2017-18 Wrestling

8-8 Overall | 5-3 GPAC | Season Stats

Wrestling announces 2017-18 schedule

2017-18 Wrestling Schedule | PDF

SEWARD, Neb. – Winner of three-straight GPAC championships, the Concordia University wrestling program is set to be in action on 21 dates throughout the 2017-18 season. The upcoming winter slate for second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad was officially revealed on Wednesday (June 21). The season will begin with the Dan Harris Open hosted by Baker University on Nov. 5.

In Nicola’s first season at the helm of the program, the Bulldogs defended their GPAC dual and postseason titles and then placed 15th at the NAIA national championships. In dual action, Concordia went 11-4, including a perfect 7-0 against GPAC opponents. The Bulldogs will enter 2017-18 with an active GPAC dual win streak of 21.

This year’s slate will include seven open tournaments in addition to the prestigious Missouri Valley College Invite (Jan. 19-20). Concordia will again compete at the Oklahoma City University Duals (Dec. 17) and the NWCA National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Jan. 5-6. Schedules for the Oklahoma City Duals and National Duals are to be announced. Nicola and the program have already accepted an invite to National Duals.

Concordia will put its GPAC win streak on the line on Nov. 30 when it welcomes Dakota Wesleyan for a conference and home opening dual inside Walz Arena. The Bulldogs will host four duals in Seward, including their much-anticipated matchup with Midland on Jan. 12. Then on Jan. 27, Concordia will tackle a pivotal day that will include four conference duals in Sioux City, Iowa. Included among those four opponents will be new GPAC member Jamestown.

Hastings will be this season’s host for the NAIA North Qualifier/GPAC Championships, which will unfold on Feb. 18. After four-consecutive seasons in Topeka, Kan., the NAIA National Championships will shift to the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa. The 2018 national championships are set for March 2-3. Des Moines has been awarded the championship event for 2018 and 2019.

Nicola’s second Bulldog team will have a different look after the departures of three-time All-American Ken Burkhardt Jr., heavyweight national runner up Ceron Francisco and the rest of an accomplished senior class. Concordia will bring back three 2017 national qualifiers: Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197).

Five grapplers appear in preseason national rankings

NAIA release

SEWARD, Neb. – Ready to defend its three-consecutive GPAC titles, the Concordia University wrestling program will open up the 2017-18 season ranked 16th nationally. The Bulldogs landed a spot in the NAIA Wrestling Coaches’ Top 20 Preseason Poll (released Wednesday, Oct. 25) while boasting eight ranked individuals on the conference level and another five rated grapplers on the national level.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad has four individuals that collected top-two GPAC rankings in their respective weight classes. Senior Kirk Kaliszewski, the reigning 165-pound GPAC champion, is ranked first in the GPAC and seventh nationally. Returning national qualifier Josh Nelsen is the highest-rated Bulldog from a national perspective. He checked in at No. 6 in the NAIA at 184 pounds.

The three other Concordia representatives with national rankings are Giovanni Castillo (No. 18 at 133), Alexander Reimers (No. 11 at 197) and Keanu Tom (No. 17 at 157). Kaliszewski, Nelsen and Reimers each advanced to the 2017 national championships.

Nicola’s squad is one of five GPAC teams to garner top 20 national rankings. Three-time defending GPAC champions, the Bulldogs slotted in third among conference teams, coming in after No. 12 Morningside and No. 14 Midland but in front of No. T-18 Briar Cliff and No. T-18 Hastings. Concordia placed 15th at last season’s national championships behind heavyweight national runner-up Ceron Francisco and three-time All-American Ken Burkhardt Jr.

The Bulldogs are slated to open the 2017-18 campaign on Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Dan Harris Open hosted by Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan.

Bulldogs ranked in GPAC
125 – No. 5 Seth Harrell
133 – No. 2 Giovanni Castillo
149 – No. 6 Chris Kimball
157 – No. 5 Keanu Tom
165 – No. 1 Kirk Kaliszewski
174 – No. 5 Walker Fisher
184 – No. 2 Josh Nelsen
197 – No. 2 Alexander Reimers

Bulldogs ranked nationally
133 – No. 18 Giovanni Castillo
157 – No. 17 Keanu Tom
165 – No. 7 Kirk Kaliszewski
184 – No. 6 Josh Nelsen
197 – No. 11 Alexander Reimers

Season preview: 2017-18 wrestling

2016-17 Dual Record: 11-4 overall, 7-0 GPAC (1st); won NAIA North Qualifier/GPAC Championships
2017 NAIA National Championships finish: 15th
Head Coach: Andrew Nicola (2nd year)
Returning National Qualifiers: Kirk Kaliszewski (165); Josh Nelsen (184); Alexander Reimers (197)
Key Losses: Foster Bunce (149); Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197); Kodie Cole (133); Ceron Francisco (285); DJ McIntyre (285); Dmitri Smith (125)
Key Newcomers: Alberto Garcia (133); Chris Kimball (149); Keanu Tom (157)
2016-17 GPAC All-Conference: Andrew Nicola (coach of the year); Ceron Francisco (wrestler of the year; first team); Ken Burkhardt Jr. (first team); Kirk Kaliszewski (first team); Josh Nelsen (first team); Alexander Reimers (second team); DJ McIntyre (honorable mention); Dmitri Smith (honorable mention)
2017 NAIA All-Americans: Ken Burkhardt Jr. (197, 6th); Ceron Francisco (285, 2nd)

Outlook
For the past four seasons, program cornerstones Ken Burkhardt Jr. and Ceron Francisco thrilled crowds inside Walz Arena while leading the Concordia wrestling program down a path to GPAC dominance and national prominence. Burkhardt Jr., Francisco and the rest of last season’s culture changing senior class have exhausted their eligibility. Now really is a transformative time for the Bulldogs as second-year head coach Andrew Nicola continues to put his stamp on the program.

Six of nine 2017 national qualifiers have departed, but Nicola welcomes 18 new wrestlers to the program. Several of the newcomers are junior college transfers with the potential to ably fill the gaps left behind by that memorable senior class.

“We believe on focusing our lives on three things within Bulldog wrestling,” Nicola said. “That’s academics, athletics and our social life. We will continue to rise in the national ranks. We’re on our way. We’re recruiting the right kind of guys that are buying into the academic, athletic and social excellence that we demand of them.”

Named the GPAC coach of the year after guiding the program to its third-straight GPAC dual and tournament championships, Nicola enjoyed a full offseason to prep his 2017-18 squad. A year ago, Nicola arrived after the school year had already begun. He replaced Dana Vote (current Midland head coach), the architect behind Concordia’s resurgence. Nicola stepped in and made the transition a smooth one.

Nicola and company united in pursuit of common goals. The Bulldogs kept alive a GPAC dual win streak that now stands at 21, Francisco advanced to the heavyweight national championship match and Burkhardt Jr. reached the All-America podium for the third time in a career that saw him claim the title of winningest wrestler in the history of the program. Returners like Kirk Kaliszewski learned what Bulldog wrestling is all about from those seniors.

“I lived with Kodie Cole and Dmitri Smith so they showed me a lot about hard work,” Kaliszewski said. “They were coming in all the time and just getting workouts in. They showed me a lot about the culture and I really appreciate that. Ken was just a machine on the mat. You see him go out there and dominate. He had a killer season. Then Ceron was in a national championship so it’s totally possible to be at Concordia and be in a national championship. They gave us a lot of inspiration for us wanting to continue the traditions.”

Now what? Start with Kaliszewski, a 2017 GPAC champion and national qualifier at 165 pounds. He enters this season ranked first in the GPAC and seventh nationally in his weight class. Kaliszewski can build upon his national championships win over Indiana Tech’s John Weldon, who was ranked ninth at the time. It took a little while for the Palomar College transfer to get going. He won his final seven matches leading up to the national championships.

It’s time for Kaliszewski to shine and to lead in his senior season. With a year under his belt as a Bulldog, the guy teammates call “Kirk Smash” appears primed for a run at an All-America award.

“We call him Kirk Smash for a reason,” Nicola said. “He just knows one speed and it’s always going hard. Early January at National Duals he was getting beat up. Then come nationals, he was beating those same guys – top-ranked guys in the country. When he won conference and regions, it was a little bit of a surprise for everyone in the conference, except us. In the month of February he decided that he was tired of losing. He doesn’t yell a whole lot. He doesn’t holler at people. He just leads by example.”

Joining Kaliszewski as returning national qualifiers are wrestling room sparring partners in juniors Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197). Nelsen collected first team all-conference honors while Reimers landed on the GPAC’s second team in 2017. Both Bulldogs checked in at No. 2 in the preseason GPAC rankings in their respective weight classes. Nicola has a lot of faith that this will be the year that Reimers, a Seward native, takes off. Says Nicola, “He will be making a run at the top of the podium and I believe that with my whole heart.”

Of course, the program’s next big star could end up being senior Giovanni Castillo a former Grand Canyon University wrestler. Castillo was seen only briefly last season in a Bulldog singlet. One of his victories as a junior came by major decision over Indiana Tech’s Sawyer Miller, who wound up as a 125-pound All-American. The native of Ontario, Calif., is looking to bump up a weight class and wreak havoc at 133.

“He is an incredible athlete,” Nicola said. “That’s really what it boils down to. Our goal for Gio is to make sure that he’s wrestling to the best of his ability and also that he’s walking across the podium to get a degree. We’re going to help him focus on his grades so we don’t have any setbacks. He’ll be a very solid 133-pounder. We’ll see how his competition goes and how his body is feeling and how he mentally feels at 133. He’s going to have success and be a national contender at either weight class.”

Four not previously mentioned Bulldogs appeared in the preseason GPAC rankings: freshman Seth Harrell (fifth at 125) and juniors Chris Kimball (sixth at 149), Keanu Tom (fifth at 157) and Walker Fisher (fifth at 174). Kimball and Tom are also transfers that hail from California. Another Palomar College import, like Kaliszewski and graduate assistant Junior Lule, junior Alberto Garcia figures to make a big impact at 141 pounds when the second semester opens up. Among the other host of returners, sophomore Cameron Devers (141) and senior Jon Lado (165) could also make runs for berths to the national championships. Senior Victor Haro (157) should be a steady first semester performer.

All in all, Concordia believes it has a team capable of succeeding in dual and tournament competition. Understandably, there are question marks about replacing the most accomplished senior class in program history, particularly at heavyweight. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs can’t rise up to claim more GPAC championships and make a splash at the national level. Kaliszewski has seen the right attitude and work habits fall into place this offseason.

“Everyone measures success differently,” Kaliszewski said. “For me it would just be achieving my goals. I want our team to win the GPAC. That’s definitely a given. We want to win the GPAC tournament and we want to be top 10 at the national tournament. Those goals are up there, but every tournament we’re going to have goals. I just want to see us win. If we have problems, we’re fixing them and the next tournament we’re dominating. They’re going to know we’ve been working hard and they’re not going to want to wrestle us. That’s my expectation at tournaments.”

The season is set to open Sunday, Nov. 5 with Concordia competing at the Dan Harris Open hosted by Baker University (Kan.). Concordia will make its home debut on Nov. 30 when Dakota Wesleyan visits Walz Arena for a GPAC dual.

Bulldogs open up season with three titles at Dan Harris Open

BALDWIN CITY, Kan. – The second season of head coach Andrew Nicola’s tenure leading Concordia University wrestling got underway on Sunday at the Dan Harris Open hosted by Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. A total of 23 Bulldogs combined for 51 victories, seven place finishes (top three in each weight class were recognized) and three individual championships.

The Dan Harris Open marked the first of eight tournaments that make up the regular season schedule for 16th-ranked Concordia, a three-time GPAC defending champion.

“The effort was definitely there. It’s going to be a matter of fine tuning the technical things that will make us successful come GPAC dual season and GPAC championships,” Nicola said. “Fortunately we have four months left in the season to work on these techniques. There are a lot of takeaways from the weekend that we can improve upon.”

The three Bulldogs to win titles at the Dan Harris Open were senior Giovanni Castillo (133), sophomore Cameron Devers (141) and senior Jon Lado (165). Both juniors Chucky Hedrick (165) and Walker Fisher (174) claimed runner-up finishes while sophomore Deandre Cherry (174) and junior Josh Nelsen (184) placed third in their respective weight classes. Several others would have recorded place finishes had the top six individuals been recognized.

A native of Ontario, Calif., Castillo brings star potential at 133 pounds. He opened this season ranked 18th nationally in his weight class but has the ability to rise quickly. His path to a title on Sunday included a 6-3 victory over No. 20 Tyler Dickman of Baker. In the championship match, Castillo edged Haidon Allen of University of Saint Mary, 8-6.

“His position is pretty incredible,” Nicola said. “He only got taken down one time. He returned the favor to that guy in the finals a few time. There was one time where he defended a takedown and Coach (Levi) Calhoun and I looked at each other like, ‘How did he just do that?’ He’s very explosive. He’s going to be very difficult to beat this year. He looked healthy. He kind of lit up the competition.”

Devers and Lado also combined for seven victories. Devers defeated Drury University’s Lawyer Morgan-Beckum, 9-3, in the 141-pound title bout. At 165, Lado majored teammate Hedrick, 20-12, for the championship. In the 174-pound championship, Fisher fell by a tight 6-4 score to Drury’s Jacob Brune.

A total of seven grapplers made their Bulldog debuts on Sunday. That group included transfer Keanu Tom, ranked 17th in the NAIA at 157 pounds. He picked up three victories, rebounding after getting pinned in his first match. Nineteen of the 23 Bulldogs that competed earned at least one win. There will be better days ahead for returning 165-pound GPAC champion Kirk Kaliszewski, who went 0-2. Kaliszewski began the year ranked seventh nationally at 165.

