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July 21, 2008 1:52 pm

Trappers fourth at national wrestling

Written by Tribune Staff

Harris becomes 10th NWC national champion on the mat

Northwest College wrestling coach Jim Zeigler brought home seven All-Americans from the NJCAA national wrestling championships in Des Moines, Iowa, including its latest national champion in sophomore heavyweight Landon Harris, as the team rolled to a fourth-place finish. The seven All-Americans are the second-most ever recorded by the Trappers.

“Only the 2004 team had more kids crowned All-American,” noted Zeigler, who has now coached 78 All-Americans and 10 national champions during his 17-year tenure with the Trappers.

The latest of those national champions was crowned on Saturday as Harris posted a 5-0 decision over North Idaho's Roger McCovey in the 285-pound championship match. The win avenged a one-point loss Harris suffered to McCovey in NWC's Apodaca Duals earlier this year.

“I knew it was going to come down to McCovey,” said Harris. “I don't know how much of an advantage it is to go against someone you've faced before, but I knew what I had to do in order to beat him.”

Harris reached the finals for the second year in a row, improving on last year's runner-up finish. After pinning his way into the semifinals, Harris endured his closest match — at least in terms of the score — in a 3-2 semifinal win over Lincoln College's Corey Anderson.

“Landon was in control that whole match, he just wasn't able to break it wide open,” said Zeigler.

In the championship match, Harris scored a second-period escape to tally the first point of the match. Nursing his 1-0 lead, he was able to get McCovey to the ground with 30 seconds remaining in the third period and added a late two-point nearfall for insurance to cap a stellar wrestling career.

“It feels great,” Harris said. “It's how I wanted to end it, to go out on top.”

While Harris' title run was the highlight of the Trappers' 2010 national tournament, it was by no means the only story. Six other Trapper wrestlers came home with All-American honors as Northwest College placed fourth overall in the final standings.

“This is the highest number of All-Americans we've had since winning the national title,” said Zeigler. “It's the second most ever for Northwest College. In terms of overall accomplishments, I couldn't be more proud of these kids. A lot of the losses we had were close matches. These kids went in there with a purpose and they kept competing and kept battling.”

When it comes to competing and battling, nobody fills the description more than 197-pounder Mak Jones. Jones won five of his six matches in Des Moines to finish in third place overall. None of Jones' matches featured a scoreboard spread of more than six points, including his narrow 4-3 loss in the semifinals and back-to-back 5-2 wins on the consolation bracket to earn the third-place finish.

“I just tried to keep wrestling and keep my head up,” said Jones, who missed out on the medal podium as a freshman. “You just try to take your matches one at a time. Last year I lost my first match and really got down on myself. This year, I lost a close one in the semifinals and I just tried to put that one away and get ready for the next one.”

Sophomores McCade Ford (141) and Saul Guerrero (133) each finished in fifth place. Ford got there after a dominating display of wrestling that included two major-decision victories and a win by fall.

“Friday, I felt really, really good,” Ford said of his hot start. “I really thought — I knew — that I was going to win. I was rolling.”

That roll ended abruptly on Saturday when Ford lost by fall in the semifinals and also couldn't find the magic in a decision loss to relegate him to the fifth-place match.

“We were on a high on Friday night,” said Zeigler. “I really think if we'd wrestled that next round on Friday night that we would have had three or four guys in the finals. It's just so hard to maintain those highs overnight, plus the break gives other guys a chance to recover who might not have that momentum coming in. A national tournament is really an emotional roller coaster, especially on a tight-knit team like ours.”

The Trappers also crowned three freshmen All-Americans in Jesse Hillhouse (sixth at 125), Nick Petersen (seventh at 174) and Jarrett Baker (eighth at 184). Sophomore Briston Brenton (157) fell one victory shy of reaching the medal podium.

“To take eight guys and to have them all reach that top 12 is really special,” said Zeigler, whose team led the scholarship division heading into Saturday's rounds.

“There's not any question that our kids went to Des Moines with a goal of winning championships. We didn't go to make an appearance. We went with a purpose to fight and battle and they proved that on the mats.”

The Trappers were in a position to bring home a lot more on Saturday. Heading into the overnight, Northwest College led the team standings for scholarship-division schools. The team wound up tied with St. Louis-Meramec for fourth place in the final team standings.

“I wasn't at all surprised (by the team's position),” Zeigler said. “I knew they were capable of it. Friday is mostly a battle for positioning though. The tournament is won and lost on Saturday. It all comes down to how high and how many you place. Obviously, when you are in that position, you want to win it. It hurts not to get it when you're in that place, but it hurts more at the moment than it does the day after. This was our highest finish since 2004 and this is a great team.”

The fourth-place finish is the Trappers' highest since the 2004 national championship season.