Jackrabbits open season with Daktronics Open

The South Dakota State University wrestling team will officially open the 2017-18 season Sunday by hosting the 25th Annual Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open.

Competition is slated to start at 9 a.m. at Frost Arena. About 150 wrestlers are scheduled to compete in the day-long event. Besides SDSU, wrestlers from Minnesota, Nebraska and North Dakota, along with regional Division II and NAIA programs are entered in the season-opening tournament.

Video coverage (subscription required) of all six mats and live results can be accessed through FloWrestling.org.

sdsulogoGROSS AT ALL-STAR CLASSIC: In addition to the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open, the Jackrabbits’ Seth Gross will be in action Sunday at the 52nd Annual NWCA All-Star Classic in Princeton, New Jersey.

A junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross is scheduled to square off against Michigan’s Stevan Micic in a battle between the two top returning 133-pounders in the country. Both wrestlers earned All-America honors at the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, with Gross finishing as runner-up with a 34-2 record, and Micic ending the year 29-7 overall after a fourth-place finish. The two did not wrestle last season.

The NWCA All-Star Classic is hosted by Wrestlers in Business Network and sponsored by Princeton Brain and Spine and Northwestern Mutual Life.

Gross is the second Jackrabbit wrestler to compete in the event, joining 157-pounder Cody Pack, who competed in the 2015 All-Star Classic in Atlanta.

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.

The Jackrabbits open the 2017-18 season with a No. 16 ranking in the first USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll, which was released by the National Wrestling Coaches Association on Oct. 31.

Defending national champion Penn State is the top-ranked team in the poll, followed by Ohio State. Reigning Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma State is third.

SDSU completed the 2016-17 season with a 14-5 dual record and was ranked 19th in the final USA Today/NWCA poll. The Jackrabbits return eight starters from a season ago, highlighted by NCAA runner-up Seth Gross at 133 pounds.

Besides Oklahoma State and the Jackrabbits, the Big 12 is represented in the poll by newcomer Northern Iowa (13th) and Oklahoma (19th). Wyoming, North Dakota State and West Virginia are receiving votes, but outside the top 25.

Other preseason top-25 opponents on the Jackrabbits’ dual schedule this season include Minnesota (sixth), Arizona State (11th) and Pittsburgh (24th).

The Jackrabbits also have been ranked 13th by WIN Magazine in its preseason poll, as well as 15th by both FloWrestling and Intermat.

Individually, all four of the Jackrabbits’ returning national qualifiers appear in at least one Division I preseason poll, highlighted by Seth Gross’ No. 1 ranking by three rating services. The junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, holds the top spot at 133 pounds in rankings conducted by FloWrestling, Intermat and WIN Magazine.

Three-time NCAA qualifier Nate Rotert at 197 pounds is ranked ninth by all three ratings services, while 174-pound senior David Kocer is ranked as high as 11th by FloWrestling, followed by 14th- and 20th-place showings in the Intermat and WIN Magazine rankings, respectively. A Wagner native, Kocer is a two-time national qualifier.

Completing the Jackrabbit rankings is Luke Zilverberg, who is dropping down to the 157-pound weight class for his senior season. An NCAA qualifier at 165 pounds during the 2016-17 season, the Belle Plaine, Minnesota, native comes in at No. 18 in the FloWrestling preseason rankings and stands 20th in Intermat’s preseason rankings.

CALDWELL JOINS COACHING STAFF: South Dakota State University head wrestling coach Chris Bono announced in mid-September the hiring of Cody Caldwell as an assistant coach.

“Cody brings exactly what we need to SDSU,” Bono said. “He comes from a wrestling-rich family and will have a huge presence in recruiting in the state of Iowa. He is a bigger guy who can work with our upper weights, and his work ethic and knowledge of the sport is very impressive.”

Caldwell spent the 2016-17 season as a graduate assistant coach at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, which won its sixth consecutive NAIA national title. He helped mentor 12 All-Americans, including five individual national champions as the Vikings set a team scoring record.

In addition, Caldwell served as a coach for the Viking Wrestling Club, which trained junior and senior wrestlers for high-level competitions, including the U.S. Open, World Team Trials, and the Dave Schultz Memorial International.

As a collegiate wrestler, Caldwell was a four-year starter and team captain at the University of Northern Iowa. A native of Waverly, Iowa, he qualified for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in 2014 at 174 pounds.

Caldwell replaces A.J. Schopp, who recently accepted a coaching position at Purdue.

