Jackrabbits open dual season Saturday

The South Dakota State University wrestling team will open the 2015-16 dual season Saturday by taking on three different opponents at the Gopher Duals hosted by the University of Minnesota.
Competition begins at 3 p.m. at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The four-team format is as follows:

  • 3 p.m.: South Dakota State vs. Virginia • Grand Canyon (Ariz.) at Minnesota
  • 4:30 p.m.: South Dakota State vs. Grand Canyon • Virginia at Minnesota
  • 6 p.m.: South Dakota State at Minnesota • Grand Canyon vs. Virginia

Minnesota is ranked 24th in the first Intermat team rankings of the season.

The Jackrabbits posted an 11-8 dual record during the 2014-15 season and later placed third in the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference tournament.

THE SERIES: The Jackrabbits have a longstanding series with regional rival Minnesota, but will be facing Virginia and Grand Canyon for the first time at the Gopher Duals.

Overall, Minnesota leads the all-time series, 21-4, dating back to the 1949-50 season. The Jackrabbits’ last victory over the Golden Gophers was a 23-18 triumph during the 1974-75 campaign.

SDSU JackrabbitsSEASON PREVIEW: The South Dakota State University wrestling team enters a new era during the 2015-16 season.

“Joining the Big 12 Conference in wrestling is huge for SDSU, our wrestlign program and the fans of our program,” Jackrabbit head coach Chris Bono said. “We are now in one of the premier conferences in the country, which will bring more attention to our program across the country and let our student-athletes compete against the nation’s best.”

Affiliate members will immediately compete for the conference’s postseason championship and the league’s automatic qualification to NCAA postseason competition. The 2016 Big 12 Wrestling Championships are scheduled for March 5-6 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

SDSU will wrestle all but one Big 12 Conference member — Iowa State — during the dual season. The Jackrabbits will host Oklahoma State (Nov. 27), Air Force (Jan. 24), Wyoming (Jan. 29) and West Virginia (Feb. 12) in conference action, as well as nationally ranked Virginia Tech in a non-conference dual on Nov. 21 to kick off the home dual season.

“With our inclusion in the Big 12 Conference we have been able to put together the best home schedule in our program’s history,” Bobo said. “Night in and night out we will challenge some of the top teams and individuals in college wrestling on our home mat.”

Two Jackrabrabbit wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA Championships a season ago, 157-pounder Cody Pack and 197-pounder Nate Rotert, enter the 2015-16 season ranked in preseason polls. Pack is sixth in the first Intermat rankings of the season and Rotert is 16th.

As a team, the Jackrabbits were ranked 31st among Division I programs in WIN Magazine’s preseason Tournament Power Index, presented by Cliff Keen Athletic.

A senior from Quincy, California, Pack finished one win away from earning All-America honors at the 2015 NCAA Championships, ending the season with a 37-6 record. He will carry an 85-31 career record into his senior season.

Rotert, a sophomore from Spearfish, compiled a 22-12 overall record during the 2014-15 season en route to qualifying for the NCAA Championships at 197 pounds.

Pack was one of two SDSU wrestlers to be granted an eligibility extension by the NCAA following the 2014-15 season. Joe Brewster, a national qualifier at 165 pounds during the 2013-14 season, also receiving an eligibilty extension after missing last season due to injury.

Alex Kocer, the team’s projected starter at 149 pounds, is the fourth Jackrabbit wrestler with national tournament experience, qualifying for the 2014 national meet.

A number of veteran wrestlers are expected to fill out the starting lineup for the Jackrabbits, including juniors Isaac Andrade at 125 pounds and Brady Ayers at 184 pounds, along with seniorBrance Simms at 133 pounds.

Newcomer Seth Gross, a transfer from Iowa, is projected as the starter at 141 pounds, with fellow sophomores David Kocer and Alex Macki penciled into the lineup at 174 pounds and heavyweight, respectively.

Bono expects most of the incoming freshmen, who were part of a recruiting class that ranked in the top 25 of Division I, to redshirt during the 2015-16 season. The most likely candidates to see action right away out of the freshman class include 125-pounder Anthony Cefolo and 184-pounderMartin Mueller.

LAST WEEK: Three South Dakota State wrestlers reached the finals of their respective weight classes during the season-opening Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open Nov. 1 at Frost Arena.

Newcomer Seth Gross, dropped a 5-2 decision to Minnesota’s Thomas Thorn in the 141-pound weight class, while Brady Ayers and Nate Rotert each reached the finals in the upper weights. Ayers lost by fall to North Dakota State’s Hayden Zillmer in the 184-pound final, while Rotert was defeated by technical fall against Brett Pfarr of Minnesota in the 197-pound championship bout.

Luke Zilverberg recorded a third-place finish at 165 pounds to close out the Jackrabbits’ top-three placings.

Other placewinners for the Jackrabbits included: Martin Mueller, fourth at 184 pounds; Ben Gillette, fifth at 133 pounds, and Brett Bye, sixth at 165.

In other wrestling action on Nov. 1, 157-pounder and three-time NCAA qualifier Cody Pack lost by fall in sudden victory to Mitch Minotti of Lehigh (Pa.) in an exhibition match at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic in Atlanta. The match was tied at 1-1 going into the overtime session.

COACH BONO: Chris Bono has engineered a successful rebuilding process during his tenure as head coach of the South Dakota State University wrestling program.

Now in his fourth season, Bono has helped mentor Jackrabbit wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships seven times and has posted a 22-28 dual record.

During the 2015-16 season, the Jackrabbits posted their first winning dual record in nine seasons and three SDSU wrestlers — Cody Pack, Nate Rotert and J.J. Everard — qualified for the NCAA Championships. Pack reached the national tournament for the third consecutive year at 157 pounds and was one win away from achieving All-America status.

SDSU also had three national qualifiers during the 2014-15 season as Pack, Joe Brewster andAlex Kocer all qualified out of the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships.

While leading the Jackrabbits, Bono was also tabbed as coach for the U.S. Men’s Freestyle team at the 2013 Pan American Championships. In the world event, Coach Bono led Team USA to a 13-point victory.

Overall, Bono has a 61-45 dual record in six seasons as a collegiate head coach. He previously served three seasons at Chattanooga (Tenn.), where he led the Mocs to three Southern Conference titles and coached two All-Americans and 19 NCAA qualifiers from 2006-09.

Bono also served nine seasons as an assistant coach at Iowa State after a standout career for the Cyclones. He lettered from 1994-97, finishing his career with 130 victories. A four-time NCAA qualifier, Bono won a national championship at 150 pounds as a junior, adding a runner-up finish as a senior and fifth-place showing as a sophomore.

THE ROSTER: The 2015-16 SDSU wrestling roster features 32 student-athletes from nine different states plus one Canadian province. Of the 32 wrestlers, 10 are from South Dakota, seven are from Minnesota and five are from Iowa. California is represented by three wrestlers while two hail from Illinois. Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey and Washington each have one wrestler. In addition, one wrestler hails from the Canadian province of British Columbia.By class, three are seniors, four are juniors, seven are sophomores, four are redshirt freshmen  and 14 are true freshmen.

 A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits return to open competition Nov. 14 with wrestlers expected to compete in both the Cyclone Open hosted by Iowa State and North Dakota State’s Bison Open.

The next dual meet for SDSU is its home opener Nov. 21 against Virginia Tech.

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