 48-36. He is one of 12 grapplers for head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad that will be in action Saturday at the NAIA North Group Qualifier in Crete, Neb. The top-three finishers in each weight class earn automatic bids to the national championships.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last two seasons)

2016-2017
Feb. 15 – Foster Bunce
Jan. 25 – Ceron Francisco
Dec. 28 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Dec. 14 – Ken Burkhardt Jr.
Nov. 16 – Ceron Francisco

2015-2016
Feb. 16 – Jr Lule
Feb. 9 – Andrew Schulte
Feb. 2 – Ceron Francisco
Jan. 26 – Jr Lule
Jan. 12 – *Andrew Schulte
Jan. 5 – Andrew Schulte
*NAIA national wrestler of the week

GPAC champion Bulldogs aiming for regional three-peat

Feb. 16, 2017

SEWARD, Neb. – Rested up after wrapping up the outright GPAC dual title last week, members of the 15th-ranked Concordia University wrestling are readying for the stretch run. Twelve Bulldogs will compete on Saturday at the NAIA North Group Qualifier/GPAC Championships with spots in the national championships on the line. This year’s event will be hosted by Doane inside the Fuhrer Field House in Crete. Neb. The action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT.

Doane will provide a live webcast HERE. The championship bouts will be held in the evening after a coaches meeting is held to determine at-large qualifiers for the national championships. The top-three finishers in each weight class earn automatic bids to nationals.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola is hopeful that his guys will carry over their recent run of dominance in GPAC duals. The Bulldogs won eight of 10 matches in last week’s 28-6 team victory over Hastings, which would have shared the conference title had it upset Concordia.

“We’ll change nothing with our training this week,” Nicola said during Tuesday’s Bulldog Athletic Association gathering. “I think the boys have been getting exponentially better every week the last four weeks. I’m not sure we could peak any better. I’m very excited for the opportunity. I know the guys are amped up.”

Based on the most recent conference rankings (Feb. 6), the Bulldogs are projected to have seven top-three finishers at Saturday’s tournament. Ceron Francisco is the GPAC’s top-rated heavyweight while four teammates sit at No. 2 in the conference ratings: Dmitri Smith (125), Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Walker Fisher (174) and Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197). From a team perspective, Concordia is once again the favorite in the GPAC.

Four Bulldogs won NAIA North titles last season. Of them, Francisco is the only returner. Both Burkhardt Jr. and Cole were runner-up finishers in their weight classes in 2016. Additionally, Bunce (149) and Smith (125) placed third in their weight classes. Concordia wound up sending 10 wrestlers to the 2016 national championships.

Half of Concordia’s regional representatives are seniors. The senior class has put together an impressive list of accomplishments. As a collection, it has an overall dual record of 42-20, including a sparkling 26-2 GPAC record. In addition, they have been integral in the Bulldogs’ three conference dual titles, two regional championships and three top-25 national finishes (8th, 12th and 22nd) over the past few seasons. The group of seniors also possesses five All-America awards (two apiece for Burkhardt Jr. and Cole and one for Francisco).

The Bulldogs have established a regional dynasty. They have won 21-consecutive GPAC duals while going unbeaten in conference action in each of the past three years. During that string, they have outscored opponents by a combined total of 702-186 and have won 159 out of 210 individual bouts. Concordia last lost a conference dual on Feb. 13, 2014.

The 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will take place at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., March 3-4. For more information on the event, click HERE.

Concordia postseason wrestling roster
125 – Dmitri Smith (14-8) – RR: 2 | NR: 13
133 – Kodie Cole (18-9) – RR: 3 | NR: 9
141 – Foster Bunce (11-8) – RR: 5
141 – Cameron Devers (7-9)
157 – Jon Lado (13-9) – RR: 4 | NR: 16
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (16-13) – RR: 2 | NR: 16
174 – Walker Fisher (13-14) – RR: 2 | NR: 16
184 – Josh Nelsen (17-15) – RR: 3
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr. (31-7) – RR: 2 | NR: 5
197 – Alexander Reimers (17-13) – RR: 4
285 – Ceron Francisco (19-2) – RR: 1 | NR: 3
285 – DJ McIntyre (14-8) – RR: 4
RR = regional ranking | NR = national ranking

