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Trappers depart for Iowa

Seven competing for shot at national title

Hoping to avoid the travel drama that plagued the team’s journey to the 2012 national championships, head coach Jim Zeigler and the seven national tournament qualifiers from the third-ranked Northwest College wrestling team departed for Des Moines, Iowa, hoping to beat the arrival of a major winter storm expected to slam the nation’s heartland.

“Once we’re there, I don’t care,” Zeigler said. “We can build snowmen in Iowa for a week if we have to.”

Snowmen aren’t Zeigler’s first concern, however. Once action starts at the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center, his Trappers will be in pursuit of the national championship in seven of the 10 contested weight classes. For Cody Vichi (125), T.J. Guild (133), Zach Loveless (141) Colby Kloetzer (149), Colton Thornton (157), Diorian Coleman (165) and Jarrett Baker (197) the focus will be pushing into the national bracket as far as possible with the hope of finishing on top.

For many of those members, it will be a first-time experience on the collegiate stage. Five of the Trappers’ seven national tournament representatives are freshmen. That’s not a stat that weighs heavily on Zeigler’s mind, however.

“There’s always a concern with how they’ll step out and respond to the pressures, but by the time you get here most of these kids have wrestled on the big stage at some point in their careers,” Zeigler said. “Vichi, Loveless, Thornton and Kloetzer were each three-time state champions. Coleman was a two-time state champ, so they’ve all wrestled in big event centers with thousands of fans looking down as they compete for a title. They know how to compete under those circumstances.”

With that in mind, the Trappers appear ready to go, according to Zeigler. The longtime Trapper coach, who is looking to add to his string of top 10 finishes at the national championships, notes his team looks both physically and mentally ready to go.

“Preparing for the national tournament isn’t a two-week affair. It’s a product of what we’ve done throughout the season,” said Zeigler. “We’ve been doing it all along. We’re healthy for the most part. There’s nothing major lurking out there and I think we’re ready to go.”

Some of the Trappers will have to be ready to go. The bracket draw for the national tournament shows two Trappers stuck in opening-round matches against highly ranked opponents. Vichi, the No. 2 wrestler at 125 pounds, opens against the sixth-ranked wrestler in his weight class. Guild, ranked No. 4 at 133 pounds, also pulled the No. 6 grappler in his division.

“That happens sometimes when a kid finishes third or fourth at regionals,” Zeigler said of the unusual encounters that would look more at-home in a quarterfinal round rather than in round one. “That’s just the way it goes. You have to beat them all to win it all, so I don’t worry too much about it.”

There’s another reason the Trappers’ coach isn’t overly concerned. Both bouts will be rematches against opponents the Trappers defeated earlier this season.

“We’ve beaten them both, so that helps,” Zeigler said. “We know where we stand. We know what we’re capable of, but we have to go out and put our best match on the mat. They’re quality opponents and things could go either way, but I feel good about our chances. They have to worry about us because we beat them. I like entering where we are.”

Of the five remaining Trappers, only Baker has also drawn a ranked opponent to open the national tournament.

For Loveless, the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 141 pounds, the tournament begins with an unranked opponent out of New York. A possible second-round encounter against the No. 4 wrestler at his weight class could follow.

Thornton, ranked No. 3 at 157, is in the same pigtail as the No. 5 grappler in his division. Sixth-ranked Coleman could have a rematch with the nation’s No. 11 wrestler at 165 pounds if both can survive against unranked opponents in round one.

As far as draws go, Kloetzer appears, on paper, to have received the most favorable one for the Trappers. The redshirt freshman from Caldwell, Idaho, who is currently ranked third in his weight class, could reach the quarterfinal round before possibly seeing another ranked opponent.

That said, Zeigler notes his team can’t get caught up in looking at who they’re facing on the mat.

“You can’t pay attention to the guy in front of you,” Zeigler said. “You can’t worry about the guy who is on the other side. You can only focus on what you’ve done to prepare to get to that point. As long as you feel good about that, it doesn’t matter who they put on the other side.”

As for where he hopes his team stands when the dust settles in Des Moines on Saturday night, Zeigler notes his focus is still on the individuals.

“Overall, I want a champion,” said Zeigler. “I think we have a chance for at least one of them to be standing on top of the podium. I would love to see each of these guys realize their individual dreams. If we can do that, the team score will take care of itself. Obviously, we want to stay in the top 10. It would be nice to stay in the top five. If we get in that top three, that would be outstanding.”

The NJCAA national wrestling championships start at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Competition runs through Saturday evening.

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