Five Jackrabbits to compete at nationals

A school-record five South Dakota State University wrestlers will compete at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships this week in New York City.

A total of 330 wrestlers will compete in the three-day event at Madison Square Garden.

SDSU JackrabbitsAll matches of the tournament will be available for viewing through, with additional coverage on ESPNU. Coverage of Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship matches will air on ESPN.

The schedule for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships is as follows:

Thursday, March 17
Noon ET — First session
7 p.m. ET — Second session

Friday, March 18
11 a.m. ET — Third session
8 p.m. ET — Fourth session

Saturday, March 19
11 a.m. ET — Fifth session
8 p.m. ET — Championship session

Jackrabbit wrestlers Cody Pack and Nate Rotert are seeded in the top 15 of their respective weight classes as pairings for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were announced last week.

Pack, a senior from Quincy, California, is seeded seventh in the 157-pound weight class and will meet Neal Richards of Virginia Military Institute in first-round action. A four-time national qualifier, Pack has compiled a 27-3 record this season. Richards enters the national tournament with a 21-9 overall record.

A sophomore from Spearfish, Rotert is making his second consecutive appearance at nationals and is seeded 15th at 197 pounds. Rotert has compiled a 26-9 record this season and will face Scottie Boykin of Chattanooga (Tenn.), 23-6 overall, in the opening round. Boykin eliminated Rotert from his first nationals appearance last season with a 5-2 decision in the 197-pound consolation bracket.

Three other Jackrabbit qualifiers are unseeded and will face seeded wrestlers in first-round action. At 141 pounds, redshirt freshman Seth Gross will square off against 13th-seeded Steve Bleise of Northern Illinois, 26-8 overall. Gross has posted a 23-12 record this season and, like Pack and Rotert, is coming off a runner-up finish at the Big 12 Championship earlier this month.

At-large qualifier Alex Kocer, 24-10 overall, will meet sixth-seeded Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern (Ill.) in the first round. Kocer is making his second career appearance at nationals after also qualifying in 2014. Tsirtsis holds a 13-7 record this season.

David Kocer, a sophomore from Wagner, has posted a team-best 28 wins against 11 losses this season while wrestling in the 174-pound weight class, and will meet seventh-seeded Cody Walters of Ohio, 26-4 overall, to close out the Jackrabbits’ first-round pairings.

SDSU previously had a program-best three wrestlers qualify for the national tournament in both 2014 and 2015.

NATIONALLY RANKED: The South Dakota State University wrestling team reached a milestone in its Division I pursuits as the Jackrabbits cracked the USA Today/NWCA Division I top 25 for the first time on Feb. 9 by vaulting into the 24th spot on the strength of a long winning streak. SDSU later moved up three spots to 21st in the Feb. 23 poll.

SDSU also is currently tied for 29th in the Tournament Power Index rankings compiled by WIN Magazine. SDSU was ranked 31st in the preseason TPI and previously climbed to as high as No. 25 after its Dec. 13 dual win against North Dakota State.

BIG 12 RECAP: Three South Dakota State University wrestlers recorded individual runner-up finishes and the Jackrabbits placed fourth in the team standings in their first-ever appearance at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship, which was held March 5-6 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Redshirt freshman Seth Gross was the first Jackrabbit to wrestle in Sunday’s finals as he was matched up against top-ranked Dean Heil of Oklahoma State. Heil would go on defeat Gross, 5-3, but Gross earned a trip to nationals with his runner-up finish.

The 157-pound championship bout featured top-seeded Cody Pack of SDSU against second-seeded Joseph Smith of Oklahoma State. Smith scored an early takedown and carried the momentum through for an 8-4 victory. Pack, who fell to 27-3 overall, will be making his fourth consecutive trip to the national tournament.

At 197 pounds, Nate Rotert will make a return trip to the national meet despite dropping a 4-3 decision to fifth-seeded Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State in the championship match. Rotert’s season record stands at 26-9.

David Kocer became the fourth Jackrabbit to earn a trip to nationals with a fourth-place finish at 174 pounds. A sophomore from Wagner, Kocer opened the day with a 3-2, overtime victory over West Virginia’s Ross Renzi in the consolation semifinals. Kocer later withdrew from the scheduled third-place match against Oklahoma’s Matt Reed for medical reasons.

Alex Kocer and Luke Zilverberg each split their consolation matches Sunday morning to finish with fifth-place showings. Alex Kocer dropped a 9-6 decision to Cole Mendenhall of Wyoming in his first match, but came back to post a 15-7 major decision over Northern Colorado’s Timmy Box. Kocer improved to 24-10 this season.

Zilverberg opened the Sunday morning session with a 7-2 loss to third-seeded Clark Glass of Oklahoma in the consolation semifinals, but claimed fifth place with a 4-2 decision over Michael Billingsley of Air Force to close out his season.

DUAL SEASON RECAP: The Jackrabbits put together their most successful dual season at the Division I level, compiling a 14-6 overall record and 6-2 mark against Big 12 Conference opponents.

Of the Jackrabbits’ six dual losses, five were to teams ranked in the final regular-season poll conducted by USA Today and the National Wrestling Coaches Association. The other loss was to Virginia, which was ranked for much of the 2015-16 season, but dropped out of the top 25 in the final regular-season poll.

Other highlights from the 2015-16 dual season included:

  • SDSU’s 12-match dual winning streak, which started on Dec. 6 and ended Feb. 14 at Oklahoma, set a school record;
  • Eight of the 10 Jackrabbit wrestlers who competed in the Big 12 Wrestling Championship posted winning dual records, led by 157-pounder Cody Pack’s 16-1 record;
  • The Jackrabbits’ 14 dual wins were the most in the Division I era and the fourth-most in a season in program history;
  • SDSU posted back-to-back winning dual seasons for the first time at the Division I level and for the first time since the 2001-02 (9-8) and 2002-03 (12-9) seasons, when the Jackrabbits competed at the NCAA Division II level. The Jackrabbits compiled an 11-8 dual record during the 2014-15 campaign.

A LOOK AHEAD: The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships will mark the conclusion of the Jackrabbits’ 2015-16 season.

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