GPAC team rankings
1. Concordia – 175
2. Northwestern – 143
3. Briar Cliff – 133
4. Midland – 120
5. Morningside – 116
6. Hastings – 107
7. Doane – 76
8. Dakota Wesleyan – 10

Final team scoring at 2016 North Group Qualifier
1. Concordia 169.0
2. Morningside 115.5
3. Northwestern 110.0
4. Doane 102.5
5. Briar Cliff 95.5
6. Midland 90.0
7. Dakota Wesleyan 63.5
8. Hastings 43.0

Francisco, Kaliszewski power third-straight regional title

Feb. 18, 2017

CRETE, Neb. – Ceron Francisco and Kirk Kaliszewski won individual titles while fueling the GPAC champion Concordia University wrestling team to a third-straight NAIA North Qualifier/GPAC tournament crown. Eight Bulldogs locked up berths to the national championships and helped pile up 132.5 team points, 10 more than second place Morningside (122.5). The 2017 event was hosted in Crete, Neb., by Doane.

First-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad completed a dominant run against conference opponents. Concordia also won the GPAC dual championship with a perfect 7-0 record.

“This is one of those events that really did come down to the wire,” Nicola said. “Obviously I’m very proud of the efforts that the boys gave today. It was definitely an emotional rollercoaster kind of a day. As a coaching staff, we’re proud of our guys for stepping up and rising to the occasion. It was not an easy day. There were some heartbreaks and some triumphant victories.”

Francisco defended his 2016 north title in impressive fashion. He pinned his first two opponents to blaze to the semifinal round in the heavyweight bracket. He then majored Briar Cliff’s No. 11 Brian Ervin, 13-2. Then in the championship bout, Francisco defeated Midland’s 13th-ranked James Jones, 9-5. Nearly unbeatable this season, Francisco is 23-2 this year and now owns 97 career victories.

“Ceron looked great,” Nicola said. “In his semifinals he got a major, but he looked a little sluggish and a little tired. In his finals match he said felt great and was back to himself. That showed in the finals with another win over a nationally-ranked opponent.”

Ranked No. 1 in the region, Kaliszewski backed up his ranking. He went 3-0 on the day and then defeated Morningside’s Derik Bailey, 3-2, in the 165-pound title tussle. That win clinched the team title for Concordia, which got pushed hard by the Mustangs. Kaliszewski has been on a roll, winning eight matches in a row.

“Kirk came out guns blazing,” Nicola said. “It’s difficult to keep up with the pace that Kirk keeps. He’s been wrestling really well. Today he put it together. He’s been doing that the last couple weeks.”

Four other Bulldogs also claimed top-three place finishes, sewing up trips to the national tournament in two weeks. For the second-straight year, Ken Burkhardt Jr. fell in the 197-pound title match. The winningest wrestler in program history, Burkhardt Jr. got to the final by pinning Jacob Spencer of Briar Cliff and then by taking a 6-3 decision over No. 13 Jeremiah Gerl of Hastings. Burkhardt Jr. narrowly lost to Luis Rivera-Santiago, 5-3, on the big stage.

Three different Bulldogs placed third in their weight classes: Foster Bunce (141), Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197). Each of them will be headed to the national championships in Topeka, Kan. DJ McIntyre (285) and Dmitri Smith (125) both finished fourth, but received wild card invites to nationals.

Eleven of the 12 Bulldogs that competed placed in the top six. The Concordia dozen combined on a collective record of 28-17 for the day. Though he placed sixth at 133 pounds, Cole still has a shot to earn a bid to nationals if chosen through the NAIA selection process. Both Burkhardt Jr. and Cole are two-time All-Americans.

“We came into the day thinking we would get seven to 10 (to nationals) and we came in on the high end of that,” Nicola said. “We’re proud of them. We have two more weeks of work to put in. We’re going to keep our eye on the prize and train for national titles.”

