“I’m proud of the kids,” said Trapper wrestling coach Jim Zeigler, who has directed all 19 of those top 10 finishes for NWC. “So many things have to go your way at the national tournament, and they don’t always. We had some things at this meet that didn’t go our way, but the kids put it all on the line like they’ve done all year long. I’m proud of them.”
That effort showcased itself on Saturday, Zeigler said. The Trappers enjoyed a strong second day of the tournament.
“The first day, we were winning matches, but you could tell our kids were nervous,” said Zeigler. “Just the way we came out of the chutes, you could tell we were a little tentative out there. By Saturday though, we’d grown accustomed to the environment and we had our best wrestling of the year.”
Freshman Zach Loveless had the best finish of the tournament for the Trappers, finishing as the national runner-up at 141 pounds. Loveless, who set a single-season record for victories at Northwest College this season, entered the national tournament as the top-ranked 141-pound wrestler in the nation.
Loveless’ tournament started simple enough with back to back 17-2 technical falls to reach the quarterfinals. From there, things got tougher as Loveless advanced 4-2 into the semifinal round before edging Rend Lake’s Eric Tozzi by a 6-5 count in the semifinals.
In the championship match against Nassau’s James DeKrone, Loveless was narrowly defeated by a 7-6 count to finish as the runner-up.
“Zach had a great Saturday,” said Zeigler. “He wrestled a great finals match. I still think he’s the best kid in the weight, but it didn’t work out that way for him. That was just one of those things that didn’t come out our way this time.”
The Trappers also had a pair of third-place finishers in Colby Kloetzer (149) and Colton Thornton (157). Kloetzer needed barely two minutes to end his first two matches by fall to reach the tournament quarterfinals. There, his run through the bracket was narrowly stopped by an 8-7 loss. On the elimination half of the bracket, he chained together four victories, including a win by fall and a pair of major decisions.
The last of those major decisions was a 14-1 domination of Labette County’s Spencer Rutherford in the consolation championship match.
Thornton’s climb back from the brink was even longer. After opening the tournament with a major decision, Thornton was defeated by a 5-4 count in round two.
That loss triggered a series of six consecutive wins — the first coming in a sudden victory period and none of them by more than three points — to propel Thornton into the consolation championship contest. Thornton was a 5-3 winner in that consolation championship, avenging his only loss of the national tournament in still another sudden victory contest.
“Both of those guys were as good as they’ve ever been in that consolation round,” said Zeigler.
Northwest’s final All-American was sophomore Jarrett Baker, who earned that distinction for the second consecutive year by placing eighth at this year’s national tournament. Baker opened the tournament by taking down nationally-ranked Shelby Knout of Labette in a 6-2 decision. He added a sudden victory win to reach the quarterfinals before becoming a first-period fall victim.
Baker added a 7-2 victory to reach the top eight, but then lost back-to-back contests to end his junior college career.
For some of Northwest’s other wrestlers, the weekend held tougher challenges. Freshman Cody Vichi (125) advanced to the quarterfinals before dropping a 9-2 decision to the eventual tournament champion. In his first consolation bracket match, Vichi lost a 5-1 decision to the wrestler who would go on to finish third, ending his season short of the All-American round.
“I feel bad for Cody,” Zeigler said. “You look at who wound up on the podium, and he had seven wins against guys in his division who turned out to be All-Americans. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.”
At 133 pounds, T.J. Guild lost a narrow 5-2 decision to get dropped into the consolation bracket immediately. He fought back with a pair of wins before having his season end by a 5-0 decision. Diorian Coleman rounded out the Trappers’ lineup with a 2-2 performance that included a pair of matches that went into sudden victory.
“Diorian had a tough time, losing to the Iowa Central guy in the last criteria in overtime,” said Zeigler. “The lesson there is that you can’t let it get that far, but it was Friday and I think he was a bit tentative in taking chances out there. You can’t leave it in the official’s hands though.”
In the final team standings, Northwest finished with 70 points to place sixth overall. The Trappers had been ranked third nationally going into the national championships. North Idaho and Labette shared the national title with identical scores of 120 points.
It was the third time in Zeigler’s 20 seasons that a championship tournament ended in a tie.
Clackamas, another team from the Trappers’ region, placed third with 97.5 points. Nassau was fourth at 95 points and Iowa Central narrowly edged NWC for fifth place with 70.5 points.
“I’m proud of the guys and we’re already looking forward to what we can be next year,” said Zeigler. “It begins today.”