Jackrabbits head off to Big 12 Championship

Conference titles and national tournament berths will be on the line this weekend at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The two-day meet at the BOK Center gets underway at 10 a.m. Saturday, with that day’s evening session slated for 5 p.m. Competition Sunday begins at noon with consolation semifinals and matches for seventh, fifth and third place. Championship bouts are set for 8 p.m. Sunday.

Live video streaming of the first three rounds will be through Big 12 Now on ESPN+. Sunday night’s finals round will be televised live on ESPNU.

South Dakota State will look to improve on its sixth-place finish from a year ago in which the Jackrabbits qualified four individuals for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

Each of the 10 weight classes has been allocated at least four automatic qualifying spots based on finish at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship. League-wide 65 automatic berths have been allocated to Big 12 wrestlers, ranking second only to the Big Ten’s 88.

PROBABLE LINEUP:
125: #28 Tanner Jordan • Jr., St. Paris, Ohio (16-12 overall)
133: Derrick Cardinal • R-Fr., Forest Lake, Minn. (10-13 overall)
141: #11 Clay Carlson • Sr., Willmar, Minn. (17-7 overall)
149: Alek Martin • R-Fr., St. Paris, Ohio (17-12 overall)
157: #18 Cael Swensen • R-Fr., Plymouth, Minn. (18-6 overall)
165: #16 Tanner Cook • Jr., Ilion, N.Y. (14-4 overall)
174: #15 Cade DeVos • Jr., Altoona, Iowa (20-6 overall)
184: #19 Cade King • Sr., Waseca, Minn. (15-7 overall)
197: #9 Tanner Sloan • Sr., Alburnett, Iowa (20-1 overall)
285: #12 A.J. Nevills • Grad., Clovis, Calif. (18-4 overall)
Note: Rankings listed are highest of either Intermat or FloWrestling rankings as of Feb. 21, 2023

SEEDINGS AND PAIRINGS: South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan is seeded first in the 197-pound weight class for this weekend’s Big 12 Wrestling Championship, conference officials announced Monday.

A senior from Alburnett, Iowa, Sloan leads a group of eight Jackrabbit wrestlers seeded in the top eight of their respective weight classes. He has compiled a 20-1 overall record and has won 17 matches in a row entering the tournament.

Earning No. 4 seeds were redshirt freshman 157-pounder Cael Swensen and senior heavyweight A.J. Nevills. Swensen has posted an 18-6 record in his first season in the lineup, while the veteran Nevills enters his final Big 12 championship with an 18-4 mark.

Clay Carlson, 17-7 overall, earned the No. 5 seed at 141 pounds, while 125-pounder Tanner Jordan (16-12 overall) and 174-pounder Cade DeVos (20-6 overall) are each seeded sixth.

Rounding out the seeds for SDSU were 165-pounder Tanner Cook and 184-pounder Cade King, both of whom are seeded seventh. Cook has tallied a 14-4 overall record, with King sporting a 15-7 record entering the postseason.

Unseeded for the Jackrabbits were Derrick Cardinal at 133 pounds (10-13 record) and 149-pounder Alek Martin (17-12 overall). Both are redshirt freshmen.

Defending champion Missouri paced the league with all 10 of its wrestlers seeded, including a pair of top seeds in 149-pounder Brock Mauller and Peyton Mocco at 174 pounds. Each of the 10 weight classes will feature 13 wrestlers.

Nine of the 10 Jackrabbits entered in the Big 12 Wrestling Championship will wrestle first-round matches, according to brackets released by conference officials Wednesday afternoon.

The lone Jackrabbit to receive an opening-round bye was junior 174-pounder Cade DeVos, who is seeded sixth in his weight class. DeVos will meet the winner between third-seeded Sam Wolf of Air Force and California Baptist’s Louis Rojas.

First-round matchups include:
125: #6 Tanner Jordan vs. Kyle Gollhofer (Northern Iowa)
133: Derrick Cardinal vs. #7 McGwire Midkiff (North Dakota State)
141: #5 Clay Carlson vs. Casey Swiderski (Iowa State)
149: Alek Martin vs. #2 Colin Realbuto (Northern Iowa)
157: #4 Cael Swensen vs. Nolan Miller-Johnston (California Baptist)
165: #7 Tanner Cook vs. Seamus Casey (Air Force)
174: #6 Cade DeVos – Bye
184: #7 Cade King vs. Noah Blake (Air Force)
197: #1 Tanner Sloan vs. Caden Gerlach (California Baptist)
285: #4 A.J. Nevills vs. Juan Mora (North Dakota State)

Four of the first-round bouts are rematches from regular season action. The Jackrabbits went a combined 4-0 against their initial postseason opponents, including wins by Cardinal and Nevills in dual action Feb. 19 at North Dakota State. King and Sloan also recorded victories over their first-round foes in dual action in January.