Concordia NAIA North place finishes
125 – Dmitri Smith (4th)
133 – Kodie Cole (6th)
141 – Foster Bunce (3rd)
157 – Jon Lado (5th)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (1st)
174 – Walker Fisher (5th)
184 – Josh Nelsen (3rd)
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr. (2nd)
197 – Alexander Reimers (3rd)
285 – Ceron Francisco (1st)
285 – DJ McIntyre (4th)

Seven Bulldogs tabbed all-conference; Nicola coach of year

Feb. 22, 2017

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University wrestling program has now raked in four-straight GPAC wrestler of the year awards and three-consecutive GPAC coach of the year honors. On Wednesday, the conference named senior Ceron Francisco the Hauff Mid-America Sports/GPAC Wrestler of the Year and Andrew Nicola the Hauff Mid-America Sports/GPAC Wrestling Coach of the Year.

Francisco was one of seven grapplers from the GPAC champion Bulldogs to garner some form of all-conference recognition. The star heavyweight was joined on the first team by fellow NAIA North Qualifier titlist Kirk Kaliszewski (165), regional runner up Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) and third-place finisher Josh Nelsen (184). Second team accolades went to Alexander Reimers (197) and both DJ McIntyre (285) and Dmitri Smith (125) garnered honorable mention.

Francisco follows in the footsteps of previous Concordia GPAC wrestler of the year winners Emilio Rivera (2013-14), Enrique Barajas (2014-15) and Andrew Schulte (2015-16). Meanwhile, Nicola earned coach of the year distinction while leading the program to GPAC dual and tournament championships for the third year in a row. Nicola will take nine wrestlers to the national championships in Topeka, Kan., next week.

Ranked as the No. 3 heavyweight in the nation, Francisco has been nearly unbeatable this season. He’s 23-2 after claiming a NAIA North title for the second year in a row. His career record stands at 97-52, putting him three wins away from becoming the second wrestler in program history to reach 100 victories. This marks Francisco’s third-consecutive first team all-conference honor. He was also an All-American in 2015.

Kaliszewski has peaked at the right time. A Ramona, Calif., native and Palomar College transfer, Kaliszewski has won eight matches in a row heading into the national tournament. He is 19-14 overall after winning the 165-pound NAIA North title. He defeated Morningside’s Derik Bailey in the championship bout.

The winningest wrestler in school history, Burkhardt Jr. rose up to the first team after being named second team All-GPAC as a sophomore and junior. He has placed in the top three of the regional tournament at 197 pounds in each of his four years. He owns a career record of 119-56 and is 33-8 in his senior season. Ranked fifth nationally at 197, Burkhardt Jr. will aim for his third career All-America plaque.

Nelsen, who hails from Marysville, Kan., has a record of 21-17 in his second season wrestling for the Bulldogs. He went 4-1 at last week's NAIA North Qualifier. He clinched his berth to nationals by defeating Caleb Deemer of Morningside, 7-4, in the third-place bout. Nelsen enters nationals having won nine of his last 10 matches.

A Seward native, Reimers has locked up his first career national tournament appearance courtesy of a third-place 197-pound finish at last week’s regional event. Reimers will enter nationals with a record of 19-14. Reimers rose to the occasion at the north qualifier by majoring 13th-ranked Jeremiah Gerl of Hastings.

Both McIntyre (17-10) and Smith (16-10) both placed fourth at the GPAC tournament and received wild card national tournament selections from conference coaches. Smith has now been tabbed honorable mention All-GPAC twice and second team all-conference once. McIntyre was a second team choice in 2014-15 before red-shirting last year.

The season will continue for the nine Bulldogs who are part of the national qualifying field. The 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will unfold at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan., March 3-4.

Latest GPAC wrestler of the year carried by 'God's will'

Feb. 22, 2017

If you’ve kept up with Concordia wrestling for the past four years, then you likely know something about Ceron Francisco’s story. The soft spoken, but baritone-voiced Francisco went from inexperienced wrestler to surprise All-American in 2015 just a year after turning in a losing record as a freshman.

As a refresher, the high school sophomore version of Francisco, who attended Douglas Byrd in Fayetteville, N.C., stood at 5-foot-4. He had never wrestled in his life. By the time former head coach Dana Vote laid eyes on Francisco, then a senior competing at a showcase in Virginia Beach, the game had changed. Vote called The Tar Heel State native “the biggest high school kid I’ve ever seen in my life.”

