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Kocer, Jackrabbits keep climbing

South Dakota State University's David Kocer wrestles Minnesota's Chris Pfarr on Nov. 17 at Frost Arena in Brookings. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia Sports Media)

BROOKINGS — When David Kocer signed on to wrestle collegiately at South Dakota State in 2014, the Jackrabbits were capping their seventh straight season with a losing dual record and SDSU was hardly recognized on the national wrestling scene.  

Fast forward to 2018; Kocer is amazed at how much has changed. He’s had a starting spot as the Jackrabbits have put together three winning seasons, climbed the national rankings and become the trendy program in college wrestling.   

“Each year gets more and more exciting,” said Kocer, who is currently 97-48 in his career with the Jackrabbits. “People are talking about SDSU. It’s not just the locals either. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. We are starting to get some recognition throughout the whole sport of wrestling.”

Alongside the program’s success on the mat has been an influx of fan support at Frost Arena in Brookings. Last year, 4,087 fans watched wrestling powerhouse Iowa take on SDSU. This year, a crowd of 2,236 watched SDSU beat Wyoming on Jan. 18 as bigger crowds have become the new norm. It’s something Kocer never pictured when he joined the program under head coach Chris Bono.

“I watched my brother my senior year in high school and there really wasn’t a huge fanbase compared to now, when there’s a ton of people at the duals,” Kocer said. “It’s been awesome.”

And the former Wagner standout, who is entering the final two months of his wrestling career, is focused on making the most of his senior season. The two-time NCAA qualifier is ranked ninth by FloWrestling, Intermat and TrackWrestling. He’s 17-5 at 174 pounds and 7-3 in duals for SDSU, which won its 10th consecutive dual over Oklahoma on Sunday to improve to 10-2 and 5-0 in the Big 12. As a team, the Jackrabbits are ranked No. 12 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, the highest-ever ranking in school history.

“One or two guys every dual seem to step up and do something they're not supposed to do or upset a guy,” Kocer said about the team success. “The biggest thing is looking at it one match at a time.”

Keeping himself fixed on the match in front of him has also benefited Kocer. He won the Bison Open on Nov. 11, while taking second in the Midlands Championships on Dec. 30 and the Daktronics Open on Nov. 5.

“Each year has been a learning process,” Kocer said. “I feel more and more confident. It’s been an awesome year and a lot of fun. I’ve been able to do it with pretty much the same team and same class.”

With a 9-1 decision over Wyoming’s Kyle Pope, Kocer moved into 14th place on SDSU’s all-time wins chart, passing his older brother, Alex.

Alex Kocer compiled a 96-44 record from 2014-17 and ended his career with an eighth-place All-America finish at 149 pounds in 2017.

“It’s something I never really kept track of. It’s really cool,” David Kocer said. “It’s the first year of my whole wrestling career without wrestling with one my brothers.”

With only two home duals left in his career, Kocer is grateful for the chance he’s had to wrestle collegiately. Kocer has never finished as an All-American but won’t settle just for a top-eight national finish.

“I want to be the best I can possibly be. I want to place as high as I can,” Kocer said. “I got to keep working hard. I have a lot of tough, challenging opponents ahead.”