The Trappers enter the season as the top-ranked team in the nation, just as they did 10 years ago.
“We’re currently ranked No. 1 and we have a big bullseye on us,” said head coach Jim Zeigler, who is entering his 21st season at the helm of the Trappers.
The coach has seen hundreds of wrestlers throughout his 21 years as Northwest’s head wrestling coach, yet Zeigler said this season’s squad has stood out.
“I think that this team possesses as fine of overall qualities as any team I’ve had,” Zeigler said.
A tight-knit group of 13 returners will lead the Trappers both on the mat and in the locker room, where nine freshmen are still learning the ropes of being a collegiate athlete.
“Having that many on the return really speeds up the process of orientation for the freshmen coming in,” the coach said.
The team doesn’t have designated captains and instead relies on the experience of its sophomores, who are willing aid the coaching staff in developing incoming Trappers.
“Those guys have grown over the past year to genuinely love each other and care about each other deeply,” Zeigler said. “You can tell, they’re a band of brothers.
“In a sense, we have 13 captains,” Zeigler said.
Four of those sophomores currently sit atop the individual rankings of their respective weight classes.
Zach Loveless is No. 1 in the nation in the 141-pound class, Colby Kloetzer is tops in 149, Diorian Coleman is the top-ranked wrestler at 165 pounds, and Miles Nixon returns as the man to beat at 184 pounds.
Several other Trappers, including two freshmen, are ranked in the nation’s top 10.
Cody Vichi is the third-ranked wrestler in the 125-pound class, Ben Jorgensen is sixth at 133 and Cole McArthur is ranked ninth at 174.
True freshman Jonathan Wixom is 10th at 197.
Red shirt freshman Jeff McCormick returns as the seventh-ranked wrestler in the 157-pound class following an injury-shortened season.
Zeigler said McCormick’s ranking might be misleading.
“Strangely enough, he may be the very best wrestler in our room, but he’s got to climb the ladder because he wasn’t able to finish last year,” the coach said.
McCormick began his ascent at the Cowboy Open Nov. 2 at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where he went 5-0 and was crowned the tournament champion of the 157-pound class.
Coleman went 4-1 and was the runner up at 165.
Red shirt freshman Brendon Turner had a 4-2 record and placed fourth at 133 pounds.
Competition at the Cowboy Open featured schools from division I (UW, Arizona State, Air Force, Utah Valley University and Northern Colorado), division II (University of Colorado-Mesa, University of Nebraska-Kearney, Colorado State University-Pueblo and Western State Colorado) and NAIA (University of Great Falls, Montana State-Northern), as well as the junior college ranks (Colby College and Western Wyoming).
Zeigler said he uses the first semester’s open tournaments (in which all wrestlers on a team can compete) to determine his optimum lineup for when the schedule transitions to duals (in which only one wrestler in each weight class can compete).
But it’s not just who has the best record that will get the nod when duals roll around in January.
“What kind of teammate is he? How’s his attitude? It’s not as simple as, ‘You beat him, you’re the starter,’” Zeigler said.
The coaching staff also used open tournaments to scout opposing wrestlers to see which Trapper might be best suited to take on certain foes in duals.
“You (get to) know who your primary competitors are going to be and try to figure out how you match up with them as you get late in the season,” Zeigler said.
The Trappers will get to know the No. 2 junior college team in the nation when Northern Idaho comes to Powell for the NWC Open Saturday. Other schools in attendance will include UW, University of Great Falls, Montana State University-Northern, University of Western Montana, Chadron State and United States Air Force Academy Prep.
The NWC Open will begin at 9 a.m. and run until approximately 7 p.m. Saturday.