SEASON PREVIEW: With a rebuilding process now complete, the South Dakota State University wrestling team has its sights on even better things as it prepares for the 2017-18 season.

“We made a big jump last year, now it’s time to make even a bigger jump,” said head coach Chris Bono, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of the Jackrabbit program. “We’ve got a lot of seniors in our lineup so we need to make sure that this is our year to make that jump. We’re looking at a top-10 (NCAA) finish. We want to make sure we crown a national champion and we want to make sure we have more All-Americans than we did last year.”

The Jackrabbits continued their upward climb in the Division I ranks during a 2016-17 season in which they were nationally ranked for all but one week and qualified five individuals for the NCAA Championships, including All-Americans Seth Gross and Alex Kocer. SDSU also posted its third consecutive winning dual season with a 14-5 mark, including an 8-1 record in the Big 12 Conference.

“We’ve done it the right way,” Bono said. “We’re building it with the right people, we’re building it with hard work, work ethic, and discipline. The next step is to get into that top 10.”

National Qualifiers Return

Four of SDSU’s national qualifiers from a season ago return to the lineup, including national runner-up Seth Gross at 133 pounds. A junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross posted a 34-2 overall record during the 2016-17 campaign, including a perfect 17-0 mark in duals. He was one of the most dominant wrestlers at the Division I level last season, winning 13 matches by pin and eight more by technical fall, before coming up short in a 4-3 decision to Iowa’s Cory Clark in the national championship match.

Gross also was honored as the Most Outstanding Wrestler of the 2017 Big 12 Wrestling Championship in becoming the first SDSU wrestler to win an individual title at the tournament.

The other three returning national qualifiers — Luke Zilverberg, David Kocer, and Nate Rotert — are all seniors.

“They know what it takes, they know the jump they need to make and they worked hard this summer,” Bono said. “Once we get back on a full-time basis I think we’ll see those guys make that jump.”

Zilverberg, a national qualifier at 165 pounds last season, is expected to drop down to 157 pounds for his senior campaign. The Belle Plaine, Minnesota, native recorded a 26-10 overall record a season ago and placed fourth at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship.

“I think it could possibly give us another Big 12 finalist at 157 and a chance to be an All-American,” Bono said of Zilverberg’s move to a different weight class.

Kocer made his second consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships last season, ending his junior season with a 24-10 record at 174 pounds. He began his postseason run with a third-place finish at the 2017 Big 12 Wrestling Championship.

Rotert will be in search of his fourth consecutive NCAA appearance in the 197-pound division. Nationally ranked throughout the 2016-17 season, Rotert finished with a 22-9 overall record that included a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 tournament and 1-2 mark at the NCAA Championships.

Other returning starters include Henry Pohlmeyer at 141 pounds and heavyweight Alex Macki.

Pohlmeyer turned in an 11-12 overall record during his first season in the Jackrabbit lineup, with six of his wins coming by pin.

Senior Isaac Andrade also saw dual action at 141 pounds for the Jackrabbits last season and recorded a 10-11 mark, including a 5-5 record in duals.

Macki has been a mainstay in the Jackrabbit lineup at heavyweight over the past two seasons. He battled his way to a 9-17 record a year ago.

“The other weight classes I know we’ll get some productivity from, but we just have to make sure at those weight classes that we get a lot of wins, we get guys in the national tournament,” Bono said. “If we do that, we’ll be a really good team.”

Spots Up For Grabs

Although much of the lineup is set, Bono expects a great deal of competition for the remaining spots.

At 125 pounds, as many as four wrestlers could contend for the starting role. Junior Kahlen Morris is the most experienced of the group, although redshirt freshmen and twins Joshua and Justin Portillo both posted strong finishes at open tournaments last winter.

True freshman Rylee Molitor also could be in the mix should he be asked to move down from 133 pounds.

The 149-pound slot is likely to be filled by redshirt Colten Carlson as he looks to fill the void left by the graduation of four-year starter Alex Kocer. Carlson wrestled at 157 pounds during his redshirt season in 2016-17 and compiled a 25-13 record with 10 pins in open tourneys. Fellow redshirt freshman Michael Prieto could challenge for the starting spot when he is eligible to return at the start of the spring semester.

With Zilverberg vacating the 165-pound starting role, Bono points to the possibility of four wrestlers challenging for that spot in the lineup. Junior Logan Peterson, who started at 157 pounds much of last season, is the most experienced wrestler in the group. He notched a 21-15 overall record during the 2016-17 campaign.