With maturity, intense dedication and the kind of discipline rarely seen in not just college athletes, but anyone, Francisco has put together a special collegiate career. He’s made a complete 180 from his freshman season. He admits he had a long ways to go when he came on the scene.

“I’m just more mature, I believe,” Francisco said. “And I didn’t know what it took to be good back then. I had coach Vote mentor me. He believed in me so I believed in myself. I knew what work I had to do to get to the next level.”

Francisco went to the next level, then kept going. On Wednesday, the conference named him the GPAC wrestler of the year, a fitting honor for someone whose arrival coincided with the ascension of the program into a conference and regional powerhouse and national player.

The humble giant now will have his name mentioned with the likes of past teammates who were also conference wrestlers of the year: Emilio Rivera (2013-14), Enrique Barajas (2014-15) and Andrew Schulte (2015-16). That’s some impressive company to keep.

“It’s pretty cool watching the program grow and being able to grow with the program,” Francisco said. “Those were some great wrestlers. I guess I can be considered part of their legacy in keeping the award here.”

Those who have been around Francisco understand how deserving he is of this honor. The award is a symbol of the commitment he made to a program he knew very little about until first encountering Vote in Virginia Beach.

On campus, Francisco has gone from a fascination – largely because of his stature and physical appearance separated him – to an obvious fan favorite and to one of the most respected student-athletes at Concordia. Pastor Ryan Matthias, who serves as public address announcer for wrestling, paused while reading the senior day message for Francisco at the team’s home finale. Choked up, Matthias had to take a moment to gather himself.

Read Francisco’s senior quote, “I am thankful for the families that have welcomed me into their hearts, the professors who believed in me and my teammates who have grown with me. I’m a proud Bulldog.”

The Feb. 9 senior night, which ended with a dominant Concordia win that wrapped up the GPAC dual title, was teary-eyed one for Francisco and a large group of seniors. “I was pretty emotional just thinking about all the things we’ve been through as a team,” Francisco said. “I was just happy to be part of the program. This has been a consistent family for me the past four years. I was just overcome with emotion thinking about the great things we’ve done as a team and as a family.”

The first nine bouts of a Concordia home dual are somewhat of an appetizer, or a build up to the thunder waiting to happen. On senior night, Francisco brought the house down one last time. He tore his opponent apart, then pinned him. Walz exploded with the approval worthy of a beloved human being.

In an iconic moment, Francisco acknowledged the crowd by holding up three fingers, recognizing the program’s run of three-straight conference championships.

“Ceron is a man of integrity and character,” said first-year head coach Andrew Nicola. “He’s a great Christian young man. He does great thing in the classroom. He does a lot of community service. He’s a special education major and he wants to help people. That’s the person he is. He works hard for everything that he earns. You can’t hold that guy down. He’s not just a wrestler. He’s someone we’re very proud of.”

Francisco is 23-2 this year. He’s in a zone. It would be foolish to take it for granted, for what Francisco has given Concordia from an on- and off-the-mat perspective is immense.

“I always say God’s will is what’s been carrying me,” Francisco said. “I can focus on performance. I know if I wrestle to my best abilities, I can’t be beat. I can’t focus on winning, but I can focus on how I wrestle and what I can control.”

Nine Bulldogs set to take national stage on Friday

Mar. 1, 2017

NAIA Wrestling National Championships

SEWARD, Neb. – Nearly two weeks after wrapping up a NAIA North Qualifier team championship, national qualifying members of the Concordia University wrestling team are set to return to action. Nine Bulldogs will represent first-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad at the 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, which will take place Friday and Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan.

Session I action begins Friday at 10 a.m. CST. The 60th annual event consists of four sessions, concluding Saturday with the championship finals at 7 p.m. The championship matches will be aired live on ESPN3.com.

Three of Concordia’s qualifiers have earned All-America awards at previous national championships. Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197) and Kodie Cole (133) have both reached the medal stand in back-to-back years and will be vying to become the first grapplers in school history with three All-America plaques. Meanwhile, two-time NAIA North Qualifier heavyweight titlist Ceron Francisco, a 2015 All-American is looking to return to the medal stand.

