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January 15, 2009 3:36 am

NWC wrestling reaping benefits

Written by Tribune Staff

Tough early schedule paying off for NWC

Prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, Northwest College head coach Andy Ward made it clear that his Trappers were facing a difficult early schedule.

Making the early portion of the slate even more challenging was the fact that NWC's roster boasted just three sophomores. Of those, only two were returning players from the 2007-08 squad — Julian Olubuyi and Jordan Harris. The third sophomore, Cody Ball, transfered to NWC from Montana State University-Northern.

As Ward expected, his squad took several lumps starting out, and after a half dozen games were in the record books, NWC had a 1-5 mark against teams with more experience.

“By playing a lot of tough teams early, it showed the guys the level they were going to have to reach in order to be successful,” Ward said. “Doing that can be difficult, especially when you're dealing with a young team. But I think it has paid off.”

During that six-game span starting out, the Trappers fell to the College of Eastern Utah twice, North Idaho College, Central Florida Community College and the College of Southern Idaho. The lone victory in that stretch was a 90-78 win over Central Arizona College.

Since the second loss of the season to Eastern Utah in mid-November, however, the Trappers have proven to be almost unbeatable, as evidenced by their eight wins in the last nine games. The Trappers also have a four-game winning streak that includes decisions over Western Nebraska Community College, Laramie County Community College, Miles Community College and Central Wyoming College.

NWC (9-6) is now 1-0 in Region IX's North Sub-Region and 2-0 in the Wyoming Community College Athletic Conference. Their WCCAC mark could get even better Friday and Saturday after road matchups with Casper College and Western Wyoming Community College.

“We have a chance to pull off a sweep, and if we can do that, we'll be in the driver's seat as far as the conference goes,” Ward said. “But we're going to have to play our best basketball of the year for that to happen.”

Casper currently has a 5-14 record in what has proven to be a season of transition. The team is coached by Joel Davidson, who is in his first year with the Thunderbirds after replacing departed, long-time coach Gary Becker.

Davidson previously enjoyed a successful coaching stint at Sheridan College, where he was twice named Region IX Coach of the Year.

Though the Thunderbirds' record isn't eye-catching, Ward said their series of recent performances is.

In a pair of road games last weekend, Casper defeated Eastern Wyoming College and LCCC. Eastern Wyoming, coincidentally, is the team that handed NWC its only loss in its last nine games.

“Casper has won three of its last four, so we know it's going to be a challenge for us,” Ward said. “Right now, our focus is on them.”

After Friday's game with the Thunderbirds, the Trappers will have to be ready for a matchup with WWCC in Rock Springs Saturday. Like Casper, the Mustangs (11-8) just completed a road sweep of EWC and LCCC.

“Western Wyoming is a lot like us,” Ward said. “They have a young team, and they played a tough schedule early.”

With this weekend's matchups against formidable opponents looming, Ward said he will be counting on his players to continue playing well-rounded basketball. In particular, Ward will be looking for Olubuyi, the Trappers' starting point guard, to continue providing the leadership he's displayed throughout the season.

Through the 2008 portion of the season, Olubuyi averaged 14.2 points per contest, and just last week the sophomore scored a combined 36 points during victories against Miles and Central Wyoming. Twenty-six of those points came against Central Wyoming in a game where Olubuyi grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists.

“Julian has definitely been a key factor for us,” Ward said. “He's been playing with a lot of consistency at point guard. He's one of our team captains, and he's done a good job of providing a lot of leadership.”

Casper Hesseldal, a 6-6 freshman from Aarhus, Denmark, also has shouldered much of the scoring load. Through NWC's first 14 games, he averaged almost 15 points per game, and like Olubuyi, he also finished last week's two-game stretch with 36 points. He even was among the squad's leading rebounders in last week's victories.

But NWC's fortunes aren't solely based on Olubuyi and Hesseldal. A number of players have made significant contributions on both ends of the court and rank among the team's statistical leaders. Freshman Ricardo Bodra, a 6-6 freshman from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is among Region IX's top rebounders and is a threat to notch a double-double every game. Freshman Mitchell Ackelson also has proven to be a player who can put up big numbers, as evidenced by his 27-point effort against Williston State College during the first half of the season.

Jordan Harris, also a team captain, has put up solid numbers as well, including a 27-point scoring effort in a memorable, 77-54 dismantling of Northeastern Junior College during the First National Bank and Trust Shootout in November.

“Probably our biggest strength is the number of weapons we have,” Ward said. “We've got quite a few guys who can go out and put a lot of points on the scoreboard. We've got four or five guys averaging double figures in scoring, and that makes it tough for opposing defenses when you are getting that kind of production on the offensive end.”

NWC's matchup against the Thunderbirds Friday in Casper is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday's contest against WWCC is slated for 5 p.m.