Three sophomores — Brett Bye, Zach Carlson, and Kasey Klapprodt — also will vie for the 165-pound role. Carlson filled in at 184 and 197 pounds in various competitions last season en route to a 5-5 record. Klapprodt and Bye competed mostly in open tournaments during the 2016-17 season and posted respective records of 20-7 and 10-9.

Perhaps the most heated competition for a starting spot will be at 184 pounds between senior Brady Ayers and sophomore Martin Mueller.

Ayers redshirted last season after starting his first three seasons. The Waterville, Minnesota, native was 22-16 during his junior season in 2015-16 and posted a 25-9 mark in open tournaments last year.

A Rapid City native, Mueller finished one win away from qualifying for nationals last season, following a third-place effort at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship. He ended his first season in the Jackrabbit lineup with a 16-13 overall mark.

“Whoever comes out of that weight class has a good chance to be Big 12 champion,” Bono said.


By the time postseason competition rolls around in March, Bono expects his squad to be battle-tested. Six teams SDSU will face in dual competition ranked in the USA Today/NWCA Preseason Top 25, starting with a Nov. 17 home matchup with Minnesota.

In addition, Jackrabbit wrestlers are expected to square off against a number of individually ranked wrestlers throughout the season, including the Nov. 5, season-opening Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open and the 2017 Ken Kraft Midlands Championships Dec. 29-30.

“We want to make sure our dual meet season is one in which we wrestle the tough teams,” Bono said. “We try to make sure that we can get the guys who we feel can be All-Americans or national champions, that we make sure that we try to get the top-ranked guys in for them to wrestle.”

SDSU is slated to open what Bono expects to be a highly competitive Big 12 season Jan. 12 at Utah Valley.

“The conference has really strengthened itself with the additions of Northern Iowa and Fresno State, which is an up-and-coming team,” Bono said. “It’s really great because the affiliate members are getting better. The conference is getting stronger every year — it’s going to be a grind.”

The 2018 Big 12 Wrestling Championship is set for March 3-4 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“We want to win a conference championship and we want to make sure we’re up there every year fighting in the top 10 (nationally) and competing to be in the top four for a trophy,” Bono said. “If things come together, I think it’s definitely possible.”

COACH BONO: Chris Bono has engineered a successful rebuilding process during his tenure as head coach of the South Dakota State University wrestling team and has the program’s sights set high for the 2017-18 campaign.

Entering his sixth season, Bono has helped mentor Jackrabbit wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships 17 times, including a program-best five wrestlers during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. At the 2017 NCAA Championships, Seth Gross finished as runner-up at 133 pounds and Alex Kocer placed eighth at 149 pounds, giving SDSU its first All-Americans in the Division I era. As a team, the Jackrabbits posted their highest-ever finish at the NCAA Division I Championships with a 16th-place showing.

SDSU was ranked nationally for all but the first week of the 2016-17 season, climbing as high as No. 16 in the USA Today/NWCA Top 25. Facing a challenging schedule, the Jackrabbits posted a 14-5 dual record, including an 8-1 mark against Big 12 Conference opponents. SDSU also was selected as a host site for the 2017 NWCA National Duals Championship Series.

The Jackrabbits also notched a third-place finish at the 2017 Big 12 Wrestling Championship, with Seth Gross being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after winning the 133-pound title. Bono was also honored as the Big 12 Coach of the Year.

In dual competition, Bono has led the Jackrabbits to a 50-39 record that includes three consecutive winning seasons for the first time at the Division I level. Bono’s career dual record stands at 89-56, 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.

While leading the Jackrabbits, Bono was also tabbed as a 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 Sports Marketing three 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 three seasons. Individually, seven Jackrabbits wrestlers were honored on the 2017 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 2017-18 SDSU wrestling roster features 36 student-athletes from 10different states. Of the 36 wrestlers, 10 are from each South Dakota and Minnesota. Iowa and Missouri are each represented by four wrestlers, while two wrestlers hail from California and Ohio. Colorado, Illinois, Kansas and Wisconsin each have one wrestler.

By class, seven are seniors, four are juniors, five are sophomores, seven are redshirt freshmen and 13 are true freshmen.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits are scheduled to send wrestlers to a pair of open tournaments Nov. 11. SDSU will send contingents to both the Bison Open in Fargo, North Dakota and the Grand View Open in Des Moines, Iowa.

Dual competition begins Nov. 17, when SDSU hosts Minnesota in a clash between ranked teams.

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