Including the 2017 event, the nine qualifiers combine for 21 national tournament trips. Burkhardt Jr. and Cole have made the journey to Topeka in every year of their careers. Francisco and Dmitri Smith (125) will be making their third appearances. The first timers are Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Josh Nelsen (184) and Reimers (197).

From a team perspective, Concordia enters the 2017 championships having strung together three top-25 national finishes in a row (eighth in 2016, 12th in 2015 and 22nd in 2014). The eighth-place finish last season, bolstered by Andrew Schulte’s program first individual national title, marked the highest placement in program history. The school’s high water mark for most All-Americans in a single year is four by the 2014-15 team. The 2015-16 group finished with three All-Americans.

Francisco ran the program’s streak of consecutive GPAC wrestler of the year awards to four by dominating conference opponents throughout his senior season. At 97-52 in his career, 23-2 this season, Francisco needs three more wins to become the second Bulldog wrestler ever to reach 100 victories. Burkhardt Jr. (119-56) stands as the winningest wrestler in the history of the program. For the third year in a row, Burkhardt Jr. has piled up more than 30 wins.

Six Bulldogs earned automatic berths to the national championships courtesy of top-three regional finishes: Francisco (285; 1st), Kaliszewski (165, 1st), Burkhardt Jr. (197, 2nd), Foster Bunce (141, 3rd), Nelsen (184, 3rd) and Reimers (197, 3rd). In addition, Smith (125), Cole (133) and DJ McIntyre (285) received wild card invitations, bringing Concordia’s national tournament roster to nine.

Seven Bulldogs earned some form of all-conference recognition and Nicola garnered coach of the year honors. Francisco was one of four Bulldogs chosen as first team all-conference selections, joining Burkhardt Jr., Kaliszewski and Nelsen. Reimers received second team accolades and DJ McIntyre (285) and Smith were awarded honorable mention. The run of Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the year has also included Emilio Rivera (2013-14), Enrique Barajas (2014-15) and Schulte (2015-16).

The top three finishers in each of the National Qualifiers’ 10 weight classes received automatic berths to the national championships. The remainder of the 240-wrestler field was filled with wildcard individuals. Each of the six qualifying groups received five wildcards, which were chosen by the group’s coaches at a post-qualifier meeting. The other 30 individuals were determined by a national selection committee. Each weight class features at least 20 wrestlers with an event-high 27 grapplers competing for the 125-pound, 149-pound and 165-pound titles.

2017 National Qualifiers
125 – Dmitri Smith (16-10); third national appearance
133 – Kodie Cole (19-12); fourth national appearance: two-time All-American
141 – Foster Bunce (14-9); second national appearance
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (19-14): first national appearance
184 – Josh Nelsen (21-17); first national appearance
197 – Ken Burkhardt Jr. (33-8); fourth national appearance; two-time All-American
197 – Alexander Reimers (19-14); first national appearance
285 – Ceron Francisco (23-2); third national appearance; 2015 All-American
285 – DJ McIntyre (17-10); second national appearance

Burkhardt Jr., Francisco storm to semifinals

Mar. 3, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. – Tears of joy flowed for both Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco on the opening day of the 2017 NAIA Wrestling National Championships. Both senior standouts are bound for the national semifinals of their respective brackets after perfect efforts on Friday. They were the team’s headlining performers on a day that saw the nine Bulldog national qualifiers combine for a total of 11 wins while competing at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kan.

As a team, first-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad sits in 15th place with 26 points. Concordia is in line for its fourth top-25 finish in a row while following the lead of its two big guns.

“Ceron was very excited as everyone saw – and rightfully so,” Nicola said. “He’s guaranteed top six and is an All-American again. For Ken, he’s the first three-time All-American in school history and was the first to 100 wins in school history. They’re wrestling great right now.”

The quarterfinal wins for Burkhardt Jr., the seventh-seeded 197-pounder, and Francisco, the third-seeded heavyweight, came one right after the other. Burkhardt Jr. jumped out to a 7-2 lead and then held off No. 2 John Hensley of Great Falls (Mont.), 7-5. A native of Milford, Neb., Burkhardt Jr. has outperformed his pre-tournament positioning for the third year in a row.

Win No. 122 of Burkhardt Jr.’s career set off a wave of emotion. The winningest wrestler in program history pointed at his family, seated in the front row by mat 2, and then hugged everyone in sight.