Thirteen different institutions were represented at the Dan Harris Open. Ten were from the state of Kansas. Concordia was the lone GPAC school to compete at the event.

Next up is Saturday’s Grand View University Open in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. The competition is expected to ramp up another notch.

“We look forward to this weekend and getting some more guys some hardware at Grand View,” Nicola said. “The overall effort was very good. We’re excited to get back in the room and improve on technical aspects.”

Bulldogs post 31 wins, five place finishes at Grand View Open

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa – Sophomore Cameron Devers continued a strong early season run while competing as one of 20 Bulldogs at the Grand View University Open in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, on Saturday (Nov. 11). Devers and company combined for 31 victories and five place finishes in a tournament format that included a freshman/sophomore division and an open division.

This event marked the second time out for second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s 16th-ranked squad. Twenty-three Concordia grapplers entered the fray at last week’s Dan Harris Open at Baker University (Kan.). The loaded Grand View Open provides a nice early measuring stick.

“It was definitely very good competition and an eye opener to let us know where we’re at and what we need to continue to work on,” Nicola said. “It boils down to fixing the things we need to work on every week. There were some things that we specifically went over this week that we were making mistakes on last week. We scored a lot of points on those particular moves and positions.”

Concordia’s five place finishers were Darin Miller (second at 184 fresh/soph), Devers (third at 141 fresh/soph), Cody Lambert (fifth at 149 fresh/soph), Cyrus Marshall (fifth at 184 fresh/soph) and Anthony Zepeda (fifth at 174 open). Lambert led the way with five wins on the day. The aforementioned group of five totaled 18 victories collectively.

A sophomore from Holly Springs, N.C., Devers is improving by leaps and bounds. At 8-1 this season, Devers has nearly matched his win total as a freshman when he went 8-11 overall. His only defeat of the day came by a narrow 5-3 decision. He finished his tournament with victories over a pair of Iowa Central Community College opponents.

“Cam wrestled with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder those final two matches,” Nicola said. “He went against very good athletes and wrestlers. He’s just a hard worker. He works hard in the classroom and in the wrestling room and he listens. It makes it fun and easy to coach.”

Nicola also made mention of Miller, who won three of his four bouts at 184 pounds with the lone loss coming in the championship match in the freshman/sophomore division. Miller even picked up a victory over the University of Northern Iowa’s Justin Guilliams. Additionally, solid days were turned in by Blake Castillo (3-2 at 174) and Tyler Jorgensen (2-2 at 174). Added Nicola, “Cody Lambert is wrestling lights out.”

Concordia’s three returning national qualifiers – Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197) all got after it in the open division. While they combined for three total wins, there’s plenty of potential amongst the group. Nelsen turned in a 5-3 decision over Trevor Nicholson of the University of Nebraska.

Some key members of the roster did not compete at Grand View, such as Giovanni Castillo (133), Chris Kimball (149) and Keanu Tom (157). All three are expected back for next Saturday’s (Nov. 18) University of Nebraska-Kearney Open. “It will be a fun one at UNK,” Nicola said. “We should be back at full force for one final tune up before getting the dual season started with Dakota Wesleyan (Nov. 30).”

No. 20 Concordia picks up 20 wins at UNK Open

KEARNEY, Neb. – Twenty-one Bulldogs entered the fray at Saturday’s (Nov. 18) University of Nebraska-Kearney Holiday Inn Open that put the 20th-ranked Concordia University wrestling squad up against some of the most challenging competition it will see all season. Amongst a loaded field that included representative from 42 different institutions, the Bulldogs combined for 20 victories.

The hope is that the many matches against NCAA Division I and II wrestlers will make second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad better moving forward. Saturday’s tournament featured “elite” and “amateur” divisions.

“With the majority of our losses being to NCAA Division I and II opponents, we have to realize that the quality of competition in our first three weeks has been very, very good,” Nicola said. “We did see some positives when we faced some people from other NAIA schools. Victor Haro beat the guy ranked 12th at 157 and Chris Kimball had a very convincing win over an Air Force guy. A couple of guys that were banged up really pushed through. I’m excited for them to have some time now to recover.”

Haro’s win over No. 12 Brandon Lawson-Archuleta of Bethany College (Kan.) came by a 10-5 decision. Meanwhile, Kimball took a 7-3 victory over Air Force’s Jake Kurzhals. In terms of overall wins, sophomore 174-pounder Deandre Chery turned in the best day. He piled up four wins, including three by fall. Chery has racked up a team high six pins already this season. Other Bulldogs with multiple wins on the day included Cody Lambert (2-2 at 149), Blake Castillo (2-2 at 174) and Micahel Duffy (2-2 at 285).

Kirk Kaliszewski (165) and Josh Nelsen (184) both earned pins over NCAA competition. Kaliszewski wiped out Air Force’s Luke Boyle in 1:27 while Nelsen took care of New Mexico Highlands’ Jacob Hawthorne in 2:42. In matches against GPAC opponents, Concordia went a combined 6-8, including 3-0 against Midland grapplers.

Chery, a native of Miami Gardens, Fla., stands out so far as a Bulldog on the rise. Said Nicola, “I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of his four years if he’s one of our leaders career-wise for pins. He pins a lot of people. He’s going to score a lot of team points for us this year and in the future.”

The next date on the schedule is the team’s first dual, which is set for Nov. 30 when Dakota Wesleyan will make its way to Seward for a 7 p.m. CT tussle. The Bulldogs will be looking to extend an active streak of 21 GPAC dual wins in a row. The team will get a breather Thanksgiving weekend.

Nicola believes his team will build upon some of the challenges it went through on Saturday. Said Nicola, “We really do need to put it into perspective that when we start getting into our division we’re going to have a lot more success than we’re having right now. I’m looking forward to that.”

Three-time defending GPAC champs to make home debut Thursday

SEWARD, Neb. – The last time the Concordia University wrestling program made a public appearance at home, it wrapped a third-straight outright GPAC dual title while celebrating the careers of a decorated senior class. The 2017-18 Bulldogs are getting set to host Dakota Wesleyan at 7 p.m. CT inside Walz Arena on Thursday. It will mark Concordia’s opening dual of the season following action at three tournaments to begin November.

2016-17 GPAC Coach of the Year Andrew Nicola is early in his second season leading the Bulldogs, who placed 15th at the 2017 NAIA national championships. His dual lineup will have a much different look without the likes of crowd favorite Ceron Francisco and other 2016-17 seniors like three-time All-American Ken Burkhardt Jr., Kodie Cole and Dmitri Smith. The Bulldogs return three national qualifiers: senior Kirk Kaliszewski (165) and juniors Josh Nelsen (184) and Alexander Reimers (197).

Concordia’s projected lineup for Thursday night includes seven wrestlers that carry conference ratings, including Jon Lado, the GPAC’s top-rated 165-pounder, and a trio of Bulldogs listed at No. 2 in the league in their respective rankings: Giovanni Castillo (133), Nelsen (184) and Reimers (197). In terms of winning percentage, sophomore 141-pounder Cameron Devers (8-1) has been the team’s top wrestler so far.

The dominant program in the conference over the past three seasons, Concordia owns an active string of 21 GPAC dual wins in a row. The Bulldogs have produced perfect 7-0 conference dual marks in each of the last three seasons. Their most recent defeat in a conference dual came on Feb. 13, 2014, at Hastings. During the win streak, Concordia has combined to outscore its GPAC opponents 702-186 and has won 159 of 210 individual bouts.

Dakota Wesleyan opened up dual action this season with a 37-13 home loss to Doane on Nov. 10. Dakota Wesleyan picked up wins at 157, 165 and 174. The team’s lone individual to appear in the conference ratings is Stas Sutera, rated sixth at 133 pounds.

The Bulldogs will also be at Saturday’s Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa. Action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will be back at home to host Northwest Kansas Tech for a dual on Friday, Dec. 8.

All home duals will be carried live by the Concordia Sports Network.

Projected lineups

Concordia (0-0)
125 – Jerry Stepps III (1-6)
133 – Giovanni Castillo (4-2)
141 – Cameron Devers (8-1)
149 – Cody Lambert (9-6)
157 – Victor Haro (3-6)
165 – Jon Lado (3-2)
174 – Walker Fisher (3-3)
184 – Josh Nelsen (7-5)
197 – Alexander Reimers (3-6)
HWT – Michael Duffy (2-2)

Dakota Wesleyan (0-1, 0-1)
125 – Seth Caro (0-3)
133 – Stas Sutera (4-4)
141 – Brandon Scharmer (1-3)
149 – Open
157 – Forrest Lewis (1-4)
165 – Alex Osborne (2-4)
174 – Tanner Wernsman (2-2)
184 – Zach Westergaard (3-5)
197 – Nick Woslum (1-3)
HWT – Open

Five pins highlight steamrolling of Dakota Wesleyan

SEWARD, Neb. – It got ugly in a hurry – in a good way for the 20th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team. The Bulldogs hosted their home opening dual on Thursday night (Nov. 30) and treated fans inside Walz to a 55-0 blanking of visiting Dakota Wesleyan. The Bulldogs recorded five pins and one victory by major decision while opening up their defense of three-consecutive GPAC championships.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad had been idle since competing at the University of Nebraska-Kearney Open on Nov. 18. He couldn’t have asked for much more on Thursday. Concordia took full advantage of an opponent that had three open weights.

“The guys performed pretty dominant and very well,” Nicola said. “The plan is to work on positions. I don’t like losing any positions, let alone matches. If we get taken down or give up an escape that they didn’t earn – those are the things we have to get back to work on tomorrow.”

Sophomore Cam Devers began a wave of pins in a dual that began at 141 pounds. After a takedown and four near fall points, the native of Holly Springs, N.C., wiped out Brandon Scharmer in 1:44. It was simply a continuation of an impressive start to the season for Devers, who is now 9-1 overall. Ranked sixth in the GPAC at 141 pounds, Devers is out to prove himself.

“I just trusted my training and stayed confident,” Devers said. “I had to handle my business out there. I know if I go out there and do what I need to do, wrestle the way I need to wrestle, business I going to get handled. That’s the one thing I always tell myself before matches: just relax and go out there and handle business.”

Devers’ teammates followed suit. After eight bouts, Concordia led by the largest possible margin (48-0) thanks to five falls and three forfeits. During that stretch, the Tigers (0-2, 0-2 GPAC) failed to register even a measly escape. As a team, the Bulldogs outnumbered Dakota Wesleyan 15-2 in takedowns and 14-0 in near fall points on the evening.

Four pins in a row at 165, 174, 184 and 197 demoralized the Tigers. After 16th-ranked 165-pounder Jon Lado took care of Alex Osborne in 5:19, Walker Fisher (174), No. 9 Josh Nelsen (184) and No. 12 Alexander Reimers (197) each broke their opponents in the first period. Reimers needed only 1:19 to put away Nick Woslum.

The final two matches went the full seven minutes. At 125, Concordia’s Jerry Stepps III used eight takedowns and a reversal on his way to a 20-8 major decision over Seth Caro. In the following bout, 12th-ranked Giovanni Castillo found himself in a battle with Stas Sutera, rated sixth in the GPAC at 133 pounds. Castillo got taken down in the first period but battled back for a narrow 5-4 triumph.

The events that unfolded on Thursday were a welcome sight for a team that ran the gauntlet at three difficult tournaments that preceded the season’s first dual. The Bulldogs have now won each of their last 22 GPAC duals.

“Our first three weeks are grinder tournaments with a lot of NCAA Division I and II and very high level NAIA competition,” Nicola said. “We have a lot of guys with deceiving records. We have an incredibly talented team. We go to these tournaments for a reason and that’s to improve on these positions that we’re getting beat on. We just need to continue to train.”

A group of roughly 15 Bulldogs will return to action on Saturday for the Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa. The team’s fourth tournament of the season is set to get underway at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will be back inside Walz Arena for a dual with Northwest Kansas Tech on Friday, Dec. 8.

Eight Bulldogs place at BVU Open

STORM LAKE, Iowa – Eight of the 13 Bulldogs to compete at Saturday’s (Dec. 2) Buena Vista University Open in Storm Lake, Iowa, produced place finishes in their respective brackets. Concordia turned in a combined record of 21-23 while in action at an event that got started a little bit before 10 a.m. CT.

The outing marked the fourth tournament of the 2017-18 season for second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad. Of the 10 wrestlers that made up Thursday’s dual lineup in the 55-0 blanking of Dakota Wesleyan, only sophomore Cody Lambert took to the mat in Storm Lake.

Assistant coach Levi Calhoun traveled with the team on Saturday. Said Calhoun, “Seth Harrell wrestled really well. Cody Lambert wrestled lights out. He’s going to be a power for us. Tyler Jorgensen and Blake Castillo wrestled well. A lot of guys did. It was one of our better showings at a tournament. I was pretty happy with our young guys. Most of our guys that wrestled were young. It was a long day but it was good to see our guys putting matches together. We saw a lot of promising stuff.”

After a loss to a NCAA Division II opponent, Chris Kimball responded by winning his final three bouts of the day at 149 pounds. He wrapped up a first place consolation bracket finish with a victory over Brandon Crews of Morningside. Both Lambert (149) and Jorgensen (174) were runner ups in consolation action. Meanwhile, additional place finishes were recorded by Kyle Carey (fourth at 141), Kirk Kaliszewski (sixth at 165), Castillo (third at 174), Harrell (third at 133-B) and Chase Ryan (sixth at 165-B).

