Jackrabbits prepare for Big 12 Championship

South Dakota State University wrestlers will compete for league titles and berths in the NCAA Championships this weekend at the Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The two-day competition begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at BOK Center. The tournament concludes Sunday with championship matches beginning at 1 p.m.

The first three sessions can be viewed at FloWrestling.org (subscription required), while Sunday’s championship matches will be televised live on FOX Sports Southwest and other FOX regional sports networks (check listings).

A complete tournament schedule follows:

2017 BIG 12 WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIP

Saturday, March 4

  • Session I: Preliminary Matches, Quarterfinals; 11 a.m. [FloWrestling.org]
  • Session II: Consolation First and and Second Rounds, Semifinals; 6 p.m. [FloWrestling.org]

Sunday, March 5

  • Session III: Consolation Rounds, Fifth- and Third-Place Matches; 8 a.m. [FloWrestling.org]
  • Session IV: Championship Matches; 1 p.m. [FOX Sports Southwest]

sdsulogoTwo Jackrabbit wrestlers – 133-pounder Seth Gross and David Kocer at 174 pounds – have been pre-seeded as the top wrestlers in their respective weight classes. Gross has compiled a 27-1 overall record this season, including a 10-0 mark against Big 12 foes. Kocer is 20-7 overall, including an 8-1 record versus conference opponents.

Gross and Kocer will be among the 100 wrestlers competing for the 38 automatic berths allocated to the Big 12 Conference during this weekend’s league championship. Of the 38 bids to the NCAA Championships, five will be awarded in the 165- and 197-pound weight classes. Five weight classes (125, 133, 141, 149 and 285) will have four automatic qualifiers, while the 157- and 174-pound weight classes will have three qualifiers each. The 184-pound weight class has been designated for two automatic qualifiers.

At the conclusion of the conference qualifying tournaments, a total of 49 at-large qualifiers across all weight classes will be selected by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee to fill out the 330-wrestler field, consisting of 33 wrestlers in each weight class.

2016 BIG 12 RECAP: Three South Dakota State University wrestlers recorded individual runner-up finishes and the Jackrabbits placed fourth in the team standings as competition wrapped up at the 2016 Big 12 Wrestling Championship on March 6, 2016, at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Redshirt freshman Seth Gross was the first Jackrabbit to wrestle in the finals of the 141-pound weight class 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, qualified for his fourth consecutive trip to the national tournament.

At 197 pounds, Nate Rotert qualified for 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.

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 his scheduled third-place match against Oklahoma’s Matt Reed for medical reasons.

Alex Kocer and Luke Zilverberg each split their consolation matches in the Sunday morning session 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.

Zilverberg opened the 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.

With seven individual champions, Oklahoma State claimed the team title with 161 points. Oklahoma was second with 100 points and two individual champions, followed by Iowa State with 87 points and one champion. SDSU tallied 77 points for its fourth-place showing, with Wyoming completing the upper half of the 10-team field with 71.5 points.

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. Individually, five different Jackrabbit wrestlers appear in at least one Division I poll.

Returning NCAA qualifier Seth Gross holds the highest ranking ever by a Jackrabbit wrestler in the Division I era with a second-place ranking in the 133-pound division by Intermat and Trackwrestling following his victory over then-No. 2 Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State on Jan. 22. Gross, a national qualifier at 141 pounds last season, also is ranked fourth by WIN Magazine and fifth by FloWrestling.

Two-time NCAA qualifier Nate Rotert moved up in the rankings following his Jan. 22 win over fourth-ranked Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State. A junior from Spearfish, Rotert is ranked eighth by all three ranking services (Intermat, FloWestling and WIN Magazine) and ninth by Trackwrestling. Earlier this season, Rotert rose to as high as fourth in the Intermat rankings, which marked the highest individual ranking by a Jackrabbit before Gross’ ascension a month ago.

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, who upset fifth-ranked Kyle Crutchmer of Oklahoma State on Jan. 22, is currently 15th in the FloWrestling rankings, as well as 16th by WIN Magazine, and 17th by both Intermat and Trackwrestling. His older brother, Alex, appears in the 149-pound polls this week with rankings of 15th by FloWrestling and Trackwrestling, and 16th by Intermat and WIN Magazine.

Rounding out the list of ranked Jackrabbit wrestlers is junior 165-pounder Luke Zilverberg. The Belle Plaine, Minnesota, native stands 14th in the FloWrestling rankings, 19th by WIN Magazine and 21st by Trackwrestling.

After being the top team to receive votes in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association preseason poll, SDSU currently is 19th in the Division I team rankings. SDSU held the No. 20 spot in the team rankings for eight weeks until moving up one spot to 19th on Jan. 17. Following their wins over then-No. 15 Oklahoma and Utah Valley in early February, SDSU rose to its highest-ever spot in the poll at 16th. The Jackrabbits first cracked the rankings Nov. 8 following their season-opening dual victory over Iowa State.

SDSU also is ranked 15th in the team tournament rankings by WIN Magazine and 16th by the other three ranking services.

PANEL RANKINGS: Heading into postseason competition, five South Dakota State wrestlers maintained or improved their standings in the latest coaches’ panel Division I rankings, which were announced Feb. 23.

