After a three-week layoff, the South Dakota State University wrestling team returns to competition this weekend by facing some of the top wrestlers in the country at the 55th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships, hosted by Northwestern University.
The two-day event begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, with action on 10 mats. Friday’s evening session is slated for a 7 p.m. start. Action Saturday is scheduled for a noon start time, followed by fifth-place, third-place and title matches at 7 p.m.
All four sessions will be available for viewing through subscription services offered by FloWrestling.org and BigTen Network Plus. Live scoring and tournament brackets will be updated through TrackWrestling.com.
SDSU enters the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships ranked 15th in the latest USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association top 25. The Jackrabbits are expected to be joined at the Midlands by 14 other nationally ranked teams, including five top-10 teams in Penn State (first), North Carolina State (fifth), Lehigh (sixth) Iowa (seventh) and Michigan (ninth). Numerous other individually ranked wrestlers from various teams across the country also are expected to be entered in the event.
The Jackrabbits are one of four Big 12 Conference squads entered in the tournament, along with Air Force, Iowa State, and West Virginia.
MIDLANDS HISTORY: The Jackrabbits have sent a wrestler to the finals in each of the last three Midlands Championships en route to posting a pair of top-10 finishes in the team standings.
Cody Pack reached the 157-pound title bout in both 2014 and 2015, falling to Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez, 6-3, in 2014 and North Carolina State’s Thomas Gantt, 4-2, the next year.
Last year, 197-pounder Nate Rotert advanced to the championship match, where he dropped a 4-1 decision to Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker. Rotert, who entered the 2016 Midlands as the top seed, won three matches on the opening day by a combined 32-7 margin, then moved on to the finals after receiving a medical forfeit from Old Dominion’s Kevin Beazley.
In addition, Seth Gross turned in a third-place finish in the 133-pound weight class. Gross suffered his first loss of the season in the semifinals as he was upended in overtime by Nebraska’s Eric Montoya, 2-0, but came back with a 19-3 technical fall over Rutgers’ Scott Delvecchio and a 13-1 major decision over Iowa State’s Earl Hall.
SDSU finished eighth in the 2016 team standings with 66 points. The Jackrabbits placed 10th as a team in 2015 as Pack was joined on the podium by Rotert (seventh at 197) and David Kocer (sixth at 174).
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 opened the 2017-18 season with a No. 16 ranking in the first USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll, and have since moved up one spot to 15th in the final poll of the calendar year.
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.
Besides Oklahoma State and the Jackrabbits, the Big 12 is represented in the poll by newcomer Northern Iowa (14th) and Oklahoma (19th).
Other current top-25 opponents on the Jackrabbits’ dual schedule this season include Minnesota (eighth), Arizona State (11th) and Central Michigan (21st).
The Jackrabbits also are ranked 11th by FloWrestling and 12th by TrackWrestling. SDSU stands 11th in tournament rankings conducted by both Intermat and WIN Magazine, as well as 15th in the dual rankings from both outlets.
Individually, all four of the Jackrabbits’ returning national qualifiers appear in at least one Division I poll, highlighted by Seth Gross’ No. 1 ranking by all four rating services. A junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross is undefeated so far this season with a 6-0 record.
Three-time NCAA qualifier Nate Rotert at 197 pounds is ranked sixth by both Intermat and FloWrestling, as well as eighth by WIN Magazine and TrackWrestling, Senior 174-pounder David Kocer is ranked as high as ninth by FloWrestling, followed by an 11th-place showing by Intermat and respective 15th- and 17th-place showings in the WIN Magazine and TrackWrestling rankings. A Wagner native, Kocer is a two-time national qualifier.
Completing the Jackrabbit rankings is Luke Zilverberg, who has dropped 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 checks in at No. 9 in the WIN Magazine rankings, followed by a pair of No. 11 showings in the latest FloWrestling and Intermat rankings. He also stands 12th in the most recent TrackWrestling survey.
DUAL STREAK: Seth Gross brings a streak of 25 consecutive victories in dual competition into the new year. After winning his final five dual bouts at 141 pounds during the 2015-16 season, Gross posted a perfect 17-0 record in duals last season while wrestling at 133 pounds. He stayed unbeaten at 133 pounds this season and extended his winning streak to 25 with a 16-2 major decision over Central Michigan’s Dresden Simon in his most recent action Dec. 8.
Of his 25 consecutive dual wins, 11 have been by fall, six by major decision, and four each by decision and technical fall to total 122 team dual points.
Gross’ last dual loss was a 6-4 setback to Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith on Jan. 29, 2016. Overall, he holds a 31-6 record in duals during his Jackrabbit career.
A LOOK AHEAD: SDSU resumes dual action Jan. 5 by hosting Oregon State. The nonconference dual is slated for a 7 p.m. start at Frost Arena.