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Kocer steadily improving for SDSU wrestling program

South Dakota State University redshirt freshman Alex Kocer, a Wagner native, wrestles a North Dakota State University opponent during a Division I wrestling match earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of SDSU media relations)

WAGNER — A sign of a great athlete is big expectations.

To qualify for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships is Alex Kocer’s objective after just a year with the South Dakota State University wrestling program.

“That’s my No. 1 goal,” he said.

The redshirt freshman is one of five South Dakota high school wrestlers to finish his career with five state titles and finished his senior year with a 44-0 record at 152 pounds.

“It’s a lot different than high school, a whole different level,” Kocer said about wrestling Division I. “People said it was and I never really believed it, but they’re right. Practice is harder, every match is harder and the coaches are constantly trying to prepare me for every opponent.

“Everybody is good. There are no flat kids anymore.”

Kocer joined the team midway through the 2012-13 season, and has shown great potential.

“He’s a great athlete and he used a lot of his athletic ability to win in high school,” SDSU head wrestling coach Chris Bono said. “In college, he’s developed a lot of techniques and is really learning the strategy and how he wants to wrestle and win.”

After two weeks off, the Jackrabbits (2-3, 1-0 WWC) began Western Wrestling Conference action against Wyoming Sunday, winning 18-17.

Kocer earned his 20th win of the season at 149 pounds Sunday after defeating Wyoming’s Brandon Richardson 6-3.

This season, Kocer (20-9) has won three matches by fall over opponents from Iowa Central Community College, North Dakota State University and Iowa State University. He’s won eight matches by a major decision and one by technical fall.

Of his nine losses, four were by three points or less. Two of Kocer’s losses have come to the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 149 pounds in Missouri’s Drake Houdashelt and No. 5 Jake Sueflohn, of Nebraska.

“I’m confident that I can compete with everybody,” Kocer said. “A lot of my matches that I lost were close and were probably ones I could’ve won besides a few.”

Bono said his team showed some promise in moving up the ranks at its most recent tournament, the Southern Scuffle, at the beginning of the month.

“The guys really competed and made connections with what we’ve been working on and how we want to compete,” he said. “We’re getting there and it’s the put up or shut up time of year. We’re going to be wrestling every week now, and if these guys want to become All-Americans, they’re going to have to win these matches and get into the (NCAA) tournament.”

Kocer can qualify at the West Regional March 8 in Orem, Utah, or be selected at-large by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee.

Over the next three weeks, SDSU has six duals, including three against conference opponents. Its next action is against Air Force at 1 p.m. Sunday at Frost Arena in Brookings.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.