Record seven Jacks head to NCAAs

A program-record seven South Dakota State University wrestlers have earned the right to compete at this week’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Cleveland, Ohio.

Competition begins at noon Eastern Time (11 a.m. Central) Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena. The three-day tournament consists of two sessions per day, concluding with championship matches at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central) Saturday.

sdsulogo The entire tournament will be broadcast through the ESPN family of networks. Coverage of all eight mats will be available through throughout the tournament, while select matches of each day’s morning session will be broadcast on ESPNU. Television coverage of the evening sessions Thursday and Friday will be on ESPN, with the championship matches Saturday night carried on ESPN2.

Having seven wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Championships continues an upward trend for the South Dakota State University wrestling program. The Jackrabbits had five wrestlers qualify for nationals each of the past two seasons, following three national qualifiers in both 2014 and 2015.

Last year, two SDSU wrestlers – Seth Gross and Alex Kocer – became the program’s first All-Americans in the Jackrabbits’ Division I era (since 2004-05 academic year). Gross finished second at 133 pounds, while Kocer placed eighth at 149 pounds.

NCAA PREVIEW: Seth Gross is the top seed at 133 pounds and three other Jackrabbits are seeded in the top 16 of their respective weight classes as seedings and pairings for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were announced March 7.

Gross, a junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, and the runner-up at 133 pounds a year ago, earned the top seed after going undefeated (24-0) within the weight class this season. His only loss this season has been to top-ranked 141-pounder Bryce Meredith of Wyoming.

A two-time Big 12 Conference champion and a three-time NCAA qualifier, Gross will open his 2018 title run by meeting Matthew Schmitt of West Virginia (21-12 overall) for the third time this season. Gross defeated Schmitt, 7-2, in dual action Feb. 11, then posted a 10-2 major decision in the Big 12 semifinals last weekend.

Fellow Big 12 champion Nate Rotert is seeded eighth at 197 pounds after compiling a 25-3 record so far this season. A four-time NCAA qualifier from Spearfish, Rotert is slated to meet Hunter Ritter (Wisconsin, 26-9 record) in the opening round.

Seeded 11th at 174 pounds is senior and Wagner native David Kocer, who is making his third consecutive trip to the national meet. Kocer has posted a 23-6 overall record and will meet Utah Valley’s Kimball Bastian (19-9 overall) in the opening round. Kocer notched a 6-2 decision over Bastian in dual action in January.

SDSU’s fourth seeded wrestler is Luke Zilverberg, who checks in at No. 13 in the 157-pound weight class after turning in a 27-8 overall mark during the 2017-18 campaign. A senior from Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Zilverberg is making his second consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships after qualifying at 165 pounds last season. He also will have a rematch in his initial bout, squaring off against Brown’s Justin Staudenmayer (22-10 overall). Zilverberg blanked Staudenmayer, 5-0, in the fifth-place match at the Midlands Championships in late December.

Three other Jackrabbits are unseeded as they make their first appearances at the national meet. Freshman Connor Brown (22-14) will face off against 14th-seeded Luke Welch of Purdue in the 125-pound weight class. Welch eliminated Brown, 13-4, from the Midlands Championships earlier this season.

At 141 pounds, Henry Pohlmeyer (22-9) has drawn 11th -seeded Michael Carr of Illinois (17-5 overall), while Martin Mueller (23-6) will face top-seeded Bo Nickal of Penn State (28-0 overall) in the 184-pound division. Both Pohlmeyer and Mueller are sophomores.

Tournament Notes

RABBITS RANKED: South Dakota State has been well represented both individually and as a team in rankings conducted by a number of wrestling-related media outlets during the 2017-18 season.

The Jackrabbits opened the campaign with a No. 16 ranking in the first USA Today/NWCA Division I Coaches Poll, and later moved up four spots to 12th – their highest-ever ranking at the D-I level. SDSU rose three spots following wins over Wyoming (Jan. 18) and Northern Iowa (Jan. 21) after holding the 15th spot for four consecutive weeks.

Defending national champion Penn State was the top-ranked team in the final regular season poll, followed by Ohio State. Missouri was third, with Michigan fourth and Oklahoma State fifth.

Besides Oklahoma State and the Jackrabbits, the Big 12 was represented in the poll by Wyoming (14th) and newcomer Northern Iowa (15th).

Other top-25 teams on the Jackrabbits’ dual schedule this season included Arizona State (ninth), Minnesota (18th) and Central Michigan (20th).

The Jackrabbits also are ranked 14th in team tournament rankings conducted by Intermat, TrackWrestling and WIN Magazine. SDSU also ranks 15th by FloWrestling.

Individually, seven Jackrabbits, including top-ranked Seth Gross at 133 pounds, were included in the final regular season installment of the NCAA coaches’ panel rankings, which were released March 8. A junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has held the top spot in the 133-pound rankings all season, including the NCAA coaches’ panel rankings. Gross solidified his standing after repeating as Big 12 champion March 4 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Three other returning national qualifiers for the Jackrabbits also were regulars in the national rankings throughout the 2017-18 season.

