After a two-week layoff, the South Dakota State University wrestling team returns to the mat by competing at one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country, the 53rd Ken Kraft Midlands Championships.

Competition is slated over two days at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois. Session times for competition on Tuesday are 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. across 10 mats. On Wednesday, competition begins at noon, with the first-, third- and fifth-place matches scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. The championship matches will air live on the Big Ten Network.

More than 90 Division I wrestlers ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes are expected to compete in the two-day event.

The Jackrabbits will go into the 53rd Ken Kraft Midlands Championships battle-tested. SDSU has posted a 5-5 dual record, with all five losses against teams that have been ranked in the top 25.

2014 MIDLANDS RECAP: Cody Pack reached the championship match of the 157-pound weight class and three other Jackrabbit wrestlers competed on the second and final day of competition at the 2014 Midlands Championships.

Pack won three matches on the opening day of competition, then advanced to the finals with a 5-1 decision over nationally ranked Justin Staduenmayer of Brown (R.I.). In the finals, Pack dropped a 6-3 decision to ninth-ranked Isaiah Martinez of Illinois.

Isaac Andrade (125), Colin Holler (149) and David Kocer (174) also competed on Day 2.

RANKINGS UPDATE: Four South Dakota State University wrestlers are ranked in the top 20 of their respective weight classes this week by a variety of publications and ranking services.

Luke Zilverberg became the latest Jackrabbit to crack the rankings, appearing at No. 20 in the 165-pound ratings conducted by Amateur Wrestling News.

Following are SDSU’s other individual rankings:

  • Cody Pack (157) — 6th by WIN Magazine, Intermat and Amateur Wrestling News; 7th by FloWrestling;
  • Nate Rotert (197) — 10th by FloWrestling; 12th by WIN Magazine, Intermat and Amateur Wrestling News;
  • Brance Simms (133) — 19th by WIN Magazine

As a team, the Jackrabbits are currently ranked in a tie with Iowa State for 27th in the Tournament Power Index rankings compiled by WIN Magazine. SDSU was ranked 31st in the preseason TPI.

NATIONAL MENTION: The South Dakota State University wrestling team reached a milestone in its Division I pursuits as the Jackrabbits received mention in the USA Today/ NWCA Division I Coaches Poll for the first time on Nov. 17.

The Jackrabbits were among six teams to receive votes in the poll but not crack the top 25. SDSU again received a vote in the Dec. 14 poll.

LAST ACTION: South Dakota State earned bonus points in five matches, winning four by major decision and another by technical fall, in defeating North Dakota State, 24-15, in a college wrestling dual Dec. 13 at Frost Arena.

With the victory, the Jackrabbits claimed the Border Bell traveling trophy and improved to 5-5 in duals this season. NDSU dropped to 0-3.

North Dakota State’s Josh Rodriguez opened the dual with a pin of Ben Gillette in the 125-pound matchup before the Jackrabbits got on the board with an 11-2 major decision victory by 16th-ranked Brance Simms in the 133-pound weight class.

The Bison gained a 9-4 lead as Mitch Bengston recorded a 5-4 decision over Seth Gross at 141 pounds.

SDSU gained control of the match with four straight decisive victories in the middle weights. Alex Kocer started the Jackrabbit winning steak with a 13-6 decision over Clay Ream at 149 pounds, which was followed by sixth-ranked Cody Pack recording a 16-6 decision over Grant Nehring in the 157-pound bout. Pack improved to 12-1 this season, including 7-1 in duals.

Luke Zilverberg turned in a strong performance in the 165-pound match, building a 6-0 first-period lead before tallying a 15-0 technical fall over Tyler McNutt. David Kocer then added a 10-1 major decision over Blake Thompson in the 174-pound weight class, giving the Jackrabbits a 20-9 advantage.

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NDSU claimed decisions in two of the final three matches of the dual, but 13th-ranked pounder Nate Rotert sealed the Jackrabbits’ first win over NDSU since the 2009-10 season, with a 14-5 major decision at 197 pounds.

South Dakota State 24, North Dakota State 15
125: #13 Josh Rodriguez (NDSU) def. Ben Gillette (SDSU), by fall (4:34)
133: #16 Brance Simms (SDSU) major dec. Nico Colunga (NDSU), 11-2
141: Mitch Bengston (NDSU) dec. Seth Gross (SDSU), 5-4
149: Alex Kocer (SDSU) dec. Clay Ream (NDSU), 13-6
157: #6 Cody Pack (SDSU) major dec. Grant Nehring (NDSU), 16-6
165: Luke Zilverberg (SDSU) technical fall Tyler McNutt (NDSU), 15-0
174: David Kocer (SDSU) major dec. Blake Thompson (NDSU), 10-1
184: #13 Hayden Zillmer (NDSU) dec. Brady Ayers (SDSU), 4-1
197: #13 Nate Rotert (SDSU) major dec. Logan Paxton (NDSU), 14-5
285: Ben Tynan (NDSU) dec. Alex Macki (SDSU), 4-0

PACK NEARS 100-WIN MARK: Three-time NCAA qualifier Cody Pack is on pace to become the first Jackrabbit wrestler to reach the 100-win mark for his career in the Division I era.