Three Bulldogs tied for a team high with three wins on the day: Castillo (3-1), Kaliszewski (3-2) and Kimball (3-1). Ten Concordia grapplers registered at least one win. A GPAC champion last season, Kaliszewski bounced back after early knockouts in the season’s first three tournaments. He is expected to be part of next week’s dual lineup.

The Bulldogs now look forward to their second home dual of the season, which will take place Friday (Dec. 8) inside Walz Arena. Northwest Kansas Technical College, a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, will serve as the opponent for a tussle set to get started at 7 p.m. CT.

No. 17 Concordia looks to extend home win streak on Friday

SEWARD, Neb. – Fresh off a dominant 55-0 GPAC home dual win over Dakota Wesleyan last week, the 17th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team will be back at home on Friday to host Northwest Kansas Technical College. Friday’s dual will get underway at 7 p.m. CT inside Walz Arena. The two sides also dualed last season in what resulted in a 38-8 Bulldog victory in Seward.

Concordia has won each of its last 13 home duals, a string that dates back to the start of the 2014-15 season. The program’s most recent home loss came back on Jan. 16, 2014. The victory over Dakota Wesleyan also moved the Bulldogs’ GPAC dual win streak to 22. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, Concordia owns a combined dual mark of 34-12 overall.

In fresh ratings released this week, second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad regained its perch atop the GPAC, which is now nine members strong. Five Bulldogs are ranked in the top two of their respective weight classes on the conference level. Six Concordia representatives possess national rankings: No. 7 Josh Nelsen (184), No. 9 Jon Lado (165), No. 10 Giovanni Castillo (133), No. 10 Alexander Reimers (197), No. 19 Keanu Tom (157) and No. 19 Walker Fisher (174). The Bulldogs moved up from 20th to 17th in the latest national team rankings.

Northwest Tech competes as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Mavericks’ projected lineup includes nationally-ranked wrestlers in No. 5 Munhbat Baterdene (133) and top-ranked heavyweight Odgerek Batkhishig. As a team, Northwest Kansas Tech is ranked 13th at the NJCAA level. The Mavericks are coached by Michael Sebaaly, who is in his fourth season leading the program.

Then on Saturday, Concordia will be at the Doane University Open in Crete. Action is set to begin at 9 a.m. CT.

Probable lineups

Concordia (1-0)
125 – Jerry Stepps III (2-6)
133 – Giovanni Castillo (5-2)
141 – Cameron Devers (9-1)
149 – Cody Lambert (12-8)
157 – Victor Haro (4-6)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (5-8)
174 – Walker Fisher (4-3)
184 – Josh Nelsen (8-5)
197 – Alexander Reimers (4-6)
285 – Michael Duffy (3-2)

Northwest Kansas Tech
125 – Tate Withington
133 – Munhbat Baterdene
141 – Tristan Cooper
149 – Sam Colvin
157 – Caleb Mendez
165 – Nartorian Lee
174 – Tsogtbayar Tserendagua
184 – Joseph White
197 – Casey Hand
285 – Odgerel Batkhishig

With big goals in mind, Ceron headed to Cavalier Wrestling Club

Ceron Francisco’s days in the state of Nebraska are about numbered. To quickly recap, Francisco arrived in Seward prior to the school year in 2013, then a shell of what he became. He stormed onto the scene at the 2015 national championships, making a surprise run to the All-America stand. Two years later, Francisco made even bigger waves by advancing all the way to the heavyweight national title bout, positioning himself as a Bulldog icon.

Friday (Dec. 8) will mark his final day student teaching in special education at Lincoln Northeast High School. Soon he will also be finished serving as a student assistant on head coach Andrew Nicola’s Concordia staff.

On senior day back in February, Francisco reflected upon four years gone by quickly. “I was pretty emotional just thinking about all the things we’ve been through as a team. 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.”

Ceron has already met members of his new family. On June 2, he announced that he had accepted an offer to become a resident athlete at the University of Virginia. His new journey will begin late in December when he will relocate to Charlottesville, Va., about a four-and-a-half hour drive from his hometown of Fayetteville, N.C. Ceron’s new family is the Virginia Wrestling Club.

Virginia assistant coaches and brothers Travis and Trent Paulson previously coached at Iowa State University, where they became aware of Ceron through a connection with previous Bulldog wrestling coach Dana Vote. Ceron made such an impression upon the Paulsons that they vowed to give him the chance to train at Iowa State. Coaching transitions shifted the Paulsons to Virginia. So that’s where Ceron will go.

In two separate tweets, Travis Paulson explained why Ceron’s presence at Virginia is a big deal. “Love our new addition to the Cavalier wrestling family,” Travis Paulson wrote. “He’s a great role model and embodies what it means to be a champion on and off the mat … this is a guy Virginia wrestling alumni and fans should get excited about! He has potential through the roof, is a man of character and has great work ethic.”

Ceron isn’t headed to Virginia simply to mess around. He’ll work with the Cavalier staff led by head coach Steve Garland, grapple with and advise Virginia wrestlers, help teach their scholastic program (K-12) and train himself vigorously just as he had all through four years of collegiate competition that saw him morph his body in a way that turned heads. Ceron’s wrestling career is not over, it’s simply relocating for an opportunity that comes with pay and full-time responsibilities.

“I’m packing up everything and living there (in Charlottesville),” Ceron said. “I’ll be there as long as I need to be. I’m starting a new chapter. They flew me out there in the summer time and I went and spoke at a banquet. It was a lot of fun.”

The Cavalier Wrestling Club doubles as a USA Wrestling Regional Olympic Training Center. You read that right. Ceron has dreams of testing his abilities on an international level. If things break right, Ceron could find himself at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. He also hopes to take a shot at the 2024 Olympics.

His first big test is coming up in February in Havana, Cuba. Said Ceron, “They’re throwing me right to the wolves.” This all seems like a daunting challenge for someone who wrestled at the NAIA level, but overlook Ceron at your own peril. He got a late start at wrestling in high school and might only be scratching the surface in terms of his full potential.

“It’s funny because I think about my sophomore year when I was a wild card and I felt like the underdog,” Ceron said. “I ended up making it to the semifinals and surprised a lot of people. I think that’s going to be one of my weapons coming up on the circuit. I can kind of sneak up on some guys.”

One of three resident athletes at the Virginia Wrestling Club (others went to Oklahoma State and one from Pittsburgh), Ceron will have to adjust to freestyle wrestling, one of two styles featured in the Olympics. While doing so, he’ll have to advance through rigorous trial rounds if he hopes to reach the Olympics or gain entry onto the world team. Says Ceron, “There are some things I still need to learn but I have some of the best coaches to work with so I’m excited to get started.”

Whenever the wrestling career does end for Ceron, one of two Bulldogs ever to reach 100 wins, he has a second career waiting as a coach and teacher. In his first assignment as a student teacher at Seward Middle School, Ceron learned that he has “more patience than I thought.”

Ceron turned down a graduate assistantship opportunity once Travis Paulson first extended the offer to make his way to Virginia. No one knows for sure how far this opportunity will take him, but there’s undoubtedly a lot more to come in regards to the saga of Ceron Francisco, a Concordia Bulldogs icon.

Says Ceron, “I think coaching and teaching are very parallel. I have to adjust and deal with different personalities. I have to be prepared for whatever is coming. I’ve actually been counseling some of the athletes here at Concordia. Once I’m done with wrestling I can put my degree to use. Right now I’m focusing on this.”

Home win streak stopped by Northwest Kansas Tech

SEWARD, Neb. – A pin in the final bout of the night silenced the crowd at Walz Arena and lifted visiting Northwest Kansas Technical College to a 23-21 win over the 17th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team on Friday (Dec. 8). The Bulldogs and Mavericks split the 10 matches, but the home team surrendered too many bonus points to sustain their winning streak inside Walz.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is now 1-1 in dual meets. Concordia received a much bigger test this time around than the one it faced last week. The result was a 55-0 victory over Dakota  Wesleyan. Nicola had a long chat with his team following Friday’s dual.

“Just like last week, we talked about positions that we’re getting beat on,” Nicola said. “Laying on your belly is never going to work. Attacking the bottom hand when a guy has a claw or a half is never going to work. At the end of the day, you just can’t give up bonus points. I came in thinking it might be close with us winning six and them winning four. We ended up splitting five and five. It comes down to bonus points.”

The night got off to a promising start at 174 pounds. That’s where junior Walker Fisher brought the Walz crowd to its feet with a pin in the closing seconds of the third period in what had been a tightly contested bout. The Bulldogs also got bonus points at 197 via an Alexander Reimers triumph by technical fall and at 141 with Cam Devers’ 12-4 win by major decision. A sophomore from Holly Springs, N.C., Devers is now 10-1 overall this season.

Concordia appeared in good position to claim the dual win after Cody Lambert (149) and Victor Haro (157) posted victories by decision to put the home team up 21-17 with only one match remaining. Lambert fought back to beat Sam Colvin, 9-7, in sudden victory. Haro then came close to a pin in the first period, but settled for a 6-2 win over Caleb Mendez.

As Nicola points out, the dual wasn’t lost solely because of the final match. The Bulldogs let opportunities at 133 and 184 slip through their fingers. That meant the burden was on Kirk Kaliszewski at 165. He played with fire the entire bout in which he also recorded three takedowns and two near fall points. Kaliszewski narrowly avoided a first period pin, but he couldn’t do the same in the third. He was nailed to the mat at the 5:53 mark by Nartorian Lee, causing the Northwest Kansas Tech bench to erupt.

The Mavericks (4-3) entered the night ranked 13th at the National Junior College Athletic Association level. Head coach Michael Sebaaly’s squad features the top-rated JUCO heavyweight in Odgerel Batkhishig, who pinned Concordia’s Michael Duffy in 1:39. At 133, Northwest Kansas Tech’s fifth-ranked Munhbat Baterdene topped No. 10 Giovanni Castillo, 7-2. The Mavericks put an end to what had been a run of 13-straight dual wins at home for the Bulldogs.

The good news is that Nicola’s bunch will have a quick turnaround. Members of the Bulldogs, starters included, will be back on the mats on Saturday for the Doane University Open. Action from Crete is scheduled to get underway at 9 a.m. CT. Concordia will be wrestling in its fifth tournament of the 2017-18 campaign.

Said Nicola, “We get back to work at Doane tomorrow and then in the room on Monday.”

Bulldogs rack up 57 wins, 10 place finishes at Doane Open

CRETE, Neb. – It was an all-day affair at Saturday’s (Dec. 9) Doane University Open for the 17th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team. Twenty-three Bulldogs represented the program in Crete. Together they combined for 57 victories and 10 place finishes on the busiest day of the season to date for second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad.

The showings on Saturday were a positive response to Friday’s home dual loss to Northwest Kansas Technical College. Each of Concordia’s place finishers are listed below.

  • Deandre Chery – 2nd (174)
  • Chucky Hedrick – 2nd (165)
  • Walker Fisher – 3rd (174)
  • Darrin Miller – 3rd (184)
  • Jon Lado – 4th (165)
  • Alexander Reimers – 4th (197)
  • Victor Haro – 5th (157)
  • Chris Kimball – 6th (141)
  • Josh Nelsen – 6th (184)
  • Jerry Stepps III – 6th (125)

Both Chery and Hedrick advanced to championship matches. Chery extended his team season high pin total to seven by taking care of Baker University’s Lucas Lovvorn in 5:19 in the second round. Chery won his first four bouts of the day before falling to Beau Breske of the University of Nebraska in the title match. Meanwhile, Hedrick toppled a pair of GPAC opponents on his way to the 165-pound championship tussle.

At 141 pounds, sophomore Cameron Devers keeps on winning. A victor by major decision in Friday’s dual, Devers came back the next day with five more wins, including two by fall at the Doane Open. He pushed his Bulldog best win total to 15 on the year. His five victories on the day were just behind Darrin Miller (6-1) for a team high on Saturday. A third-place finisher at 174 pounds, Walker Fisher also picked up five wins in Crete. Fourteen Bulldogs triumphed multiple times in the tournament.

Concordia got solid performances out of some of its highest rated grapplers. No. 7 Josh Nelsen (184) went 4-2 and took sixth place. No. 9 Jon Lado notched three wins and placed fourth at 165 pounds. Tenth-ranked Alexander Reimers posted three victories and finished fourth at 197 pounds.

The next date on the schedule is Dec. 17 when the Bulldogs will take part in the Oklahoma City University Duals. Concordia will go head-to-head with four NAIA foes on that day: No. 15 Baker University (10 a.m.), Bethany College (11:30 a.m.), Oklahoma City (1 p.m.) and Lyon College (2:30 p.m.). The Bulldogs own a dual record of 1-1 with the victory coming over Dakota Wesleyan.

Next stop: Oklahoma City Duals

SEWARD, Neb. – Once finals week is finally in the books, the 17th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team can shift its focus to Sunday’s Oklahoma City Duals hosted by Oklahoma City University. The Bulldogs will put themselves up against four fellow NAIA squads during their stay in the Sooner State. This will be the second year in a row that head coach Andrew Nicola’s program has competed at the Oklahoma City Duals.

Sunday, Dec. 17 schedule
9 a.m. vs. No. 15 Baker University
10:30 a.m. vs. Bethany College
12 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City University
1:30 p.m. vs. Lyon College

Live Coverage: Results from the Oklahoma City Duals can followed live via TrackWrestling.com. Host Oklahoma City will showcase a live webcast of its dual with the Bulldogs via its Stretch Internet portal.