Four-time NCAA qualifier Nate Rotert stood seventh in the final NCAA panel rankings, while also being ranked seventh by both Intermat and TrackWrestling. The Spearfish native also was ranked eighth by WIN Magazine and ninth by FloWrestling after winning the 197-pound division at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship.

Wagner native and three-time NCAA qualifier David Kocer finished 10th in the NCAA panel rankings at 174 pounds following his runner-up finish at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship. Kocer also holds 10th-place rankings from FloWrestling, Intermat and TrackWrestling, while being ranked 11th by WIN Magazine.

At 157 pounds, Luke Zilverberg enters his second appearance at nationals with a final standing of 12th in the NCAA panel rankings. A senior from Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Zilverberg also was 10th by TrackWrestling, 11th by both Intermat and WIN Magazine and 15th by FloWrestling after a third-place finish at the Big 12 Championship.

Also included in the latest national rankings were freshman 125-pounder Connor Brown and 141-pounder Henry Pohlmeyer. Brown, a native of Oak Grove, Missouri, first cracked the national rankings after pinning Northern Iowa’s Jay Schwarm in dual action Jan. 21 and enters the NCAA Championships 17th in the latest Intermat poll and 20th in rankings released by TrackWrestling. He also was 21st in the NCAA panel rankings.

Pohlmeyer, a sophomore from Johnston, Iowa, has moved into the national rankings at 23rd in the TrackWrestling 141-pound ratings after a late-season surge. He also was 29th in the final NCAA panel rankings.

At 184 pounds, sophomore and Rapid City native Martin Mueller dropped out of a couple national rankings after placing fourth at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship. Mueller wound up 22nd in the NCAA panel rankings.

GROSS ON HODGE WATCH LIST: Entering the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, South Dakota State’s Seth Gross remains firmly in the discussion for the Hodge Trophy, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding collegiate wrestler.

A junior from Apple Valley, Minnesota, Gross has compiled a 24-1 record so far this season. Of his 24 victories, 11 have been by fall and seven have been by technical fall. Gross enters this week’s NCAA Championships as the sixth-most dominant wrestler in NCAA Division I with an average of 4.76 team points per victory.

At the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships Dec. 29-30 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Gross cruised to the 133-pound title by recording four technical falls and two pins in his six matches, earning the two-day tournament’s Dan Gable Outstanding Wrestler award.

Hodge Trophy candidates are judged on the following criteria: record, number of pins, dominance, past credentials, quality of competition, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart.

Gross enters the weekend with an 84-17 overall record in his three seasons at SDSU, including a 41-7 mark in duals.

A two-time NCAA qualifier, Gross compiled a 34-2 record as a sophomore en route to a national runner-up at the 2017 NCAA Championships.

TWO MORE IN TOP 25: Two other members of the Jackrabbit senior class have moved into the program’s top 25 for career victories during the 2017-18 season.

Luke Zilverberg and Nate Rotert both enter the week with 96 career victories, good for a four-way for 15th place in program history. Zilverberg leads the team with 27 victories so far this season.

In addition, junior Seth Gross is in line to enter the program’s top 25 for career wins during postseason action. Gross has compiled an 84-17 record over three seasons, needing only one victory to join three others at 85 wins.

ACADEMIC HONORS: Eight South Dakota State University student-athletes were named to the 2018 Academic All-Big 12 Wrestling First Team in advance of the conference wrestling championship.

Highlighting the Jackrabbits’ selections were seniors and three-time first-team honorees Alex Macki (wildlife and fisheries science), Nate Rotert (counseling) and Luke Zilverberg (wildlife and fisheries science).

Senior David Kocer (agricultural science) and junior Logan Peterson (political science/history) also were repeat selections. Kocer also was a second-team honoree in 2016 and first-team selection in 2017, while Peterson was a second-team honoree a year ago.

First-time honorees included senior Tyler Pieper (animal science/dairy production), sophomore Henry Pohlmeyer (political science) and redshirt freshman Colten Carlson (dairy production).

To qualify, student-athletes must maintain a 3.00 grade-point average or higher either cumulative or the two previous semesters and must have participated in 20 percent of their team’s scheduled contests. Freshmen and transfers are not eligible in their first year of academic residence. Senior student-athletes who have participated for a minimum of two years and meet all the criteria except percent of participation are also eligible.

First-team members consist of those who have maintained a 3.20 or better GPA while the second-team selections hold a 3.00 to 3.19 GPA. A total of 88 student-athletes – 63 first-team selections and 25 second-team selections – make up the 2018 Academic All-Big 12 Wrestling Team.

A LOOK AHEAD: The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships mark the final competition of the 2017-18 season.

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