A senior from Quincy, California, Pack has compiled a 97-32 overall record, including an 11-1 mark so far during the 2015-16 campaign. Pack was granted an eligibility extension by the NCAA last spring after his first two seasons were cut short due to injury.

With his 97th career win in a Dec. 13 dual against North Dakota State, Pack broke a tie with Tyler Bryant (96-32 record from 200-03) for 13th place on the SDSU career charts. His 37 wins last season tied for eighth-most in a single-season in program history.

The last Jackrabbit wrestler to reach the 100-win milestone was Tyler Jones, a four-time NCAA Division II All-American who compiled a 102-17 career record from 1999-2003.

Following are Pack’s year-by-year records:

  • 2011-12: 5-1 (missed most of season due to injury)
  • 2012-13: 15-16 (NCAA qualifier)
  • 2013-14: 28-8 (NCAA qualifier)
  • 2014-15: 37-6 (NCAA qualifier)
  • 2015-16: 12-1

Career Totals: 97-32 (includes 46-12 dual record)

BIG 12 TICKETS: Tickets for the 2016 Big 12 Wrestling Championship are now on sale. This season’s championship, which will take place March 5-6 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, marks the first neutral-site conference championship for the sport.

Tickets can be purchased at Big12Sports.com/buytickets, SprintCenter.com; charged by phone at 888-929-7849 and Price Chopper Box Office at Sprint Center.

Tickets start at $40, with premium seating priced at $60 and VIP seats available for $100. The two-day event will feature four sessions of action, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Each ticket purchased gains access to all four sessions. Special group rates are available for groups of 10 or more. For information on group tickets, call 816-949-7175, or email grouptickets@sprintcenter.com.

One hundred student-athletes will compete across 10 weight classes for a chance to be a Big 12 Champion and for automatic berths into the NCAA National Championship tournament. Big 12 programs have a rich history of wrestling success garnering 49 NCAA team titles and crowning 277 individual national champions.

South Dakota State will be competing at the Big 12 Wrestling Championship for the first time. SDSU was accepted as an affiliate member in July.

COACH BONO: Chris Bono has engineered a successful rebuilding process during his tenure as head coach of the South Dakota State University wrestling program.

Now in his fourth season, Bono has helped mentor Jackrabbit wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships seven times and has posted a 27-33 dual record.

During the 2014-15 season, the Jackrabbits posted their first winning dual record in nine seasons with an 11-8 mark, and three SDSU wrestlers — Cody Pack, Nate Rotert and J.J. Everard — qualified for the NCAA Championships. Pack reached the national tournament for the third consecutive year at 157 pounds and was one win away from achieving All-America status.

SDSU also had three national qualifiers during the 2013-14 season as Pack, Joe Brewster and Alex Kocer all qualified out of the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championships.

While leading the Jackrabbits, Bono was also tabbed as coach for the U.S. Men’s Freestyle team at the 2013 Pan American Championships. In the world event, Coach Bono led Team USA to a 13-point victory.

Overall, Bono has a 65-50 dual record in six-plus seasons as a collegiate head coach. He previously served three seasons at Chattanooga (Tenn.), where he led the Mocs to three Southern Conference titles and coached two All-Americans and 19 NCAA qualifiers from 2006-09.

Bono also served nine seasons as an assistant coach at Iowa State after a standout career for the Cyclones. He lettered from 1994-97, finishing his career with 130 victories. A four-time NCAA qualifier, Bono won a national championship at 150 pounds as a junior, adding a runner-up finish as a senior and fifth-place showing as a sophomore.

THE ROSTER: The 2015-16 SDSU wrestling roster features 33 student-athletes from nine different states plus one Canadian province. Of the 33 wrestlers, 10 are from South Dakota, seven are from Minnesota and five are from Iowa. California and Illinois are represented by three wrestlers, while two hail from Kansas.Nebraska, New Jersey and Washington each have one wrestler. In addition, one wrestler hails from the Canadian province of British Columbia.

By class, four are seniors, four are juniors, seven are sophomores, four are redshirt freshmen and 14 are true freshmen.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits return to dual and Big 12 Conference competition on Jan. 15, traveling to Northern Colorado.

SDSU’s next home action is Jan. 22, when the Jackrabbits host a non-conference triangular versus Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Bakersfield.

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