Seth Gross continues as the highest-ranked Jackrabbit with a second-place showing in the 133-pound weight class. A sophomore from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has posted a 27-1 overall record, including a perfect 17-0 mark in duals.

Also with a top-10 ranking is junior 197-pounder Nate Rotert. The Spearfish native held his eighth-place standing with a 19-5 record entering the Big 12 Championship.

Brothers Alex and David Kocer each moved up one position in their respective weight classes from the Feb. 10 rankings. Alex Kocer is 14th in the 149-pound rankings with a 24-6 overall record, while David Kocer stands 15th with a 20-7 mark at 174 pounds.

Holding steady at No. 18 in the 165-pound division is junior Luke Zilverberg. The Belle Plaine, Minnesota, native has turned in a 22-6 overall record so far this season.

A total of 33 wrestlers in each of 10 weight classes are included in the coaches’ panel rankings. Wrestlers are measured by winning percentage, rating percentage index (RPI) and coaches’ rankings to earn spots in their qualifying tournaments for the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. The coaches’ rankings are compiled by a vote of coaches representing each qualifying tournament. For ranking purposes, coaches may only consider a wrestler that has been designated as a starter at a respective weight class. In order to be eligible for the rankings, wrestlers must have participated in at least five matches against Division I opponents in the weight class and have wrestled within the last 30 days.

HOT STREAK: With a 14-5 record during 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 27 of its last 33 duals, with five of the losses against nationally ranked opponents.

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.

SDSU also is 15-3 in duals against Big 12 Conference opponents since joining the league as an affiliate member at the start of the 2015-16 season. The Jackrabbits’ losses have been to Oklahoma State (twice) and Oklahoma.

LAST ACTION: The Jackrabbits split a pair of home matches to close out the 2016-17 dual season. SDSU dropped a 20-19 decision on criteria to Purdue as part of the NWCA Division I National Duals Championship series on Feb. 17, but rebounded with a 20-18 victory over rival and 25th-ranked North Dakota State two days later. The win over NDSU gave the Jackrabbits a 14-5 overall record in duals and an 8-1 mark against Big 12 Conference opponents.

In the dual against Purdue, the Boilermakers won the final three bouts to tie the match at 19. Purdue earned the tie-breaking point based on recording the only fall of the dual in the opening match of the night.

Purdue’s comeback came on the heels of the Jackrabbits winning four consecutive matches in the middle weights. No. 16 Alex Kocer started the streak with a 13-1 major decision over Nate Limmex in the 149-pound match and Logan Peterson followed with a major of his own, downing Jeremy Golding, 10-2. The match was tied at 2-all through two periods before Peterson escaped early in the third and followed with a takedown and four-point near-fall.

Luke Zilverberg made it three wins in a row for SDSU with a 7-1 decision over Dylan Lydy, while 16th-ranked David Kocer came up with a late reversal for a hard-fought 6-4 decision over Jacob Morrissey.

Second-ranked Seth Gross continued his stellar season with a 16-1 technical fall over Luke Welch in the 133-pound bout.

Gross provided the winning margin against North Dakota State with a pin in the second-to-last match of the afternoon as the Jackrabbits retained the Border Bell.

Alex Kocer and Nate Rotert also recorded bonus-point victories with major decisions at 149 and 197 pounds, respectively, while Luke Zilverberg (165), David Kocer (174)

GROSS IN DOMINANT FORM: Jackrabbit 133-pounder Seth Gross leads the team with a 27-1 record after posting two wins in recent dual action against Purdue and North Dakota State.

Gross’s lone loss of the season was a 2-0 overtime decision to then-third-ranked Eric Montoya of Nebraska in the semifinals of the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships on Dec. 30. Gross later defeated Iowa State’s Earl Hall by major decision to claim third place at the Midlands as part of his current 15-match winning streak.

A sophomore from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has had only three matches end in a decision so far this season and enters the Big 12 Championship ranked as the fifth-most dominant wrestler in all of Division I as he has averaged 4.69 team points in matches against D-I opponents. Overall, Gross has pinned 12 opponents and won another seven matches by technical fall.

With a 17-0 mark in duals this season, Gross became the first Jackrabbit wrestler to post an undefeated record in dual competition (minimum of 10 matches) in the Division I era and the first overall since Aaron Veskrna went 15-0 in duals in 2001-02 and Tyler Jones was 14-0 that same season.

An NCAA qualifier at 141 pounds last season, Gross has a 53-15 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 have taken over the top two spots among active Jackrabbit wrestlers in career victories.

A two-time NCAA qualifier (2014, 2016), Alex Kocer has compiled a 90-39 overall record in his four seasons in a Jackrabbit singlet, moving into 17th place on the SDSU career victories list, passing Jackrabbit Sports Hall of Fame inductee and two-time NCAA Division II individual champion Jeff Hohertz (88-23-1 record from 1977-81) during the final weekend of dual competition. A senior, Kocer has turned in a 24-6 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 76-40 during his Jackrabbit career. He led the Jackrabbits in victories last season and made his first NCAA appearance, finishing with a 30-13 record.

A LOOK AHEAD: At the conclusion of the conference qualifying tournaments, a total of 49 at-large qualifiers across all weight classes will be selected by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee on March 7 to fill out the 330-wrestler field, consisting of 33 wrestlers in each weight class.

The 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships are set for March 16-18 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

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