Concordia stands at 1-1 overall having defeated Dakota Wesleyan, 55-0, and having dropped a 23-21 decision at the hands of Northwest Kansas Technical College, ranked 13th in the National Junior College Athletic Association. At last season’s Oklahoma City Duals, the Bulldogs toppled No. 8 Campbellsville University and No. 11 Wayland Baptist University while falling to sixth-ranked Oklahoma City and to 14th-ranked University of Central Oklahoma (NCAA Division II).

Ranked No. 1 in the GPAC, Concordia possesses six nationally-ranked wrestlers. The team’s winningest wrestler, Cameron Devers (15-2 at 141 pounds), has yet to crack the national rankings, but he’s been nearly unbeatable so far. Six of Devers’ teammates have also reached double figures in victories: Darrin Miller (14-8), Deandre Chery (13-8), Cody Lambert (13-11), Josh Nelsen (12-8), Blake Castillo (11-9) and Walker Fisher (10-4). Seven Bulldog grapplers have either eight or nine wins: Victor Haro (9-8), Chucky Hedrick (9-8), Tyler Jorgensen (9-10), Kyle Carey (8-10), Chris Kimball (8-7) and Alexander Reimers (8-8).

Among Concordia’s Sunday opponents, 15th-ranked Baker is the lone team with a top 20 national ranking. The other three each received votes in the most recent national poll. The Wildcats equal the Bulldogs with six individuals in the NAIA rankings. Lyon and Oklahoma City both have four ranked competitors while Bethany has two. Concordia will be going head-to-head with teams that turned in 2017 NAIA national championships finishes of 21st (Oklahoma City), 26th (Baker), 28th (Lyon) and 44th (Bethany).

Following Sunday’s action, the Bulldogs will wait until after New Year’s Day to resume the 2017-18 season. The prestigious National Wrestling Coaches Association Duals are set to take place in Fort Wayne, Ind., Jan. 4-5.

Nationally-ranked wrestlers

Concordia (1-1)
133 – No. 10 Giovanni Castillo
157 – No. 19 Keanu Tom
165 – No. 9 Jon Lado
174 – No. 19 Walker Fisher
184 – No. 7 Josh Nelsen
197 – No. 10 Alexander Reimers

Baker (0-0)
125 – No. 14 Zane Baugh
133 – No. 12 Tyler Dickman
149 – No. 14 Colby Johnson
174 – No. 16 Lucas Lovvorn
184 – No. 5 Jacob Smith
197 – No.. 6 David Dow

Bethany (1-0)
133 – No. 20 Caysen Smith
157 – No. 11 Brandon Lawson-Archuleta

Oklahoma City (2-1)
149 – No. 20 Matt Landgraff
165 – No. 9 Brok Williams
184 – No. 19 Kaden Truelove
285 – No. 4 Bryson McGowan

Lyon (1-4)
125 – No. 3 Dustin Miller
165 – No. 20 Connor Webber
174 – No. 4 Adrian Lyons-Lopez
197 – No. 18 Jacob Hill

Bulldogs earn wins over Bethany, Lyon at OKC Duals

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – In its final outing before Christmas, the 17th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team split its four duals at the Oklahoma City Duals hosted by Oklahoma City University on Sunday (Dec. 17). In competition exclusively with fellow NAIA members, the Bulldogs defeated Bethany College, 49-6, and Lyon College, 34-18, while suffering losses to 15th-ranked Baker University, 28-12, and to host Oklahoma City, 25-20.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad completed the day with 24 individual wins, including five over nationally ranked opponents, and eight pins. Concordia is now 3-3 overall in dual meets.

“Not too bad of a day of wrestling,” Nicola said. “Of course we would have liked to have competed with Baker and Oklahoma City a little bit better. Oklahoma City was on fire. They beat the teams ranked third, 15th and 17th in the country today. There were a couple of matches that didn’t go our way in both duals. The day went about as expected, but I did expect to pick up one more team win.”

One of seven Bulldogs to compete in all four duals on Sunday, senior Jared Woods (11-8) made a big splash at 157 while competing in his home state. The Durant, Okla., native went a perfect 4-0 with the biggest highlight being a 4-3 decision over 11th-ranked Brandon Lawson-Archuleta in a dominant team victory over Bethany, a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. Woods also finished his day in style with a victory by technical fall over Roger Gasmann of Lyon.

“He’s been training like a mad man,” Nicola said of Woods. “We were considering dropping him to 149 but we needed him at 157. Wrestling in front of his family and friends, he had a big day for us. He trains hard so that he can compete well.”

Four of Woods’ teammates picked up impressive wins of their own over ranked foes. Sophomore Cam Devers defeated Baker’s 12th-ranked (133) Tyler Dickman, 3-2, at 141 pounds. At the same weight, junior Chris Kimball topped Bethany’s No. 20 Caysen Smith by major decision, 16-8. In the matchup with Oklahoma City, 174-pound junior Walker Fisher beat 19th-ranked Kaden Truelove, 3-2. Finally, senior Jon Lado took care of Lyon’s No. 20 Connor Weber, 7-4, at 165.

All 11 Bulldogs that competed on Sunday notched at least one win. Nine collected two or more victories with Woods leading the way. He was followed by Fisher (3-1) and Lado (3-1). Concordia won all seven contested bouts against Bethany. The lone match that went to the Swedes was at 133, where the Bulldogs were open the entire day. Concordia took seven matches from Lyon and five from Oklahoma City. Lado emerged as the only Bulldog with more than one pin. He wiped away opponents from Baker (Bryson Wesley) and Bethany (Nicolas Desch).

A perfect 2-0 at 141, Devers pushed his team high win total to 17. He’s won each of his last six bouts and has been dealt only two setbacks all season. Darrin Miller (16-9) and Fisher (13-5) have also produced noteworthy overall season records.

The next event on the schedule is the National Wrestling Coaches Association Duals on Jan. 4-5 in Fort Wayne, Ind. The bracket has not yet been announced for the annual national duals that take place at the War Memorial Coliseum. The event’s web page can be found HERE. Seeding is heavily based upon this season’s national rankings.

Perfect run at Oklahoma City Duals propels Woods to GPAC honor

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – While wrestling in his home state, senior Jared Woods took the Oklahoma City Duals by storm. A perfect 4-0 run has allowed him to earn the title of GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week, as announced by the conference on Wednesday (Dec. 20). Woods is the first member of the Concordia wrestling team to collect the weekly honor during the 2017-18 season. The program has claimed 12 GPAC weekly awards since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Despite being unranked both on the conference and national levels, Woods went unbeaten in four matches on in Oklahoma City Sunday (Dec. 17). The highlight victory for the 157-pound Woods was a 4-3 decision over 11th-ranked Brandon Lawson-Archuleta of Bethany College. A native of Durant, Okla., Woods (11-8) also defeated Baker University’s Joseph Tallie and Lyon College’s Roger Gasmann. Woods helped the Bulldogs (3-3) to team victories over Bethany and Lyon.

The 11 victories on the season are a career high for Woods. Wednesday (Dec. 20) happened to be his birthday. Head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad will return to the mat after New Year’s with the NWCA National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind., Jan. 4-5.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last three seasons)

2017-2018
Dec. 20 – Jared Woods

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

Bracket set for NWCA National Duals

NWCA National Duals bracket

SEWARD, Neb. – Idle since the Oklahoma City Duals on Dec. 17, the 19th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team is set to end its layoff this week at the annual National Wrestling Coaches Association National Duals. The event will take place Thursday and Friday (Jan. 4-5) inside War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind. In the first round of the National Duals, the Bulldogs have drawn seventh-ranked Life University (Ga.) in a dual to be contested at 8 a.m. CT / 9 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad owns a dual record of 3-3 with the wins coming over Dakota Wesleyan, 55-0, Bethany College (Kan.), 49-6, and Lyon College (Ark.), 34-18. Concordia remained on top of the GPAC ratings released on Dec. 27. Four Bulldogs were ranked individually in the NAIA national rankings announced on Dec. 29: No. 8 Giovanni Castillo (133), No. 12 Jon Lado (165), No. 19 Walker Fisher (174) and No. 10 Josh Nelsen (184).

Head coach Omi Acosta’s Running Eagles squad is headlined by top-ranked 197-pounder Dalton Bailey. Five of his teammates are also ranked nationally: No. 10 Mason Calvert (141), No. 3 Nosomy Pozo (149), No. 6 Kalob Rahoi (157), No. 4 Lucius Van Rensburg (165) and No. 3 Hunter Smith (184). Life placed ninth at the 2017 NAIA national championships. The Running Eagles are 4-1 in dual meets.

Depending upon first round results, Concordia will take on either fourth-ranked University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) or GPAC rival Midland at 12 p.m. CT / 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Warriors are led by former Bulldog head coach Dana Vote.

Concordia is also scheduled to host Midland next Friday (Jan. 12) inside Walz Arena at 7 p.m. CT.

Previous National Duals results

2017
(11) Wayland Baptist – W, 36-7
(2) Indiana Tech – L, 19-30
(8) Missouri Valley College – L, 18-21

2016 – placed seventh
(14) Lindsey Wilson College – L, 18-19
Ottawa University – W, 41-3
(10) University of Great Falls – W, 28-19
(6) Life University – L, 15-27
(14) Lindsey Wilson – W, 19-15

2014
(8) Cumberland University – L, 6-31
(14) Wayland Baptist University – W, 27-16
(9) Indiana Tech – L, 12-38

Fisher goes 3-0, Bulldogs end National Duals with win

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Junior Walker Fisher continued a nice junior season with a perfect run at the annual NWCA National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Thursday (Jan. 4). Meanwhile, the Concordia University wrestling team salvaged its stay at the War Memorial Coliseum with a 34-5 win over William Penn University (Iowa). The victory followed losses to seventh-ranked Life University (Ga.), 43-3, and to conference rival Midland, 27-12.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s 19th-ranked squad concludes the week with an overall record of 4-5 this season in dual meets.

Fisher (16-5) stood out as a bright spot on a day when the Bulldogs were at a disadvantage due to multiple open weights. The nation’s 19th-ranked 174-pounder claimed victories by decision over Anthony Carter of Life, Cooper Self of Midland and Jason Beebe of William Penn. Fisher was responsible for three of the team’s 12 individual triumphs on the day.

The most recent GPAC wrestler of the week, Jared Woods rebounded after being defeated by major decision in the dual against Life. He turned in one of the day’s highlight victories with a decision over Midland’s Dominique Evans, the NAIA’s No. 19 rated grappler at 149 pounds. Evans wrestled up a weight at 157.

Concordia picked up its only two pins of the day in the victory over William Penn. Cameron Devers (141) wiped out Joe Eads in 4:16 before Kirk Kaliszewski (165) took care of Dylan Comstock in 1:19. Additionally, 125-pounder Jerry Stepps III notched one of his two wins on the day and Cody Lambert collected a victory by technical fall at 149 pounds. Stepps upset No. 12 John Altieri of William Penn. The Bulldogs won all eight contested matches over the Statesmen.

Next up for the Bulldogs will be another dual with Midland. This time the Warriors (3-3, 2-1 GPAC) will visit Walz Arena for a conference matchup set for 7 p.m. CT next Friday (Jan. 12). Concordia will put its GPAC dual win streak of 22 on the line in front of its home fans.

Matchup of GPAC's top two 2017 national finishers set for Friday

SEWARD, Neb. – GPAC dual action will heat up this month for the 19th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team, the three-time defending conference champions. The Bulldogs have not competed in a conference matchup since dominating Dakota Wesleyan, 55-0, on Nov. 30. Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is getting set to host Midland (3-3, 2-1 GPAC) at 7 p.m. CT on Friday. Live coverage will be provided by theConcordia Sports Network.

Based on the most recent official GPAC ratings (released on Dec. 27), Friday’s matchup features the conference’s top team in Concordia against the GPAC’s third-rated squad in Midland. The Bulldogs own an active streak of 22-straight GPAC dual wins. Concordia posted perfect 7-0 conference marks in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 while establishing a conference powerhouse. Additionally, a Bulldog grappler has earned the GPAC wrestler of the year award in four-consecutive seasons: Emilio Rivera (2013-14), Enrique Barajas (2014-15), Andrew Schulte (2015-16) and Ceron Francisco (2016-17).

Concordia and Midland met last week at the NWCA National Duals in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Warriors emerged with a 27-12 victory on a day when the Bulldogs had three open weights. Concordia’s lineup sets up more favorably for Friday when it could feature as many as four nationally-ranked competitors. Junior Walker Fisher cracked the national rankings in late December and carries a six-match win streak at 174 pounds into this week. The Bulldogs could get a big boost at 133 if eighth-ranked Giovanni Castillo is able to make a return from injury.

The headlining performer for the Warriors is David Berg, ranked second nationally at 141 pounds. Berg placed third in the 133-pound bracket of the 2017 NAIA national championships. Two other 2017 national qualifiers – Paul Longshore (149) and Cooper Self (174) – could also be part of Midland’s lineup on Friday. The Warriors, who own conference wins over Jamestown and Doane, are coached by Dana Vote. Credited with successfully rebuilding Concordia’s wrestling program, Vote will return to Walz Arena for the first time since he led the Bulldogs to a GPAC tournament championship in Seward in February 2016.

Concordia and Midland were the GPAC’s highest finishers at the 2017 national championships. The Warriors placed seventh while the Bulldogs finished 15th. Both schools advanced a wrestler to a national title match. Francisco finished as the heavyweight national runner up while Midland’s Scottie Bonds took home the 149-pound title.