LAST TIME OUT: The final dual meet of the season for the South Dakota State wrestling team came down to the final match. When all was said and done Feb. 19 at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse in Fargo, heavyweight A.J. Nevills came out victorious to lift the 17th-ranked Jackrabbits to a 19-17, back-and-forth victory over rival and No. 15 North Dakota State.

In retaining the Border Bell traveling trophy, the Jackrabbits completed the dual slate with a 12-4 overall record, including a 6-2 mark against Big 12 Conference opponents. NDSU dropped to 11-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big 12.

While Nevills’ victory was the eventual match-winner, 133-pounder Derrick Cardinal came up with perhaps the biggest win for the Jackrabbits on the day. A redshirt freshman from Forest Lake, Minnesota, Cardinal recorded a takedown early in overtime for a 5-3 sudden victory over 33rd-ranked McGwire Midkiff.

Cardinal’s victory was part of a 10-0 advantage the Jackrabbits built up through the first three matches. Tanner Jordan opened the dual with a 9-0 major decision over Ryan Henningson in the opening bout at 125 pounds and 11th-ranked Clay Carlson followed Cardinal’s win with a 7-4 decision over Gavin Drexler in the 141-pound matchup.

SDSU weathered the storm presented by the Bison in the middle weights despite shuffling its lineup at a few weight classes. NDSU grabbed a 14-10 lead as nationally ranked Kellyn March, Jared Franek and Michael Caliendo all were victorious, with Franek posting a technical fall at 157 pounds and Caliendo winning by fall at 165 pounds over Jackrabbit backups Caleb Gross and Connor Gaynor, respectively.

Cade DeVos ended the Bison winning streak with a 7-4 decision over Gaven Sax in the 174-pound matchup, but NDSU stayed in the lead at 17-13 after D.J. Parker’s 4-2 victory over Jackrabbit freshman Bennett Berge at 184 pounds. With his victory, DeVos reached the 20-win mark.

That left the fate of the dual for the Jackrabbits in the hands of Tanner Sloan and Nevills, who entered Sunday’s matchup with a combined record of 26-1 in duals this season. Matched up against No. 11 Owen Pentz, the ninth-ranked Sloan scored on an early takedown and maintained the momentum for much of the 197-pound bout in posting an 8-2 decision for his 20th win of the season.

Nevills also recorded an early takedown in his match against Juan Mora and added two more takedowns in cruising to an 8-3 decision.

RABBITS RANKED: The South Dakota State wrestling team closed the 2022-23 regular season with its highest ranking under head coach Damion Hahn, checking in at No. 14 following the Jackrabbits’ victory over North Dakota State on Feb. 19. It marks the highest ranking for the Jackrabbits since ascending to No. 12 late in the 2017-18 season.

The Jackrabbits began the season ranked in the top 25 after being included in a pair of national polls and maintained a national ranking for most of the 2022-23 campaign.

SDSU checked in at No. 22 in the preseason poll conducted by InterMat and were ranked 25th in the initial National Wrestling Coaches Association survey. SDSU was one of five Big 12 Conference programs ranked in the NWCA preseason top 25, joining No. 4 Missouri, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 14 Iowa State and No. 20 UNI.

Following their strong showing at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December, the Jackrabbits climbed seven spots to No. 18. The Jackrabbits moved up two more spots in January to No. 16 and continued their steady climb to No. 14 on the strength of a 12-4 dual season that included a 10-match winning streak.

SDSU also has had a season-high eight wrestlers ranked individually for the last three months, with 197-pounder Tanner Sloan holding the highest ranking at No. 9 in both the InterMat and FloWrestling polls announced at the conclusion of the dual season.

Just outside the top 10 are returning national qualifiers in 141-pounder Clay Carlson (11th by InterMat and 12th by FloWrestling) and A.J. Nevills (12th by FloWrestling and 14th by InterMat).

Cael Swensen, who is No. 18 in the 157-pound rankings by FloWrestling and Tanner Jordan at 125 pounds (28th by InterMat) each joined the rankings after their outings at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.

Other returning NCAA qualifiers Cade DeVos (15th at 174 pounds by FloWrestling), Tanner Cook (16th by FloWrestling at 165 pounds) and Cade King (19th at 184 pounds by FloWrestling and InterMat) round out the list of SDSU’s ranked wrestlers.

A LOOK AHEAD: A group of Jackrabbits is expected to make a return trip to Tulsa and the BOK Center for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships March 16-18.

At-large selections for the national meet will be announced March 7.

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