BROOKINGS, S.D. – After a three-week layoff, the South Dakota State University wrestling team returns to action Thursday for the opening day of competition at the 54th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships in Evanston, Illinois.
The two-day individual tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday with action on 10 mats at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Northwestern University campus. Thursday’s evening session is set for a 7 p.m. start.
On Friday, Day 2 of the tournament begins at noon, with the placing matches slated to begin at 7 p.m. The finals will air live on Big Ten Network.
The Ken Kraft Midlands Championships is one of the most prestigious individual collegiate wrestling tournaments in the country and will feature more than 70 wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes by Intermat, including three Jackrabbits – Seth Gross, ranked sixth at 133 pounds; David Kocer, the 18th-ranked wrestler at 174 pounds, and Nate Rotert, who is ranked fourth in the 197-pound division.
Tournament updates will be available on Twitter through @GoJacksWrestle and by using the hashtag #Midlands54. Brackets will be released Wednesday night.
RABBITS RANKED: South Dakota State is well represented both individually and as a team in rankings conducted by a number of wrestling-related media outlets.
In the individual rankings, two-time NCAA qualifier Nate Rotert is the highest-ranked Jackrabbit wrestler with a fourth-place ranking at 197 pounds by Intermat. A junior from Spearfish, Rotert also is ranked fifth by both FloWrestling and Trackwrestling. Rotert’s fourth-place showing in the Intermat rankings marks the highest individual ranking for a Jackrabbit wrestler in the Division I era.
Seth Gross also appears in all three rankings, holding the sixth spot in the Intermat 133-pound rankings, while being tabbed fifth by both FloWrestling and Trackwrestling. Gross was a national qualifier in the 141-pound division last season, but is off to an 8-0 start in the 133-pound weight class during the 2016-17 campaign.
At 174 pounds, junior David Kocer cracked the rankings after a strong opening weekend in which he knocked off two ranked opponents. The Wagner native and returning national qualifier is ranked 18th by Intermat, 16th by FloWrestling and 17th by Trackwrestling. His older brother, Alex, is ranked 23rd at 149 pounds by Trackwrestling.
Junior 157-pounder Colin Holler recently moved into the individual rankings and its 18th in the latest Trackwrestling poll.
After being the top team to receive votes in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association preseason poll, SDSU has held the No. 20 spot in the team rankings for the last six weeks. The Jackrabbits first cracked the rankings Nov. 8 following their season-opening dual victory over Iowa State.
SDSU also is ranked 14th as a team by Trackwrestling, 16th by FloWrestling and 18th by Intermat.
HOT STREAK: With a 4-2 record to start the 2016-17 season, the Jackrabbit wrestling team has continued an impressive run of success in dual meets. Dating back to December 6, 2015, when it won all three duals at the South Dakota Showcase in Sioux Falls, SDSU has won 17 of its last 20 duals.
The victories at the 2015 South Dakota Showcase began a school-record streak of 12 consecutive dual victories, which was eventually snapped on Feb. 14, 2016, with a 19-13 loss at Oklahoma. SDSU later closed the 2015-16 dual season with a 23-14 victory against North Dakota State.
LAST TIME OUT: The South Dakota State University wrestling team wrapped up a busy weekend of competition by sweeping three duals Dec. 4 in the South Dakota Showcase at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
The Jackrabbits, who improved to 4-2 in duals this season, posted a 28-8 win over Northern State in the opener, followed by a 56-0 shutout of Dakota Wesleyan. SDSU closed the day against in-state competition with a 37-6 victory over Augustana.
Alex Kocer won two of his matches at 149 pounds by pin and another by technical fall, while younger brother David added two pins at 174 pounds as both went 3-0 on the afternoon. Ben Gillette also won all three of his bouts, including one by forfeit in the dual against Dakota Wesleyan. SDSU won four matches by forfeit and four by pin against an under-manned DWU squad.
SDSU tallied a total of eight pins on the day, including three in the final match against Augustana.
GROSS IN DOMINANT FORM: Jackrabbit 133-pounder Seth Gross brings a perfect 8-0 record into a star-studded weight class at the Midlands Championships. A sophomore from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has had only one match end in a decision so far this season. He has one win by major decision, four by technical fall and two by fall.
He is expected to face his toughest competition of the season at the Midlands, where seven of the top 11 wrestlers in the latest Intermat 133-pound rankings are scheduled to compete. Besides the sixth-ranked Gross, the tournament field is expected to include top-ranked Cory Clark of Iowa, second-ranked Zane Richards of Illinois, fourth-ranked Eric Montoya of Nebraska and 10th-ranked Earl Hall of Iowa State.
An NCAA qualifier at 141 pounds last season, Gross has a 34-14 career record with the Jackrabbits. He began his transition to the lower weight class by earning a spot on Team USA at the UWW Junior World Championships this past summer.
THE BROTHERS KOCER: Brothers and Wagner natives Alex and David Kocer enter the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships leading active Jackrabbit wrestlers in career victories.
