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SIOUX CITY -- Briar Cliff enters the 2018-19 wrestling season with something new on the back of its singlet -- a bull's-eye.

The Chargers won the Great Plains Athletic Conference title for the first time in program history with a 7-1 mark last season.

Now it is time to see what they do for an encore.

"You worry about complacency but only time would tell and the guys are even more hungry and we are looking forward to a good year," said Briar Cliff coach Joe Privitere, who is entering his eighth season. "What helps me sleep at night is that my guys seem to be up for the challenge and that is the most important thing. We are looking to repeat."

Privitere said he saw the commitment from his team over the summer with about 10 staying in Sioux City while several others trained after returning home over the summer.

"Once we started having guys stay over the summer we started making jumps with what our next season was going to be," Privitere said. "Everyone knows that is the deal. Everyone is practicing at 3:30, but the guys that stay over the summer can leapfrog guys. We had guys make those commitments and we saw the results.

"We are definitely ahead of where we finished last year. We bring everyone back and guys are another year older, a year more mature, and spent another year in the weight room."

Redshirt sophomore Chis Paulsen, who will wrestle at 165 pounds, was voted the team's MVP last season after going 28-14 while being one of four Chargers to reach the national tournament.

"To see the jump he made from his freshman year redshirting to his first year actually competing was enormous," Privitere said. "The sky is the limit for a kid like Chris Paulsen. No one is going to outwrestle him in a seven-minute match."

Andrew McFarland returns to the fold for the Chargers at 125 after winning a conference title two seasons ago. Junior Braedon Clopton will also be in the mix at the weight.

Isiah Lysius will be at 133 where he qualified for nationals a year ago. D'earion Stokes is a junior college transfer who has impressed his coach early on.

"He is a leader," Privitere said. "The guys are voting for captains right now and he has a lot of votes in the short time he has been here. That is the impression he has put on the coaching staff and teammates."

Freshmen will battle for the 141-pound spot while seniors Zac Funderburk and Zach Davis are back at 149 and 157, respectively.

James Buckhanan will be with Paulsen at 165, dropping down from 174 from a season ago.

Nate Garcia, who secured the match against Morningside College to win the conference title, is at 174. Caleb Shanks placed at the Daktonics Open, a Division I tournament, a year ago, but had an injury derail his season. He is healthy and looking to make an impact at 184.

Freshmen will battle for the 197-pound spot while four are in the mix at heavyweight.

Part of the higher expectation this season is the fact that Privitere has put down a strong foundation for a wrestling program that needed a lot of work when he first arrive. Now instead of building, he can focus on bringing in the best recruits possible and have depth at every weight to challenge each wrestler in the room.

"That has been our problem in the past because it is a wrestling season and guys are going to get hurt," said Privitere of the improved depth. "We haven't had that next guy up kind of a deal where we could put another guy in and have a guy that can go out and compete. We don't make excuses and it is go out and compete when your name is called."

The NAIA has been dominated by Grand View which has won seven straight national titles, but Privitere sees plenty of room for his team to make a run both this season and in seasons to come.

"We want to finish top 10 in the country which would be our next kind of stepping stone," he said. "With the success we had last year and that we have been having, it has helped us bring in better and better recruiting classes.

"We see where the line is and constantly attack it and get after it. When you think of the drop off after Grand View in the NAIA, top 10 is definitely doable."

The Chargers kick off the season Sunday at the South Dakota State Daktronics Open in Brooking, South Dakota.

Copyright 2018 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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