Projected lineups

Concordia (4-5, 1-0)
125 – Jerry Stepps III (9-13)
133 – No. 8 Giovanni Castillo (5-3)
141 – Cameron Devers (18-3) / Chris Kimball (10-8)
149 – Cody Lambert (16-15)
157 – Jared Woods (13-9)
165 – No. 12 Jon Lado (10-5) / Kirk Kaliszewski (6-13)
174 – No. 19 Walker Fisher (16-5)
184 – No. 10 Josh Nelsen (15-9) / Darrin Miller (17-9)
197 – Open
285 – Michael Duffy (5-5)

Midland (3-3, 2-1)
125 – Julian Gaytan / DeVante Williams
133 – Godwin Cutler
141 – No. 2 David Berg
149 – Jake Wilson / Paul Longshore
157 – No. 19 Dominique Evans
165 – Stephon Gray / Jahwon Akui
174 – Cooper Self
184 – Gage Hartline
197 – Adam Ball
285 – No. 10 Aaron Rafalko

GPAC win streak ends at the hands of Midland

SEWARD, Neb. – Hoping to avenge a loss to rival Midland at last week’s National Duals, the 19th-ranked Concordia University wrestling team came up on the wrong end of a 31-12 final score inside Walz Arena on Friday night (Jan. 12). The visiting Warriors left town with seven match victories, including five in a row spanning the 133 through 165-pound bouts.

The defeat ended a run of 22-straight GPAC dual wins for the Bulldog wrestling program. Andrew Nicola’s defending conference champions now stand at 4-6 overall and at 1-1 in GPAC duals.

Concordia is unaccustomed to getting knocked off in its own building. Said Nicola, “It’s frustrating when you have a lot of talent. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”

The night got started with a loud roar when Jerry Stepps III opened things up with a pin in the closing seconds of the first period. His match with Devante Williams had been tight until the St. Louis native nailed his opponent to the mat after 2:58 had elapsed. The victory gave Stepps III his 10th of the season. These are the moments that senior has been working towards.

“It took a lot of extra drilling and coming in with people I used to wrestle with,” Stepps III said. “They know my capabilities and they just wanted me to keep working. I know coming in tonight that I was going to have to start us out right because we were already down one person at 133. The only thing on my mind was just to get the pin.”

Unfortunately, a Midland (4-3, 3-1 GPAC) avalanche engulfed the Bulldogs. Once Stephon Gray finished off Kirk Kaliszewski with a pin at 165, Concordia found itself in a 25-6 hole. Jake Wilson also earned a pin at 149 for a Warrior squad that has gotten stronger since the calendar flipped to 2018. Making his return to Seward, Midland head coach Dana Vote has put together a team that is likely to soon make a move into the national rankings.

The Bulldogs tightened the score a bit by claiming wins by decision at 174 (Walker Fisher) and 197 (Josh Nelsen). Fisher (17-5), now ranked 19th nationally in his respective weight class, pushed his personal winning streak to seven by toppling Cooper Self. Fisher has drawn praise from Nicola for the improvements he has made as a junior.

“He does everything that we ask of him,” said Nicola of Fisher. “He goes above and beyond. He’s a blessing to our team and a blessing in my life. He just wants to improve in every facet of life. It’s pretty awesome.”

Nicola was joined on the bench on Friday by local supporter Grant Fehlhafer, one of the program’s most loyal fans. Fehlhafer served as an honorary coach.

Next up for the Bulldogs is next week’s Missouri Valley Invite (Jan. 19-20) in Marshall, Mo. The month of January will conclude with four key GPAC duals at Briar Cliff in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 27. On that date, Concordia will go up against Briar Cliff, Doane, Hastings and new conference member Jamestown.

Four Bulldogs alive after opening day of Missouri Valley Invite

MARSHALL, Mo. – After the dust had settled on day one of the Missouri Valley Invite, four Bulldogs remained alive in a loaded field of NAIA competition. Collectively, seven representatives of the Concordia University wrestling program combined for a record of 11-10 during Friday’s (Jan. 19) action in Marshall, Mo. With many of the top wrestling schools in the NAIA present at the event, the Missouri Valley Invite serves as a preview of what is to come at the national championships in March.

Assistant coach Levi Calhoun accompanied the team to the invite. Said Calhoun, “I think it went pretty well. Even the guys who got beat out still gave great effort. We just didn’t come up on the right end of some matches. Chris Kimball had a great win over a Briar Cliff kid that was an All-American – a really dominating win. Josh Nelsen had a great day. Those two guys are leading the pack for us right now.”

Both Kimball (141) and Nelsen (184) made their way to the quarterfinals of their respective brackets. Kimball emerged with the team’s signature win of the day when he defeated third-ranked Sonny Gulesian of Briar Cliff by an 8-1 score. That victory came on the heels of a pin over Reinhardt University’s (Ga.) Curtis Doctor. Kimball was then pushed to the backside of the bracket due to a loss to No. 15 Grayson Brenna of Grand View in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, Nelsen pinned Wayland Baptist University’s (Texas) Cutter Cox and then edged Midland’s Gage Hartline, 8-6, on his way to the quarterfinals. That’s where he fell by a 5-0 decision at the hands of ninth-ranked Tristan Ramberg of Missouri Valley.

All seven Bulldogs to wrestle on Friday earned at least one win. Sophomore Cam Devers (141) and junior Walker Fisher (174) also lived to fight another day. On the other hand, Jerry Stepps III (125), Jared Woods (157) and Darrin Miller (184) have been eliminated from the invite. Each of those three went 1-2 on the day.

The second and final day of the Missouri Valley Invite is set to get underway at 9 a.m. CT on Saturday. Missouri Valley will have a live webcast HERE. Live scoring can be followed by visitingTrackWrestling.com.

Concordia eliminated in Saturday action at Missouri Valley

MARSHALL, Mo. – The Concordia University wrestling team began the day with four competitors hoping to make a run on the backside of their respective brackets at the Missouri Valley Invite in Marshall. However, each Bulldog suffered a defeat in morning matches and were eliminated from a loaded field at an event that serves as a preview of the national championships in March.

Head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad traveled seven wrestlers to the tournament. They combined to go 11-14.

It was an encouraging weekend for 141-pound junior Chris Kimball, who toppled third-ranked Sonny Gulesian of Briar Cliff on Friday. Kimball faced another difficult draw on Saturday. He ultimately saw his tournament concluded with a 6-4 loss to No. 5 Gaige Torres of Indiana Tech. Kimball and each of his teammates posted at least one victory on the weekend.

Walker Fisher, who went 2-2 at 174 pounds, also picked up a solid win. Ranked 20th in his weight class, Fisher pinned Briar Cliff’s No. 19 Nathan Garcia. Other Concordia grapplers to go 2-2 at the Missouri Valley Invite were Cam Devers (141) and Josh Nelsen (184). Jerry Stepps III (125), Jared Woods (157) and Darrin Miller (184) also made the trip to Marshall.

A pivotal day of GPAC action is coming up next Saturday (Jan. 27) at Briar Cliff. While in Sioux City, Iowa, the Bulldogs will take on conference foes Briar Cliff, Doane, Hastings and Jamestown. Concordia owns dual records of 4-6 overall and 1-1 inside the GPAC.

GPAC Duals set for Saturday at Briar Cliff

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SEWARD, Neb. – If the Concordia University wrestling program is to defend its three-consecutive GPAC dual titles, it will mean that the Bulldogs will have cleaned up this coming Saturday. Four conference duals await Concordia this weekend in Sioux City, Iowa. Briar Cliff will serve as the host for one of two sites featuring the GPAC Duals.

Saturday, Jan. 27 Schedule
9 a.m. vs. Jamestown (0-2, 0-2 GPAC)
12 p.m. vs. Doane (4-4, 1-3 GPAC)
1:30 p.m. vs. Hastings (2-2, 0-2 GPAC)
3 p.m. vs. Briar Cliff (2-1, 2-1 GPAC)

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad enters this pivotal Saturday with a conference dual record of 1-1. The Bulldogs handled Dakota Wesleyan, 55-0, on Nov. 30. In the team’s most recent dual, a 31-12 loss to Midland, Concordia saw its conference dual win streak of 22 come to a halt. Despite the defeat, the Bulldogs remain in the thick of a wide-open GPAC race. Only Morningside (3-0) and Northwestern (3-0) have yet to suffer a setback in conference dual action.

Concordia will bring four nationally-ranked competitors to Sioux City, where it will begin the day by taking on the newest member of the GPAC – Jamestown. The Jimmies are still in search of their first GPAC dual win after having endured losses to Midland and Morningside in their first ever conference matches. Of the four squads the Bulldogs will go up against on Saturday, only Briar Cliff possesses more wrestlers that own rankings at the conference level. Among Concordia wrestlers, Giovanni Castillo (No. 9 at 133), Jon Lado (No. 12 at 165), Walker Fisher (No. 20 at 174) and Josh Nelsen (No. 11 at 184).

The Bulldogs enjoyed some success against Briar Cliff at last week’s Missouri Valley Invite. Junior 141-pounder Chris Kimball upset third-rated Sonny Gulesian of the Chargers. Additionally, Fisher pinned Briar Cliff’s 19th-ranked Nathan Garcia. A big day on Saturday could help Concordia climb back up the rankings after dropping to No. 4 in the conference rating released on Jan. 15. Two GPAC squads appear in the national rankings: No. 16 Midland and No. 18 Morningside.

The Bulldogs are nearing the most critical portion of their schedule. After Saturday’s action, just two duals and one tournament will be left before the GPAC championships on Feb. 17. The national championships will unfold March 2-3 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Ranked wrestlers

(GR = GPAC ranking; NR = national ranking)

Concordia
125 – Jerry Stepps III (GR: 6)
133 – Giovanni Castillo (GR: 3 | NR: 9)
141 – Cam Devers (GR: 6)
165 – Jon Lado (GR: 1 | NR: 12)
165 – Chucky Hedrick (GR: 5)
174 – Walker Fisher (GR: 4 | NR: 20)
174 – Deandre Chery (GR: 5)
184 – Josh Nelsen (GR: 3 | NR: 11)

Briar Cliff
125 – Isiah Lysius (GR: 5)
133 – Michael Andreano (GR: 2 | NR: 5)
141 – Sonny Gulesian (GR: 2 | NR: 3)
141 – Nathan Ryan (GR: 4 | NR: 17)
149 – Zac Funderburk (GR: 5)
157 – Brandon Meyer (GR: 5)
165 – Chris Paulsen (GR: 3)
174 – Nathan Garcia (GR: 3 | NR: 19)
285 – Matthew Wilke (GR: 6)

Doane
125 – Triston Santos (GR: 2 | NR: 16)
133 – Jonathan Fletcher (GR: 4)
184 – Zach Linton (GR: 1 | NR: 5)
197 – Chandler Knight (GR: 2 | NR: 17)
197 – Herold Hudiburgh (GR: 3)

Hastings
125 – Albert Landeros (GR: 3 | NR: 10)
149 – Richard Pocock (GR: 2 | NR: 9)
157 – Chris Vaughan (GR: 3)
197 – Gideon Monette (GR: 6)
285 – Jeremiah Gerl (GR: 1 | NR: 4)

Jamestown
125 – Jesus Barajas (GR: 3)
141 – Devon Lyle (GR: 5 | NR: 20)
149 – Brandon Aragon (GR: 4)
157 – Jackson Schauer (GR: 1 | NR: 16)
174 – Mike Zupan (GR: 1 | NR: 14)
184 – Matthew Hernandez (GR: 6)
197 – William Parks (GR: 5)

Bulldogs go 3-1 at Sioux City's GPAC Duals

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Hoping to rise near the top of the standings by the end of a pivotal day of GPAC Duals in Sioux City, Iowa, the Concordia University wrestling team came up one win shy of running the table on Saturday (Jan. 27) at Briar Cliff. The Bulldogs defeated Jamestown, 20-12, Doane, 30-9, and Hastings, 27-18, before falling to host Briar Cliff, 33-14.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad now sits at 7-7 overall and at 4-2 in conference dual action. Concordia sits just one win behind first place Briar Cliff (5-1) and Morningside (5-1). Saturday showed the Bulldogs remain a team to be reckoned with within the GPAC.

“We had a very solid day. The boys definitely battled tough,” Nicola said. “It was probably the best overall day team-wise, top to bottom, that we’ve had this season. Right now we’re in a position where we had three guys weigh in and then we bumped them up all day. The effort was pretty incredible.”

At the top of the lineup, Jerry Stepps III went a perfect 4-0. Stepps accounted for nearly 20 percent of the team’s 21 contested victories for the day. Stepps defeated a pair of wrestlers that were rated higher than him on the conference totem pole. One of his wins was a 17-16 barnburner over Jesse Barajas of Jamestown.

Following Stepps, six other Bulldogs earned at least two wins: Josh Nelsen (three), Deandre Chery (two), Giovanni Castillo (two), Cam Devers (two) and Michael Duffy (two). Walker Fisher, Chris Kimball, Keanu Tom and Jared Woods also chipped in with one win apiece.

That’s it for the month of January for Concordia. The Bulldogs will begin a new month by hosting Northwestern (8-4, 4-1 GPAC) at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Feb. 1). Concordia also has the Morningside Open (Feb. 3) and a dual at Morningside (5-4, 5-1 GPAC) coming up on Feb. 8 prior to conference and national tournament action.

“We’re still right in the mix,” Nicola said. “I think we’re a better tournament than dual team, but what we did today puts us right in the mix to be competing in the GPAC.”