“It was just a huge relief,” Burkhardt Jr. said. “With all that support group, I didn’t want to let them down. To All-America, I just want to thank God, my coaches, my team and Concordia for this opportunity.”

All three of Burkhardt Jr’s matches went down to the wire. He opened up the day by defeating David Dow of Baker (Kan.), 8-6. In a close bout with 10th-seeded Tanner Fischer of Southern Oregon, Burkhardt Jr. waited until the closing seconds of the third period to strike for his 13th pin of the season.

Francisco’s quarterfinal bout was already underway by the time Burkhardt Jr. locked up his spot in the semifinals. The native of Fayetteville, N.C., was fueled by a disappointing finish at the 2016 national championships. He wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t go home empty handed in his final run in Topeka.

“There was a lot of built up emotion from not doing what I was capable of last year, not placing,” Francisco said. “All of the people around me have believed in me – my coaches and my family in Seward. I just felt all the love. It was a frustrating match, but once I won the match, I just released all of the built up emotion I’ve been holding in for a long time.”

Friday marked the end of the line for four seniors: Foster Bunce (141), Kodie Cole (133), DJ McIntyre (285) and Dmitri Smith (125). Cole had made a habit of rising to the occasion on the national stage. He earned All-America honors as both a sophomore and junior. In his last go round, Cole came up short of clinching a spot on the podium. His career concluded with a 13-2 major decision loss at the hands of sixth-seeded Blaysen Terukina of Menlo College (Calif.). Cole went 2-2 on the day.

Smith was making his third national tournament appearance in hopes of collecting his first career All-America award. In the blood round, Smith entered the third period with a 3-2 lead over No. 8 Mason Naifeh of Oklahoma City, but ended up falling, 14-5, leaving him one victory short of an All-America plaque.

Concordia’s other national qualifiers were Kirk Kaliszewski, NAIA North Qualifier 165-pound champion, Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197).

Last season Andrew Schulte became the program’s first-ever national champion. Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco carry hopes of adding their names to the list. Burkhardt Jr. will go head-to-head with third-seeded Evan Hansen of Grand View (Iowa) while Francisco will square off with No. 2 Jacob Laden, also of Grand View. Francisco has won once and lost once this season in bouts with Laden. Burkhardt Jr. topped Hansen, 4-2, at the Missouri Valley Invite.

“Both of these guys are Grand View guys. They’re a high level five-time defending national champion program. I guarantee they’re going to be ready to go,” Nicola said. “But the outlook is good if we wrestle our best.”

The action in Topeka will resume at 10 a.m. CT on Saturday. The finals matches will begin at 7 p.m. from the Expocentre.

Memorable Francisco concludes career with runner-up finish

Mar. 5, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. – It was a fitting ride for a Bulldog athletic great that will be long remembered. With an inspiring weekend performance, Ceron Francisco captivated the Concordia University community. It wasn’t just about wrestling. Francisco is a transcendent personality, one that endears him to all types of people.

It’s a common theme for fans to root against wrestlers from the NAIA’s dominant program, Grand View University (Iowa). But it wasn’t just that sentiment that rallied the crowd in support of Francisco during his semifinal bout with Grand View’s Jacob Laden. Chants of Ceron’s name rang out around the Expocentre Center in Topeka, Kan., just like it was a dual inside Walz Arena.

“I’m so proud of Ceron,” said first-year head coach Andrew Nicola. “He is just a warrior. He is just a relentless wrestler with a heart of gold. He’s the epitome of what Concordia wrestling is all about. He is humble in victory and humble in defeat. He is a great leader on and off the mats. He is irreplaceable in terms of what he has done and the way that he represents us.”

Francisco came up short in the heavyweight national championship bout. He got taken down early and then was nearly pinned, putting himself in a 6-0 hole that he couldn’t recover from. His opponent, fifth-ranked Demetrius Thomas, was red hot at the right time. He majored top-seeded Dean Broghammer, the 2016 heavyweight national champion, in the semifinals before doing the same to Francisco (10-2 major decision).

The loss aside, it was a big-time weekend performance by Francisco, just the second wrestler in school history to reach the grand stage of the national finals. No many would have guessed Francisco would end up where he did when he was a struggling freshman.

