Adorned with only the wrestling singlet that once belonged to the former Northwest national tournament qualifier, the locker sits as silent honor to the memory of a young man whose life was cut short by a single-car accident in 1998.
Most of the members of this year’s Trapper wrestling squad were just starting to roll around on wrestling mats when that tragedy took place. This weekend, they will take their turn in helping the memory of Christopher Brooks Apodaca endure.
“This was an event that was created for his memory,” said Trapper wrestling coach Jim Zeigler. “I never would have foreseen that it would have become this big event so many years later. I’m very proud of what this has become. A lot of casual watchers, if they come to just one wrestling event a year — this is the event they try to make.”
That will especially be the case this year as five of the top 14 teams in the nation descend upon Hank Cabre Gymnasium on Friday and Saturday nights for a series of head-to-head matches. As many as 30 nationally ranked grapplers — including four wrestlers currently tabbed as the best in the junior college ranks at their weight division — will take to the mats this weekend.
“This is an event that people across the nation who follow the sport of wrestling will be watching,” said Zeigler. “All the teams that are here have been here before. They try to return faithfully because of what this event has become.”
In addition to the Trappers, who are currently ranked No. 7 in the latest national polls, teams in attendance include No. 14 Western Wyoming, No. 11 Iowa Central, No. 3 Clackamas and current No. 1 North Idaho.
“North Idaho has really set themselves apart this season,” said Zeigler. “They faced Clackamas last week and won seven of 10 matches I think. They’re a very experienced team.”
The Trappers have faced both North Idaho and Clackamas previously this season. Northwest lost both of those road duals during a western swing and will be looking to improve upon those results this time out. The weekend will mark the Trappers’ first meeting with Iowa Central this season.
“They’ve never finished outside the top three at a national tournament under their current head coach,” Zeigler said. “So the idea that they’re not a top 10 program this season, well, I take that with a grain of salt. They’re going to show up. They’ll look good, and they’ll expect to win. That’s what they do. The moment you let your guard down and expect them not to do well, that’s when they’re going to step up and bite you.”
The Trappers will not face Western Wyoming over the weekend. The two teams have already faced off twice in dual action with the Trappers sweeping both of those encounters.
“We’re an awfully young group this year,” Zeigler said of his 2012-2013 Trapper team. “Every group is different and we’ve had to make sure that we bring this group along at the right speed this season. My hope is that we’ll wrestle as best as we have this season, and we’re going to need to do that this weekend.
“We’re taking a broad approach,” Zeigler said of the team’s buildup to the Apodaca Duals. “Our focus has been on doing the best we can as a group, and then you just hope that some individuals rise up to the occasion and have outstanding weekends.”
Among those capable of stepping up to meet that challenge, Zeigler notes T.J. Guild appears poised for a possible breakout.
“There’s been a lot of wrestling since the last rankings came out, and T.J. is a kid that’s made a huge jump as the season’s gone along,” Zeigler said. “He’s really made a jump from being a pretty good college wrestler to being a top college wrestler.”
Zach Loveless, Colton Thornton, Diorian Coleman and Cody Vichi also appear to be peaking toward the right time of the season, Zeigler notes.
“We’ve got some dings and bruises, but those are general things for most teams to be suffering from at this point on the calendar,” Zeigler said. “Compared to other years and what I know other teams to be dealing with, I think our dings are more manageable than what others have. We don’t really have any question marks or things that will affect the outcome.”
The Apodaca Dual Showdown starts at 5 p.m. on Friday with two mats of action as No. 1 North Idaho goes against No. 14 Western Wyoming and No. 3 Clackamas squares off against No. 11 Iowa Central.
At 7 p.m., the parade of teams and presentation of the Apodaca Award will take place. The award is given annually to the member of the Northwest College wrestling team who, in the spirit of Brooks Apodaca, does the best job in fulfilling their role within the Trappers’ wrestling program. The identity of the award winner is kept secret until the time of the award’s presentation.
Immediately following the presentation of the award, the Trappers will take their first turn on the mats, going head-to-head against Iowa Central. Clackamas and Western Wyoming will do battle on the opposite mat.
Four more duals will take place Saturday as rounds go off at noon and 2 p.m.
“People across the country will be following the results of the duals here,” said Zeigler. “I’m excited for this year’s event.”