Bulldogs to welcome Northwestern for senior day

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University wrestling program emerged from last week’s GPAC Duals in Sioux City, Iowa, still in the hunt for at least a share of the conference dual championship. In order for the Bulldogs to pull even atop the standings, they need to start with a win on Thursday over Northwestern and hope for Briar Cliff (6-1 GPAC) to get upended at Morningside on the same day. Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad owns dual records of 7-7 overall and 4-2 in conference action.

Thursday will be the final home appearance of the 2017-18 season for Concordia, which will welcome the Red Raiders (8-4, 4-1 GPAC) for a 7 p.m. CT start inside Walz Arena. The Bulldogs are looking to even up a home record that stands at 1-2 entering the week. Concordia will use the night to honor a senior class of nine as part of the lead in to Thursday’s dual. The action can be watched live on the Concordia Sports Network.

There were many encouraging steps taken at the GPAC Duals for the Bulldogs, who came up one win short of running the table at Briar Cliff. Concordia began the day by defeating Jamestown, 20-18, Doane, 30-9, and Hastings, 27-18. Only a 33-14 defeat at the hands of the Chargers prevented the Bulldogs from a perfect day in Sioux City. Individually, Concordia won 21 matches over the four duals. At 125, Jerry Stepps III went 4-0 with two wins over opponents ranked above him in the conference ratings.

Many lineup decisions are still to be made for Nicola, who has moved wrestlers around to avoid having open weights in recent action. Cam Devers (141/149), Chris Kimball (141/149), Darrin Miller (184/197) and Josh Nelsen (184/197) have given Nicola some flexibility in dual meets. The Bulldogs are also happy to return Giovanni Castillo and Keanu Tom from injuries. Jon Lado may also appear on Thursday.

Northwestern possesses seventh ranked wrestlers at the conference level, including three with national rankings: No. 13 Dante Preciado (149), No. 16 Brandon Shuler (174) and No. 13 Nick Null (197). The Red Raiders suffered their first conference loss last week at Midland, 32-15. As part of the conference duals in Fremont, Northwestern also defeated Dakota Wesleyan, 42-6, and clipped Morningside, 21-20.

Bulldogs to be honored on senior day include Castillo (Ontario, Calif.), Michael Duffy (Kennesaw, Neb.), Victor Haro (Tucson, Ariz.), Kirk Kaliszewski (Ramona, Calif.), Lado (Gloucester City, N.J.), Kolton Larsen (Lincoln, Neb.), Stepps III (St. Louis, Mo.), Jared Woods (Durant, Okla.) and Anthony Zepeda (West Covina, Calif.).

Only two other dates remain on the schedule prior to the GPAC championships (Feb. 17). Concordia will be in Sioux City on Feb. 3 for a dual at Morningside and then again for the Morningside Open on Feb. 8.

Projected lineups

Concordia
125 – Jerry Stepps III (15-15)
133 – Giovanni Castillo (7-3)
141 – Cam Devers (22-7) / Chris Kimball (13-14)
149 – Cam Devers (22-7) / Chris Kimball (13-14)
157 – Keanu Tom (5-9) / Jared Woods (15-14)
165 – Chucky Hedrick (9-9) / Jon Lado (10-5)
174 – Deandre Chery(21-12) / Walker Fisher (20-8)
184 – Darrin Miller (20-14) / Josh Nelsen (21-12)
197 – Darrin Miller (20-14) / Josh Nelsen (21-12)
285 – Michael Duffy (7-8)

Northwestern
125 – Sam Klarenbeek
133 – Cole Mills
141 – Elijah Dahl
149 – Dante Preciado
157 – Dan Zeleny
165 – Andrew Null
174 – Brandon Shuler
184 – Brock Brenneman / D’rell Gist
197 – Nick Null
285 – Victor Garcia / Isaac Ruiz

In the rankings

GR = GPAC rank; NR = National rank

Concordia
125 – Jerry Stepps III: GR: 6
133 – Giovanni Castillo: GR: 3 | NR: 9
141 – Cam Devers: GR: 6
165 – Jon Lado: GR: 1 | NR: 12
165 – Chucky Hedrick: GR: 5
174 – Walker Fisher: GR: 4 | NR: 20
174 – Deandre Chery: GR: 5
184 – Josh Nelsen: GR: 3 | NR: 11

Northwestern
133 – Jacob Hergott: GR: 5
149 – Dante Preciado: GR: 3 | NR: 13
157 – Dan Zeleny: GR: 4
165 – Andrew Null: GR: 4
174 – Brandon Shuler: GR: 2 | NR: 16
184 – D’rell Gist: GR: 4
197 – Nick Null: GR: 1 | NR: 13

Seniors shine in 2017-18 home finale

SEWARD, Neb. – On a night the Concordia University wrestling program used to honor its seniors, the class of veterans went a perfect 4-0 in a dual decided by a razor thin margin. The Bulldogs made their final home appearance of 2017-18 a positive one, recording a 21-16 victory over visiting Northwestern inside Walz Arena on Thursday night (Feb. 1). Concordia entered the night still hanging on to hopes of sharing the GPAC dual title.

With one more dual left to be contested, second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad has moved to 8-7 overall and to 5-2 in GPAC battles. Nicola was pleased to see the seniors contribute heavily in their last home impressions.

“Every senior won tonight,” Nicola said. “We talked earlier this week about their contributions to this program. Tonight’s victory was case in point. Without their victories tonight, we wouldn’t have won as a team. I’m very proud of them.”

In a dual that got started at 157 pounds, the night swung in favor of the Bulldogs in two critical close calls at the 184 and heavyweight bouts. Ranked 11th nationally at 184 pounds, junior Josh Nelsen took on the Red Raiders’ D’rell Gist. Nelsen needed the entire seven minutes. He recorded a takedown just before the buzzer to snare a 5-4 win by decision. Two matches later, senior Michael Duffy pulled a rabbit out of his hat and electrified the crowd with a 9-5 win over Isaac Ruiz.

A native of Kennesaw, Neb., Duffy began his college career with the Bulldogs, then left the team to be a student only before returning this season. On Thursday, he got rock star treatment after thrilling the crowd with a late takedown and four near fall points to turn the tide.

“We had been working that under hook to the knee tap. It was there finally in the third (period),” Duffy said. “They were probably telling me to cut him and I couldn’t hear. The cradle was there. I couldn’t take him over the normal way so a suicide was the way to go that time.”

Other seniors to join Duffy in the win column included Giovanni Castillo (133), Jerry Stepps III (125) and Jared Woods (157). Stepps III brings a unique background. The St. Louis native spent the first three years of his college career working towards moments like this. He’s now 7-0 in GPAC duals after wiping out Northwestern’s Sam Klarenbeek by a 13-5 major decision. Woods also won by major decision while Castillo settled for a 7-4 decision after recording three takedowns in the opening period.

Sophomore Cam Devers clinched the team win at 141 pounds when he toppled Elijah Dahl by major decision, 13-5. Devers dominated the first period with a pair of takedowns and four near fall points on the way to his team high 23rd victory of the season.

Down the stretch, Concordia appears to putting things together after some ups and downs through the middle of the season. Tenacity to the very last seconds of Thursday’s matches made this victory possible.

“We train for that so we understand if there’s time on the clock, there’s time to score,” Nicola said. “We always look to score, whether we’re winning by four or down by two or one. You don’t typically see heavyweights lock up and roll through a suicide cradle, but Michael Duffy did and came up big for us.

“Northwestern’s a very well-coached. Coach (Rick) Dahl does an incredible job. They’re a very respectful team.”

The rest of Concordia’s lineup was made up of Deandre Chery (174), Chucky Hedrick (165), Chris Kimball (149) and Darrin Miller (197). Kimball came up just shy of upsetting No. 13 Dante Preciado in a bout that ended in a 5-4 decision. Kimball had taken a 4-2 lead with a reversal in the second period.

Only two more dates remain on the schedule prior to the GPAC championships on Feb. 17. The Bulldogs will take part in the Morningside Open in Sioux City, Iowa, on Saturday. Then on Feb. 8, Concordia will be back in Sioux City to close the dual schedule by going head-to-head with Morningside. At this point, the best the Bulldogs can hope for is a second-place GPAC dual finish. Briar Cliff (7-1 GPAC) wrapped up the outright championship on Thursday.

Jorgensen places fourth at Edmonds Open

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Two days after a GPAC dual win over Northwestern, the Concordia University wrestling program used the weekend to rest the bulk of its roster. Only Wyatt Brauckmuller (125), Tyler Jorgensen (174) and Cyrus Marshall (184) represented the Bulldogs at Saturday’s Sioux City Dave Edmonds Open hosted by Morningside.

This was the final tournament of the regular season for second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad. With one dual left, Concordia sits at 8-7 overall and 5-2 in conference action.

While Brauckmuller and Marshall were eliminated quickly, Jorgensen came through with four wins on the day. A native of Temecula, Calif., Jorgensen made a splash by upsetting the NAIA’s 14th-ranked 174-pounder, Mike Zupan of Jamestown. Jorgensen won in a tiebreaker, allowing him to advance on the backside of the bracket. He eventually fell in the third-place bout at the hands of Briar Cliff’s James Buckhanan.

The starters in the Bulldog dual lineup had already shifted their focus to Thursday’s (Feb. 8) dual at Morningside (5-5, 5-2 GPAC). The final dual of the season for both sides will get underway from Sioux City at 7 p.m. CT. The winner will pull even for second place behind champion Briar Cliff in the GPAC standings.

Bulldogs to close dual season at Morningside

SEWARD, Neb. – A pair of teams tied in the conference standings will meet Thursday (Feb. 8) in Sioux City, Iowa, when Concordia and Morningside square off on the mat. Both teams will be competing a dual meet for the final time this 2017-18 season. The winner will move into a three-way tie for second in the GPAC while the loser will drop to fifth. Thursday’s action is set to get started at 6 p.m. CT inside the Hindman-Hobbs Center.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is coming off a 21-16 win last week over Northwestern. While celebrating senior night, all four seniors in the lineup earned wins, including 125-pounder Jerry Stepps III. The St. Louis, Mo., native is a perfect 7-0 in GPAC duals. That record will be put to the test in an expected matchup with Morningside’s Keegan Hessler, the conference’s No. 2-ranked wrestler at 125. Nicola could fill his lineup with as many as six competitors who carry rankings at the conference level.

In this week’s new set of rankings, Bulldogs Giovanni Castillo (133) and Deandre Chery (174) checked in at No. 1 among GPAC wrestlers in their respective weight classes. On the national level, the following Concordia grapplers appeared in the rankings: No. 3 Castillo (133), No. 17 Chery (174) and No. 18 Josh Nelsen (184). On the flip side, head coach Jake Stevenson’s squad boasts the GPAC’s top-rated 149-pounder in Steven Garcia and four nationally-ranked wrestlers: No. 12 Hessler (125), No. 20 Dusten Reed (133), No. 4 Garcia and No. 11 Logan Moore (184). Morningside is ranked 19th nationally as a team while the Bulldogs are listed as receiving votes.

Both teams are 5-2 in conference duals. The two Bulldog defeats came at the hands of Midland, 31-12, and Briar Cliff, 33-14. Meanwhile, Morningside has suffered losses to Northwestern, 21-20, and Briar Cliff, 20-15. Thursday’s dual will lead into the GPAC tournament set for Feb. 17 at Hastings. Automatic bids to the national championships (March 2-3) will be on the line.

Projected lineups

GR=GPAC Rank; NR=National Rank

Concordia (8-7, 5-2)
125 – Jerry Stepps III (16-15); GR: 4
133 – Giovanni Castillo (8-3); GR: 1; NR: 3
141/149 – Cam Devers (23-7)
141/149 – Chris Kimball (13-15); GR: 4
157 – Jared Woods (16-14)
165 – Jon Lado (10-5); GR: 5
or Keanu Tom (5-9)
174 – Deandre Chery (21-13); GR: 1; NR: 17
or Walker Fisher (20-8); GR: 3
184/197 – Darrin Miller (20-15)
184184 – Josh Nelsen (22-12); GR: 3; NR: 18
285 – Michael Duffy (8-8)

Morningside (5-5, 5-2)
125 – Keegan Hessler; GR: 2; NR: 12
133 – Alexander Schmitz; GR: 5
141 – Maren Cahill
149 – Steven Garcia; GR: 1; NR: 4
157 – Kyle Fowler; GR: 6
165 – Nickolas Madsen; GR: 6
174 – Alexander Thompson
184 – Elijah Dirkx
197 – Caleb Deemer
285 – Phil Rasmussen; GR: 4

Stepps completes perfect GPAC dual record in team loss

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Underdog Jerry Stepps III has shown no regard for rankings throughout his senior season for the Concordia University wrestling program. In Thursday’s (Feb. 8) dual at Morningside, Stepps completed an 8-0 GPAC dual record while highlighting what resulted in a 22-11 dual loss for the Bulldogs. It was the final dual of the 2017-18 campaign for both sides.

Thursday’s dual came with significant implications in terms of final conference placement. The winner would finish in a three-way tie for second while the loser would drop down to fifth. Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad concluded dual action at 8-8 overall and at 5-3 in the conference.

“The story of the night was people that were putting themselves in position to score were that people that had success,” Nicola said. “We were winning several matches coming down to the wire. We shut down and they were firing off offensive attacks. They earned it and they won. It was a tough day, but the better team today won.”