“I’m just appreciate of everybody,” Francisco said Saturday night. “Concordia is a place of God’s people. The results show it. I’m just thankful for the whole experience.”

Not a single offensive point was tallied in Francisco’s semifinal bout with Laden, who the Bulldog heavyweight had beaten once and had been defeated by once throughout the course of this season. In the tiebreaker, Francisco built a 3-1 lead via an escape and a stall call before holding Laden at bay, 3-2.

That win put Francisco at exactly 100 for his career. His grandmother watched in the stands as Francisco gave Bulldog fans one last thrill.

“We knew what Ceron was capable of at this tournament,” Nicola said. “He wrestled above his seed and wrestled like a champion. I have no doubts he left it all on the mats.”

Though he dropped all three of his matches on Saturday, senior Ken Burkhardt Jr. recorded the highest national finish of his career. The native of Milford, Neb., moved up from eighth place as a sophomore to seventh place as a junior and then sixth this year. Burkhardt Jr. made a thrilling run to the semifinals with a trio of victories on Friday. Included in that advancement were wins over 10th-seeded Tanner Fischer of Southern Oregon and over second-seeded John Hensley of Great Falls (Mont.). Burkhardt Jr. completed his career with 122 wins, most in the history of the program.

As a team, Nicola’s first squad placed 15th with 36 points on the strength of its two All-Americans, Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco. This marks the fourth year in a row that the Bulldogs have turned in a top-25 placement at the national championships.

The 2017-18 squad will move on without a large and distinguished senior class that also includes 133-pounder Kodie Cole, a two-time All-American. The 11-member senior group helped drive Concordia to three-straight GPAC dual championships and three-consecutive NAIA North Qualifier titles.

Bunce earns Scholar-Athlete honors for second-straight year

Mar. 9, 2017

NAIA Wrestling Scholar-Athletes

SEWARD, Neb. – For the second year in a row, senior Foster Bunce has garnered Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete recognition. The NAIA made the announcement last week.

Also a national qualifier and 2015-16 second team All-GPAC performer, Bunce is majoring in business administration. He is a native of Munith, Mich. Bunce is one of 70 wrestling student-athletes to be named 2017 NAIA Scholar-Athletes.

In order to be nominated by an institution’s head coach or sports information director, a student-athlete must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and must have achieved a junior academic status.

Concordia University ranks as the NAIA’s all-time leader in number of Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes with 1,234 and counting (27 for the fall athletics season). The 2015-16 season produced a GPAC best 92 Bulldog scholar-athletes and a national best 20 NAIA Scholar-Teams. The 2014-15 season culminated with GPAC-leading totals of 94 Bulldog scholar-athletes and 17 NAIA Scholar-Teams. During the 2013-14 academic year, Concordia garnered 101 Scholar-Athlete honorees (most in the NAIA) and 17 NAIA Scholar-Teams (tied for fourth nationally).

Season-in-review: GPAC dominance continues under Nicola

Mar. 24, 2017

Less than a month separated the announcement of Andrew Nicola’s hiring and the first date on the 2016-17 Concordia University wrestling schedule. Outsiders may have wondered (perhaps hoped) if the transition would stamp out the momentum the program had built under previous head coach Dana Vote.

Any questions about that were answered quite emphatically on Feb. 9 when the Walz Arena crowd roared its approval throughout a 28-6 dual win over Hastings. The loudest ovations came when fan favorite Ceron Francisco polished off the victory by sticking his opponent to the mat.

It was a big moment for Nicola, who proved he could keep the program humming. Said Nicola afterwards, “I’m just pumped because I see how elated the boys are. That excites me. We put in the work. The plan from day one when I got here was to three-peat the conference title and they came through on senior night and dominated.”

Dominance on the conference and regional levels has defined Bulldog wrestling for three years running. Concordia has now won each of its last 21 GPAC duals courtesy of three-straight 7-0 conference records. Constants in that success have been the likes of seniors Ken Burkhardt Jr., Kodie Cole and Ceron Francisco. The three of which own a combined seven All-America awards.

Early in this academic year, those same seniors felt like a rug had been pulled out from under them. The only college coach they knew left for an opportunity at Iowa State University. Said Burkhardt Jr. prior to the season, “To be honest, I was quite ticked off.”

