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Three individual champs boost Bulldogs to GPAC tourney title

Three individual champs boost Bulldogs to GPAC tourney title
Photo Courtesy-Concordia Athletics

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Just as it did three-straight years from 2015 through 2017, the Concordia University wrestling program has greedily seized both the GPAC regular-season and postseason championships. Following the lead of three individual GPAC titlists, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs dominated the 2020 GPAC Wrestling Championships that were contested at the Hindman-Hobbs Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Concordia’s individual champions were sophomore Mario Ybarra (125), junior Gabe Crawford (157) and senior Tanner Farmer (285).

Second-year head coach Levi Calhoun’s squad effectively achieved an impressive sweep of GPAC regular-season and postseason titles. After going 8-0 in GPAC duals, the Bulldogs accumulated 163.5 team points this weekend while outperforming second-place Briar Cliff (122.5) by more than 40 points.

“I’m super proud of the guys,” Calhoun said. “To have all 12 guys in the top six and 10 in the top four of their weight classes is pretty amazing. They definitely exceeded the expectations I had going into it. Just super happy to be able to win the tournament title. It was nice to see our guys avenge some losses they had earlier this season too.”

Concordia put six wrestlers in the GPAC finals and four others reached third-place matches on the back side of their respective brackets. By tournament’s end, the Bulldogs had chewed up seven of the conference’s 19 automatic bids to the national championships. The aforementioned champions have locked in national bids along with senior Alberto Garcia (second place at 133), senior Chris Kimball (second place at 141), senior Blake Castillo (third at 174) and senior Darrin Miller (second at 184).

Farmer stormed onto the scene this second semester and remains perfect at 22-0 heading to the national tournament. The NAIA’s second-ranked heavyweight blazed through the conference field with a pair of pins on Friday before winning by scores of 5-0 (decision) in the semifinals over Doane’s Brandon Antesberger and 9-0 (major decision) over Morningside’s Phil Rasmussen in the championship on Saturday. Farmer did not surrender a single offensive point in the tournament.

Farmer and Ybarra both held up as favorites at the top of their weight classes. Due to fewer entries at 125, Ybarra automatically moved to the semifinals. While taking the title, the Scottsbluff, Neb., native defeated Northwestern’s Sean Heeney and Briar Cliff’s Braedon Clopton. Meanwhile, Crawford was one of the surprises of the tournament. He was seeded fourth at 157 but managed to topple two opponents ranked above him: No. 1 Taygen Smith of Hastings and No. 3 Carsen Paynter of Jamestown.

“Mario did a great job against a tough Briar Cliff opponent,” Calhoun said in breaking down the champions. “Two of the guys Crawford wrestled had beaten him earlier this year. I’m definitely really excited for him to get to go to nationals. Then with Tanner, he was the dominant performer at the whole tournament.”

All dozen Bulldogs who were entered into the tournament made an impact. Each one contributed at least 8.5 team points to the tally. The matches that Concordia lost in the finals were all tightly contested – Garcia (133) fell by three points, Kimball (141) by two points and Miller (184) by two points. Kimball gave Doane’s NAIA third-ranked Baterdene Boldmaa all he could handle in the championship. Garcia will be headed back to nationals after earning All-America status a year ago.

With an automatic berth to nationals on the line, Castillo actually beat out teammate and two-time GPAC champion Deandre Chery, 4-1, in the 174-pound third-place match. Castillo will head to the NAIA championships for the first time in his career. Chery may still get an invite via an at-large berth (to be determined next week). At 184, Miller and Jason Watkins competed for true second place with Miller coming out on top.

The additional competitors for the Bulldogs were senior Cam Devers (fourth at 149), sophomore Issiah Burks (fifth at 165), the junior Watkins (third at 184) and senior Demitrius Miller (fifth at 285). Miller collected two pins and totaled 13.5 team points. Devers came up short of his goal, but he enjoyed a solid senior campaign with an 18-8 overall record.

“It’s always a tough thing when you have seniors ending their career,” Calhoun said. “Demitrius wrestled lights out. Cam wasn’t able to qualify like he hoped, but I’m really proud of him. The way he competed all four years was awesome to see. Those two guys have given great effort to the program.”

For those who qualify, the 2019-20 season will continue at the NAIA Wrestling National Championships to be staged at Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan., March 6-7. Official national qualifiers are scheduled to be announced by the NAIA on Feb. 25.

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