Stepps III (17-15) continues to be one of the feel good stories of the season for Concordia. The St. Louis, Mo., native rarely got an opportunity to compete in dual during his first three collegiate seasons. At the GPAC duals on Jan. 27, Stepps defeated two more highly rated wrestlers as part of a 4-0 day. On Thursday, he pushed his winning streak to six by upending Devin Phaly, 12-10 (TB-1), avenging a loss from earlier this season.

Stepps’ performance is even more impressive when considering the circumstances of the day. He wrestled with a heavy heart.

Said Nicola, “It was a special win for Jerry because not only had that guy beaten him earlier in the year and was ranked ahead of him, but Jerry did a solid for the team. About 15 minutes before the dual he got a phone call that his grandmother had passed away. He didn’t wrestle his best match and was still able to come out with a victory. He’s a resilient young man.”

Other Bulldog victories were delivered by Cam Devers (141) and Darrin Miller (184). The team wins leader, Devers (24-7) dominated with a victory by technical fall (18-3) over Maren Cahill. Later in the night, Miller kept hopes of a team victory alive with a 10-6 win over Kegan Putnam. At the time, the Mustangs (6-5, 6-2 GPAC) owned a 16-11 lead.

Ultimately, the team outcome came down to six matches that were decided by two points or less. Concordia went 1-5 in those bouts, dropping decisions at 133, 157, 165, 174 and 197. At 133 Morningside’s Alex Schmitz came through with the biggest upset of the night. He eked out a 4-3 decision over Giovanni Castillo (8-4), who jumped all the way up to No. 3 in this week’s NAIA national rankings.

It’s tournament time for the Bulldogs and the rest of NAIA wrestling programs around the country. Concordia’s top 12 competitors will compete as part of the field at next Saturday’s (Feb. 17) GPAC championships hosted by Hastings. The Bulldogs have won each of their last three regional/conference tournament championship events.

Postseason preview: GPAC wrestling championships

Live Results | Live Webcast

SEWARD, Neb. – National tournament bids will be on the line on Saturday when the 2018 GPAC Wrestling Championships take place inside Lynn Farrell Arena on the Hastings campus. The action is set to begin at 10 a.m. CT. Nine GPAC institutions now sponsor the sport of men’s wrestling, including new member the University of Jamestown.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola and his squad can push the reset button after placing fifth in the final GPAC dual standings. The Bulldogs also checked in at No. 5 in the GPAC ratings released on Feb. 5 by the NAIA. For a change, Concordia enters a regional/conference tournament in an underdog role in regards to competition for a team championship. At last season’s GPAC tournament hosted by Doane, the Bulldogs won the championship by a 10-point margin over second-place Morningside.

Four Concordia wrestlers who scrapped at the 2017 GPAC championships will return to the mat this Saturday: Cam Devers (141), Kirk Kaliszewski (165), Walker Fisher (174) and Josh Nelsen (184). A 165-pound GPAC champion last season, Kaliszewski has one more opportunity to salvage a senior season that has gone off script. Kaliszewski and Ceron Francisco (285) emerged from the 2017 conference postseason with GPAC titles. A strong GPAC tournament showing helped the Bulldogs place nine individuals in the national qualifying field.

Eight of the 12 Concordia individuals in the mix on Saturday are new to the GPAC tournament. The group includes Giovanni Castillo, ranked first in the conference and third nationally at 133 pounds. At 125 pounds, senior Jerry Stepps III will have an opportunity to continue his mastery of GPAC opponents. Last week he completed an 8-0 run through conference duals and was named the GPAC wrestler of the week on Wednesday (Feb. 14). In terms of overall wins, Devers is the team leader with an overall mark of 24-7.

Briar Cliff dethroned the Bulldogs from the top spot in the GPAC dual standings this season. Based on the conference ratings, the Chargers are not necessarily the favorites to come out on top in a tournament format. Ranked ahead of Concordia are Midland, Morningside, Northwestern and then Briar Cliff.

The qualification for the national championships has changed this season. In the past, the top three place finishers of each weight class at the GPAC championships received an automatic berth to nationals. Moving forward, only the conference champions assure themselves of national bids. The rest are based upon how many wrestlers each conference has ranked in each specific weight class.

The 2018 NAIA Wrestling National Championships will take place at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa, March 2-3. For more information on the event, click HERE.

Concordia postseason wrestling roster
125 – Jerry Stepps III (17-15) – GR: 4
133 – Giovanni Castillo (8-4) – GR: 1 | NR: 3
141 – Cam Devers (24-7)
141 – Chris Kimball (13-16) – GR: 4
157 – Keanu Tom (5-10)
157 – Jared Woods (16-15)
165 – Kirk Kaliszewski (6-13)
174 – Deandre Chery (21-13) – GR: 1 | NR: 17
174 – Walker Fisher (20-9) – GR: 3
184 – Darrin Miller (21-15)
184 – Josh Nelsen (22-13) – GR: 3 | NR: 18
197 – Cyrus Marshall (5-14)
GR = GPAC ranking | NR = national ranking

GPAC team rankings (Feb. 5, 2018)
1. Midland – 150
2. Morningside – 145
3. Northwestern – 114
4. Briar Cliff – 110
5. Concordia – 106
6. Doane – 97
7. Hastings – 86
8. Jamestown – 72
9. Dakota Wesleyan – 10

Final team scoring at 2017 GPAC Championships
1. Concordia – 132.5
2. Morningside – 122.5
3. Midland – 121.5
4. Northwestern – 110
5. Briar Cliff – 99.5
6. Doane – 58.5
7. Hastings – 56.5
8. Dakota Wesleyan – 25.5

Stepps III collects GPAC weekly award

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – The completion of a perfect GPAC dual run helped senior Jerry Stepps III pick up the first conference award of his collegiate career, as announced on Wednesday (Feb. 14). Stepps III has been tabbed the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Wrestler of the Week. He joins Jared Woods as the second Bulldog to receive the honor during the 2017-18 season.

Ranked fourth in the GPAC at 125 pounds, Stepps III knocked off Morningside’s Devin Phaly (ranked one spot above Stepps), 12-10, in a match that went beyond three periods. With the victory, Stepps III improved to 8-0 this season in GPAC duals. The impressive run through conference duals was made possible by a 4-0 day at the GPAC Duals in Sioux City, Iowa, on Jan. 27. On that date, the St. Louis, Mo., native defeated two wrestlers that had been ranked above him in the conference.

Stepps III (17-15) has earned a varsity role this season after going a combined 13-28 over his first three seasons at Concordia. In ratings released on Feb. 5, Stepps III moved up to No. 4 in the GPAC at 125 pounds. He’ll take his shot a national tournament bid on Saturday when the GPAC championships are held at Hastings.

Concordia GPAC wrestlers of the week (last three seasons)

2017-2018
Feb. 14 – Jerry Stepps III
Dec. 20 – Jared Woods

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

Castillo, Chery claim GPAC titles

HASTINGS, Neb. – Giovanni Castillo and Deandre Chery became the latest members of the Concordia University wrestling program to produce individual GPAC titles. The winning duo helped the Bulldogs place fourth among the nine conference teams that convened upon Hastings for Saturday’s (Feb. 17) championship event.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad turned in eight place finishes and racked up a total of 98.5 points, edging out fifth-place Morningside (96.5) while finishing just behind Hastings (99.0). Concordia placed one spot above where it was ranked in the most recent GPAC poll (Feb. 5). Castillo, Chery and Chris Kimball have punched their tickets to the national championships.

“I would say that the tournament kind of went as planned,” Nicola said. “Midland was a heavy favorite and they won. Northwestern was kind of a surprise in there. It’s just been kind of a funky year in the conference. You could say that we lived up to where we were ranked.”

Seeded second instead of first due to last week’s upset loss in the dual at Morningside, Castillo earned himself a measure of redemption. At 133 pounds, Castillo took decisions from Northwestern’s Cole Mills and Briar Cliff’s Isiah Lysius on the way to the title bout. That’s where Castillo pinned Northwestern’s Jacob Hergott late in the first period. The win locked up a spot at nationals for Castillo, who is now 12-4 this season.

A native of Miami Gardens, Fla., Chery has made a big rise in his sophomore season. Chery dominated his first two matches of the day, winning by pin over Morningside’s Jacob Wiley and then by technical fall over Jamestown’s Tanner Smith. Chery then won a tough battle with 12th-ranked Brandon Shuler of Northwestern. Chery took the decision in a tiebreaker, 7-4.

“Gio wrestled outstanding today,” Nicola said. “In the finals the kid was giving him a fit. He actually fought off his back at one point and then pancaked his opponent and got the win. We really needed that one. Then Deandre upended a guy who was near the top 10 in the country. He looked good throughout the day.”

Kimball is also headed to nationals via his third-place claim at 141 pounds. Kimball went 3-1 with his only loss coming against eventual GPAC champion David Berg of Midland. Kimball recovered by winning his final two bouts, including the third-place match over Briar Cliff’s Sonny Gulesian, 7-4.

Five other Bulldogs placed in the top five of their brackets: Jerry Stepps III (fourth at 125), Jared Woods (fourth at 157), Walker Fisher (fifth at 174), Darrin Miller (fifth at 184) and Josh Nelsen (fourth at 184). Fisher and Nelsen are still potential wild card selections for nationals, but are considered to be longshots.

For the program’s national qualifiers, the season will extend into the 2018 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, which will take place March 2-3 at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa. More information on the national championships can be found HERE.

Stepps takes path of greater resistance, greater reward

Rarely, if ever, has success been set on a tee for Jerry Stepps III to smash out of the ballpark. Rather, it’s been quite the opposite in some cases. It’s not that people who grow up in the school district surrounding Hazelwood East High School can’t succeed, it’s that sometimes they must overcome the kinds of temptations that drag people into a life mired by drugs and even criminal activity.

Says Stepps III, “My high school had a lot of violence, a lot of gang activity. Definitely with me having dreads, I was assumed to be a thug, a gangster, a weed smoker and a drug dealer. That’s the climate that I went through. It was really easy to get in with the wrong crowd.”

Let’s get one thing straight. Jerry has a mother, Catherine Jackson, who has always been there for him and remains one of his greatest sources of inspiration to this day. She cared and loved him to the point that she wanted to shield him from the tragedy that struck in the early morning hours of July 3, 2006. Just 10 years of age at the time, Jerry had to face the reality that his father, Jerry Stepps Jr., had been murdered.

At this point, Jerry’s father and mother had already split up and remarried. When news of the death of Jerry’s father made its way to the family, the grim circumstances were almost too much. Jerry felt like he had to know how, why. It wasn’t until years later that his grandmother let him in on the type of high-risk lifestyle his father led. It brought more sense to the few grisly details Jerry read in a newspaper article in 2006.

----

From the July 4, 2006, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Shooting, stabbing leaves man, 28, dead

Jerry Stepps, 28, was shot several times, stabbed and killed about 2 a.m. Monday (July 3, 2006) behind the wheel of his car in the 4300 block of College Avenue, St. Louis police said.

A resident of the area heard six gunshots and saw four young men running away from the car, south on College, police said. Homicide detectives were uncertain of a motive. Stepps lived in the 2400 block of North Euclid Avenue.

----

No one has ever been brought to justice for the murder of Jerry Stepps Jr. Perhaps motivated to find a better way, young Jerry has resisted following down a path that could lead to such a brutal ending. Just last week, the graduate of Hazelwood East (northern St. Louis) finished off what some may have called an improbable unbeaten run through GPAC dual competition. After three years of being buried behind more highly regarded teammates at 125 pounds, Stepps III has seized the opportunity he’s been given with the Concordia wrestling program.

When everyone else around him zigged, Stepps III zagged. Now he’s on track to become one of few in his family to earn a college degree. Said Stepps III, “It will mean a lot. There are only four people in my family that I can think of that graduated. There have been times when I’ve wanted to give up, but I knew I couldn’t. I would regret it every day of my life.”

Stepps III is the type of young man who makes a mother proud. He doesn’t make excuses about the challenges he’s faced. He’s been dealt plenty. Even at a time when he should have been able to bask in his perfect 8-0 GPAC dual run, Stepps III had a heavy heart. He didn’t wrestle his best on Feb. 8 at Morningside, but he found a way to win.

Just minutes before his match began, Stepps III received two calls – one from his uncle and one from his mother. Both brought news of the passing of his great grandmother, Della Jackson, who had often cooked his favorite meal, black-eyed peas and cornbread. Jerry decided to keep this to himself as he attempted to focus on wrestling.

Said Stepps III, “I didn’t want to tell the team because I didn’t want the team to get discouraged or worried about me. I knew I had a job out there to do. No matter what, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I have to take care of my second family. I did it for my great grandma. I remember telling myself in the middle of the match, ‘I’m not going to lose.’ I knew that history was on the line for me.”

You see, Jerry’s never been about taking the path of least resistance. The way he puts it, “If everybody goes left, I’m going right.” There may have been a tendency for some to decline to wrestle that night, but not Jerry. As his former high school coach and teacher Richard Bly put it, Jerry has learned how to deal with a “little bit more than your normal family drama.”

Bly knows Jerry almost as well as a family member. Bly describes Jerry as easy going and calm, but as someone who “just never stops.” After Jerry and his family moved during his senior year, Bly often gave Jerry rides home after practice. Bly and other coaches at Hazelwood East like Bill Henricks, Curtis Bledsoe and Matt Rudd, who introduced Jerry to wrestling, were the type of mentors Jerry needed considering his family’s lack of interest in sports.