Such emotions cooled down. A calmness returned when Bulldog wrestlers realized everyone wanted the same things, Nicola included. As seniors, Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco had their best seasons yet. Francisco captivated an entire community with his run to the national championship match. Tears of joy flowed and the arena exploded when Francisco outlasted Grand View’s second-ranked Jacob Laden in the semifinal round.

It was further evidence that Francisco and the other seniors had bought in.

“I think it’s important that the seniors bought in,” Nicola said. “At the end of the day, they could be telling me that they want to buy in, but if they go home and are saying negative things, it’s going to be easy for the young guys to be influenced. I look at the leadership we had from Dmitri (Smith), Kodie, Tommy (Bailey), Ceron and Ken, and I just feel confident that they were saying good things. ‘Let’s buy in. Let’s embrace Nicola. He’s passionate about wrestling and about helping us achieve our goals.’ Having that senior leadership and the way they took me in was incredible.”

Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco will graduate as perhaps the two greatest wrestlers in program history. They are the only two Bulldogs ever to reach 100 career wins. Burkhardt Jr. is the school’s only three-time All-American. Francisco is a two-time All-American and was tabbed the 2016-17 GPAC wrestler of the year. As seniors, Burkhardt Jr. went 36-11 and Francisco went 26-2.

“Ceron” is all you have to say around campus for people to know you’re talking about the accomplished Concordia heavyweight. He’s the type of student-athlete that completely transcended the sport of wrestling.

“I’m so proud of Ceron,” Nicola said after the national championships. “He is just a warrior. He is a relentless wrestler with a heart of gold. He’s the epitome of what Concordia wrestling is all about. He is humble in victory and humble in defeat. He is a great leader on and off the mats. He is irreplaceable in terms of what he has done and the way that he represents us.”

Ceron was one of nine Bulldogs to qualify for the national championships during another memorable season for the program. Six of the nine were seniors, including Foster Bunce, Cole, DJ McIntyre and Smith, in addition to Burkhardt Jr. and Francisco.

That wealth of experience and talent made life easier for Nicola, who had to quickly adapt to a new team and new surroundings. He had previously served as an assistant coach at NCAA Division II California Baptist University.

“I took the job in early October and my whole life was a whirlwind at the time,” Nicola said. “I was moving from California to Nebraska. I moved here, worked for one day and then left for a week for my little brother’s wedding. I am very fortunate and blessed to have Coach (Levi) Calhoun and Coach (Junior) Lule here to continue to lead the program like they had transitioning from one head coach to a new head coach. I was actually having trouble focusing on my brother’s wedding because I knew I had a brand new team waiting for me. The transition actually went very smooth because the guys were so welcoming and Coach Calhoun and Coach Lule were so awesome.”

Nicola garnered GPAC and NAIA North Qualifier coach of the year honors after a season that ended with more hardware. At the national championships in March, Concordia placed 15th, marking the fourth top-25 national finish in a row for the program.

The Bulldogs had hopes of placing higher at nationals, but the season as a whole provided plenty more thrills than anguish.

“I knew I was inheriting a pretty solid team that was going to be ranked No. 1 in the conference and in the region,” Nicola said. “At the end of the day, there’s nothing that I’m disappointed with. I wish a couple of small things would have been different. There are always those ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in any season, but we won the conference. It’s hard not be proud. We had the conference wrestler of the year, we had a lot of all-conference wrestlers and we won the region. I can’t think of any actual negatives. Of course we wanted to be a trophy team. All that does is encourage us to keep working.”

The next big challenge for Nicola will be keeping the train rolling without the services of the most accomplished classmates in program history. Nicola would like to show that there’s another reachable standard on the horizon that the program has never attained.

“There are going to be two keys to breaking in (as a trophy team) and I wholeheartedly believe we’re on pace to do that,” Nicola said. “It’s going to take development of the guys we already have returning. We’re losing six of our nine national qualifiers so we have to develop our guys. Then it comes down to recruiting. We’re pretty blessed with some of the guys we’re recruiting. If we recruit the right guys and keep developing them, we’re going to rise up the ranks for sure.”