Wrestling looking to build off last year

The South Dakota State wrestling team will open their season Friday, Nov. 4 when they host the Iowa State Cyclones. 

“On paper, I feel like it’s a 5-5 split, so we have to win one of the matches we aren’t favored for and definitely win the matches we are favored, it’s going to be tough,” said Chris Bono, head wrestling coach.

Iowa State received a preseason ranking of 17 by Flowrestling.org.

“We’re going all out for that dual, we are giving free pizza to students, a $500 gift card to Cubby’s, the band will be there, cheerleaders too, and we are just trying to create a circus-like atmosphere and entertain,” Bono said about the Nov. 4 showdown against Iowa State.

Bono will look to continue his rebuilding process, as he has been successful this far. 

“We’re where we want to be,” Bono said. “We have four qualifiers, young kids in the line-up, bunch of recruits lined up and still got room to go,” 

The Jackrabbits will be coming off a year where they went 14-6 in dual meets and sent five wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Championship tournament. Four of those five qualifiers will be returning to the mat this season for the Jacks. 

The Jackrabbits will be led by sophomore Seth Gross, senior Alex Kocer, junior David Kocer and junior Nate Rotert, who were the qualifying wrestlers for the Jackrabbits last season.

“Those four are the leaders on this team.” Bono said.

Gross earned a No. 6 ranking in the Flowrestling.org polls and Rotert was No. 9. 

The Jacks will find themselves without recent graduate Cody Pack, a NCAA Championship qualifier and contributed 56 dual points to the team last year. 

Two redshirt freshmen will see action with Henry Pohlmeyer at the 141 weight class, and Martin Mueller at 184. Alex Kocer is the only senior NCAA qualifier. Ben Gillette and Brady Ayers are also seniors.  

The Jackrabbits will compete in the Big 12 for the second year and their schedule offers some of the best wrestling schools in the country. 

Perhaps the toughest test for the Jackrabbits will come on Jan. 22, when they travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on the perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State, who is ranked first in preseason polls. 

“Our guys know what to expect, we have to go down there (Stillwater) and compete with the best of the best and try to win that match,”  Bono said. 

However, that won’t be the only tough test for the Jackrabbits, as six of their dual opponents found themselves in preseason rankings. Three of the opponents are in the top four of the preseason rankings.

In addition to Oklahoma State, both Virginia Tech and Iowa will be opponents of the Jackrabbits. The squad is also scheduled to take on the pre-ranked No. 11 Minnesota Gophers and the No. 17 Oklahoma Sooners. 

“Just have to stay calm, cool and collective in those big matches and make sure not blow it out of proportion,” said Alex Macki junior heavyweight. 

The Jackrabbits have set some lofty goals for this season, which goes to show both their abilities and belief in their abilities.

“From a team aspect, we had a really good year and we are just going to build off that and hopefully win some Big 12 matches and finish in the top 10 rankings,” Macki said. “Individually, I want to make nationals and become an All-American.”

Overall, the Jackrabbits look to improve on their season last year, when they sent a school-best five qualifiers to the NCAA Championships, using their youth as an advantage. 

“Talent-wise this is the best team we’ve had in the time I’ve been here, best all-around group of kids too,” Bono said.