A two-time NCAA qualifier (2014, 2016), Alex Kocer has compiled a 75-35 overall record in his four seasons in a Jackrabbit singlet. A senior, he has turned in a 9-2 overall record at 149 pounds so this season, after a 24-12 mark during the 2015-16 campaign.
David Kocer has held down the starting spot at 174 pounds each of his three seasons at SDSU and has combined to go 63-36 during his Jackrabbit career. He led the Jackrabbits in victories last season and made his first NCAA?appearance, finishing with a 30-13 record.
WRESTLER OF THE WEEK: South Dakota State 174-pounder David Kocer captured the first Big 12 Conference Wrestler of the Week award of the 2016-17 season, league officials announced on Nov. 7.
A junior from Wagner and a returning NCAA qualifier, Kocer put together a 4-1 record over two events, including defeating two ranked opponents, during the opening weekend of the season. He recorded a takedown with two seconds remaining in his Nov. 4 dual match against seventh-ranked Lelund Weatherspoon of Iowa State to pull out a 3-1 victory and help spark the Jackrabbits to a 27-9 team win.
At the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open on Nov. 6, Kocer turned in a runner-up finish. He recorded technical falls in his first two matches before defeating 14th-ranked Micah Barnes of Nebraska by a 3-1 decision in the semifinals. Kocer fell to 15th-ranked Zahid Valencia of Arizona State in the finals.
ATTENDANCE RECORD FALLS AGAIN: South Dakota State shattered its home dual attendance record Dec. 2 as it drew 4,087 fans to Frost Arena for a matchup against third-ranked Iowa. The previous record of 1,814 was set in the Nov. 4 season opener versus Iowa State.
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 fifth season, Bono has helped mentor Jackrabbit wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships 12 times, including a program-best five wrestlers during the 2015-16 season.
In dual competition, Bono has led the Jackrabbits to a 40-36 record that includes back-to-back winning seasons for the first time at the Division I level. Bono’s career dual record stands at 79-53, including a highly successful three-year run at Chattanooga.
The Jackrabbits entered a new era during the 2015-16 season by joining the Big 12 Conference as an affiliate member. After dropping early season duals to nationally ranked Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa, the Jackrabbits reeled off a school-record 12 consecutive dual victories that propelled them into the top 25 of the Division I team rankings for the first time.
At the 2016 Big 12 Championship, SDSU turned in a fourth-place finish as Seth Gross (141 pounds), Cody Pack (157) and Nate Rotert (197) all finished as runners-up in their respective weight classes. That Jackrabbit trio were joined by brothers Alex and David Kocer from the 149- and 174-pound weight classes, respectively, as qualifiers for the NCAA Championships in New York City.
Four of the five Jackrabbit wrestlers won at least one match at the NCAA Championships as the Jackrabbits finished in a tie for 39th place. Gross and Pack each finished one win away from achieving All-America status. Pack was making his fourth consecutive appearance at the NCAA 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, Bono led Team USA to a 13-point victory.
Under Bono’s leadership, the Jackrabbit wrestling program has consistently raised the bar in promoting the sport through innovative social media strategies. SDSU has received the Gold Standard honor from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and Elite Level Sport Marketing two times as part of their Best of Brand Awards.
His teams also have performed well in the classroom, placing in the top 25 for team grade-point average in rankings compiled by the National Wrestling Coaches Association each of the past two seasons. Individually, eight Jackrabbits wrestlers were honored on the 2016 Academic All-Big 12 Conference Wrestling Team.
Bono joined the UTC staff in 2005 after serving nine years as an assistant coach at Iowa State. He was the Cyclones’ head assistant coach for five seasons.
Bono lettered at Iowa State from 1994-97 and ranks fifth on the program’s all-time wins list with 130 victories. He won the NCAA 150-pound title as a junior and was a four-time NCAA participant. Bono won the Big Eight title as a junior and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the inaugural Big 12 Conference Championship in 1997.
He later served as an assistant coach at Iowa State for nine years, including holding the title of head assistant coach for five seasons before moving on to Chattanooga.
Bono earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science from Iowa State in 1997.
THE ROSTER: The 2016-17 SDSU wrestling roster features 26 student-athletes from eight different states. Of the 26 wrestlers, eight are from South Dakota, seven are from Minnesota and four are from Iowa. California and Illinois are represented by two wrestlers each, while Colorado, Kansas and Ohio each have one wrestler.
By class, three are seniors, seven are juniors, four are sophomores, five are redshirt freshmen and seven are true freshmen.
A LOOK AHEAD: Following this week’s Midlands Championships, the Jackrabbits return home for a pair of duals. SDSU will take on Boise State at 7 p.m. on Jan. 6, before resuming Big 12 Conference action Jan. 8 with a 2 p.m. dual against Northern Colorado.
Live video streaming of all Jackrabbit home duals and select road duals is available through the FloWrestling.org subscription service.