Bly says that he and other coaches advised Jerry to relocate for college to a place where he could leave some of the distractions of his hometown behind. Enter Concordia and a journey completely opposite of the route taken by twin brother Jamez, who continues to live in St. Louis. (Jerry first remembers being contacted by Concordia via a graduate assistant coach). Throughout the process, Bly has connected with Jerry. During times of struggle, Bly has lent his support.

“He’s called me before thinking he just wants to be done,” Bly said. “You just kind of talk him off that edge. Whether it was classes stressing him out at the time or wrestling, you just talk him back in. We’re extremely proud that he’s going to be finishing up with wrestling and then getting a degree.”

Somehow Jerry has found a formula that works. He’s a master juggler, sometimes working the night shift at Walmart and then still making it to class and practice. Fridays are when Jerry actually has a chance to catch up on sleep.

Said head wrestling coach Andrew Nicola, “I’m not sure how he manages it. It is not uncommon for me to get to morning practice and for him to be sleeping in his car. Sometimes you have to knock on his window and wake him up. I truly don’t know how he does it, how he balances work and school. School is going the best it ever has for him. Something clicked in that young man’s head. He was ready for his opportunity.”

The night of Feb. 1 was a special one for Jerry, who won by major decision over his opponent from Northwestern as his mom and step dad watched nearby. It was the first time that Catherine saw her son wrestle in person as a collegiate competitor. It didn’t matter whether they knew what a takedown was, Jerry could feel the love. Says Jerry, “That was one of the highlights of my career, just seeing my mom and my step dad there to support me. That was just really important to see that they came.”

The emotions are likely to be even more raw when Jerry walks across the stage and receives his degree from Concordia. Jerry is not one to show his feelings outwardly, but that may change in December when his family will be in town to see him graduate.

Tears will seem appropriate for the young man who beat the odds, prevailing despite enduring that tragic July day in 2006, despite biding his time as a backup for three years and despite the temptations that could have sidetracked him and prevented him from ever going to college in the first place. Jerry has come so far and broken down so many barriers that it seems like anything is possible. He talks of wanting to become a cook and owning his own restaurant, being a personal trainer, working on cars and going to the service.

Jerry’s never had a problem with dreaming big. By next December, Jerry hopes another dream will come true. This won’t be your ordinary walk across the stage.

Says Jerry, “I’m going to cry when I do. I’m going to cry and then go out to eat and eat a lot – and cry again. Everybody’s going to make it. It’s going to be one big feast. I’m going to eat all the cake that I can because I love cake. Cake is my weakness.”

Castillo, Stepps nab first team All-GPAC accolades

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Four members of head coach Andrew Nicola’s Concordia University wrestling team were named either first or second team All-GPAC, as announced by the conference on Wednesday (Feb. 21). Seniors Giovanni Castillo and Jerry Stepps III landed on the first team while sophomore Deandre Chery and junior Josh Nelsen picked up second team accolades. Honorable mention status went to sophomore Cam Devers and junior Walker Fisher.

Now in his second season at Concordia, Castillo saved his best for last week’s GPAC championships, where he earned the 133-pound title. The Ontario, Calif., native went 3-0 while earning a pin in the title bout. Ranked third nationally in the most recent polls, Castillo owns an overall mark of 11-4 with a résumé that includes a Dan Harris Open championship. Only one of his losses came against an NAIA opponent. Castillo now looks forward to next week’s national championships.

After serving as a backup for the first three years of his career, Stepps III (St. Louis, Mo.) has taken advantage of his opportunity this season. He fell just short of reaching the national championships, but went an impressive 8-0 in GPAC duals at 125 pounds. Stepps posted an overall mark of 19-17 this season, giving him six more victories than he had combined his previous three years at Concordia. Stepps went 2-2 at the GPAC championships and took fourth place.

Chery has been a breakout performer in his second collegiate wrestling season. He will enter the national championships with an overall record of 24-13 on the heels of his 174-pound GPAC title. His conference championships run featured an upset of the NAIA’s 12th-ranked competitor in his weight class. The native of Miami Gardens, Fla., also placed at four other tournaments this season. His 13 pins are a team best.

A first team All-GPAC performer last season, Nelsen (Marysville, Kan.) placed fourth in the 184-pound bracket at the GPAC championships. Ranked 18th nationally in his weight class (as of Feb. 7), Nelsen went 24-15 with six pins during his junior season. He turned in place finishes at the Dan Harris Open and the Doane Open.

Both Devers and Fisher have earned all-conference recognition for the first time in their careers. At 25-9, Devers (Holly Springs, N.C.) paces Concordia in wins. He also went 9-3 in duals, won a 141-pound title at the Dan Harris Open and placed third at the Grand View Open. Fisher (Ashland, Neb.) ranks right behind Devers with a 24-11 record. He finished fifth in the 174-pound bracket at the GPAC championships after also placing at the Dan Harris and Doane Opens.

Castillo, Chery and Chris Kimball (141) earned bids to the national championships, which will be held at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa, March 2-3.

2017-18 All-GPAC

First Team
Giovanni Castillo
Jerry Stepps III

Second Team
Deandre Chery
Josh Nelsen

Honorable Mention
Cam Devers
Walker Fisher

Three grapplers set to represent the Bulldogs at nationals

NAIA wrestling info | Preliminary brackets

SEWARD, Neb. – Three Bulldogs will make their first-ever appearances at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships. Concordia will be represented on the national stage by Giovanni Castillo (125), Deandre Chery (174) and Chris Kimball (141). Each one earned automatic berths to the championship event via their performances at the GPAC championships on Feb. 17.

The 61st annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships will unfold on Friday and Saturday (March 2-3) inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Action will begin at 10 a.m. CST on Friday. The national tournament was held in Topeka, Kan., in each of the previous four years. The 2018 national qualifying field includes 240 individuals from 43 different institutions.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s squad is coming off a 15th-place national championships finish in 2017 when heavyweight Ceron Francisco placed as the national runner up and 197-pounder Ken Burkhardt Jr. claimed the third All-America award of his career. The Bulldogs have placed inside the top 15 nationally in three-straight years having also taken eighth place in 2016 and 12th place in 2015. The No. 8 finish remains the best in school history.

For details on how to live stream the national championships, click HERE. Saturday’s national title matches will be shown live on ESPN3.com. Live results will be available via TrackWrestling.com.

133 – Giovanni Castillo (11-4) | Sr. | Ontario, Calif.

  • First match at nationals vs. Jordan Pitt, Reinhardt (Ga.) (11-9)
  • Won 133-pound GPAC title
  • First Team All-GPAC
  • Only one loss to an NAIA opponent
  • Career record of 16-6 at Concordia

141 – Chris Kimball (16-17) | Jr. | San Marcos, Calif.

  • First match at nationals vs. Gaige Torres, Indiana Tech (28-7)
  • Placed third in the GPAC at 141 pounds
  • Transfer from Palomar College

174 – Deandre Chery (24-13) | So. | Miami Gardens, Fla.

  • First match at nationals vs. Cody Carson, Missouri Valley (13-5) / Jeremiah Reed, Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) (26-11)
  • Won 174-pound GPAC title
  • Leads Concordia with 13 pins this season
  • Career record of 36-25 (22 pins) as a Bulldog

Concordia all-time All-Americans

Ken Burkhardt Jr. (2015, 2016, 2017)
Kodie Cole (2015, 2016)
Ceron Francisco (2015, ^2017)
Adam Joseph (2012)
Austin Mogg (2014)
Andrew Schulte (2015, *2016)
Julian Silva (2012)
Jacob Williams (2012)
*National champion | ^National runner up

Castillo bursts to semifinals at NAIA wrestling championships

DES MOINES, Iowa – Day one of the 2018 NAIA Wrestling Championships saw Giovanni Castillo lock up All-America honors at 133 pounds while Deandre Chery and Chris Kimball claimed their first career wins on the national stage on Friday (March 2). The trio combined for seven victories during competition that took place inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa. All three appeared at the NAIA national championships for the first time.

With 17 team points, second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s group stands in 18th place. Castillo will be the team’s lone competitor on Saturday.

“The guys have either wrestled to their seed or above it,” Nicola said. “Starting out at 133, Gio’s the four seed so he’s expected to make it to the semifinals. He kind of dominated his way through. He had two incredible takedowns in the quarterfinals to guarantee an All-America finish. Chris Kimball right off the bat knocked off Gaige Torres. It was nice to avenge a loss there. We had a tough draw then on the backside. Then Deandre had a real good win. I think we wrestled above expectations.”

Things have come together nicely at the most opportune points of the season for Castillo, winner of the 133-pound GPAC title. He carries the weight of the program’s hopes to make it three-straight years with a wrestler in a national championship match following Andrew Schulte (141-pound champion in 2016) and Ceron Francisco (heavyweight runner up in 2017). Castillo’s run to the semifinals has included wins over Jordan Pitt of Reinhardt (Ga.), Brandon Vela of Bacone (Okla.) and fifth-ranked Trevor Murano of Grand View (Iowa).

Castillo entered the weekend with the No. 4 seed. He will draw top-seeded Jake Sinkovics of Cumberlands (Ky.) in his first match on Saturday. The top four seeds at 133 pounds all advanced to the semifinals. Castillo will finish no lower than sixth place. He’s healthy and wrestling his best since becoming a Bulldog prior to the 2016-17 season.

“A healthy Giovanni Castillo is an All-American without a doubt,” Nicola said. “He had some time off to make sure he was rested. He seems to be rising to the occasion. We knew last year what he was capable of. I’m very happy he’s able to cap off his senior season by getting on the podium where he belongs. Now it’s a matter of jumping up the steps.”

After a first-round bye, Chery moved on to the quarterfinals by upsetting Missouri Valley’s fifth-seeded Cody Carson, 4-3. Seeded 12th, Chery concluded his tournament with losses to No. 4 Anthony Orozco of Menlo (Calif.) and No. 7 Colton Gonzalez of Lindsey Wilson (Ky.). The 174-pound GPAC champion, Chery ended the campaign with an overall record of 25-15.

A transfer from Palomar College, Kimball made his way to nationals in his first season with the Bulldogs. Kimball made waves of his own by toppling the eighth-seeded Torres of Indiana Tech, 5-3, in the opening round. Kimball responded to a loss to No. 9 Mason Calvert of Life (Ga.) by recording a pair of wins on the backside. His run ended with a defeat at the hands of Midland’s sixth-seeded David Berg.

Session III of the championships will get started at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The championship matches will begin at 7 p.m. and will be shown live on ESPN3.com. All matches at the national championships are streamed live via Trackcast.

Fisher earns NAIA Scholar-Athlete honors

2017-18 NAIA Wrestling Scholar-Athletes

SEWARD, Neb. – Junior Walker Fisher has been named a 2017-18 Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete, as announced by the NAIA on Friday (March 2). A native of Ashland, Neb., Fisher majors in fitness studies. On the mat this season, Fisher went 24-11 overall and placed fifth in the 174-pound weight bracket at the GPAC championships.

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. A total of 65 wrestling student-athletes across the nation were named 2017-18 Scholar-Athletes by the NAIA.

Concordia University ranks as the NAIA’s all-time leader in number of Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes with 1,318 and counting. The Bulldogs have been a regular national leader for both scholar-athletes and scholar-teams and are coming off a 2016-17 academic year that resulted in 78 more scholar-athletes and 19 scholar-teams. 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).

Castillo becomes wrestling program's ninth all-time All-American

DES MOINES, Iowa – Senior Giovanni Castillo came within a hair of advancing to the 133-pound national title match. Instead, he settled for fifth place and became the ninth different Bulldog in Concordia University wrestling history to claim an All-American award. Castillo and teammates Deandre Chery and Chris Kimball each qualified for the 2018 NAIA Wrestling National Championships, which took place at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday and Saturday.

Second-year head coach Andrew Nicola’s three qualifiers combined for eight wins and 18 team points at the national championships. Concordia placed 22nd nationally.

Castillo, who hails from Ontario, Calif., worked his way into Saturday’s semifinal round after earning a trio of victories on Friday. His run included a victory over fifth-seeded Trevor Murano of Grand View (Iowa), 7-4. That triumph set up a clash with top-seeded and undefeated Jake Sinkovics of Cumberlands (Ky.), a four-time All-American. In the opening period, Castillo took Sinkovics down and quickly built a 6-0 lead thanks to four near fall points. He just couldn’t finish the deal. Sinkovics eventually took the lead and then pinned Castillo after 4:48 elapsed.

Castillo (15-6) then dropped his next match, 3-1, while up against 11th-seeded Robert Ozuna of York College. In the fifth-place bout, Castillo again defeated Murano, this time by a score of 3-1. For the fifth year in a row, the Bulldogs have had at least one All-American.

Kimball and Chery produced four and two team points, respectively. Before being eliminated on Friday, both grapplers collected their first career wins on the national stage. Kimball knocked off eighth-seeded Gaige Torres of Indiana Tech while Chery recorded a win over fifth-seeded Cody Carson of Missouri Valley.

During the 2017-18 season, Concordia placed fourth at the GPAC tournament championships following a fifth-place finish in the conference dual standings. Nicola led his team to dual records of 8-8 overall and 5-3 inside the GPAC. The program has placed inside the top 25 nationally four-straight years, including finishes of 15th in 2017, eighth in 2016 and 12th in 2015.

Concordia all-time All-Americans

Ken Burkhardt Jr. (2015, 2016, 2017)
Giovanni Castillo (2018)
Kodie Cole (2015, 2016)
Ceron Francisco (2015, ^2017)
Adam Joseph (2012)
Austin Mogg (2014)
Andrew Schulte (2015, *2016)
Julian Silva (2012)
Jacob Williams (2012)
*National champion | ^National runner up