The Trappers finished second in the 16-team field, which featured schools from all regions of the country.
Head coach Jim Zeigler said neither he nor his team is happy with how the weekend ended, but they will shake off the pain of defeat and focus on improving.
“Right now, we’re not the favorite to win it at all,” Zeigler said. “(But) we’ve got time left and we’re going to keep working hard.
“And I want those guys to embrace that idea that we’re going to get better every single day.”
Northwest took second place without the help of one of its best wrestlers.
Sophomore Jeff McCormick (No. 2 in the country at 157 pounds) is likely out for the remainder of the season after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 4. (See related story.)
“He’s a team leader and a sophomore, somebody that is an important part of our gel, our chemistry, our group,” Zeigler said. “It’s clear that there’s an absence.”
Northwest met Clackamas Community College (Oregon City, Ore.,) in the finals after beginning 2014 with four straight dual wins, including against the University of Great Falls on Wednesday.
The Trappers took a 6-3 lead into the fourth bout of Sunday afternoon’s first-place dual, but things took a turn for the worse when Kaelen Loveless and Hayden Heap were pinned in consecutive matches at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively.
That put Northwest in a 15-6 hole that the Trappers were unable to climb out of.
“That swung the match,” Zeigler said. “It makes it tough. It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t look good.”
Diorian Coleman won by way of decision at 165 pounds and Cole McArthur scored a major decision to bring Northwest within two points.
“That brought it right back to 15-13 with three matches to go, and all of a sudden we’re within striking distance,” Zeigler said.
Northwest’s hopes were placed on the shoulders of Miles Nixon, who is ranked third at 184 pounds. Nixon faced off against No. 1 Adrian Salas in a match that would virtually wrap up the championship for Clackamas.
Nixon was down 2-1 when he was pinned in the bout’s second period. Zeigler said Nixon’s loss deflated the Northwest team.
“When Miles got pinned ... that just took it out of us,” the coach said.
Ultimately, a Nixon victory wouldn’t have saved the Trappers.
Jonathan Wixom forfeited due to an injury against No. 8 Ihoghama Odighizuwa in 197-pound match, and Gabriel Escobedo lost a 5-1 decision to Brendon Johnson in the heavyweight bout to seal a 30-13 victory for the Cougars.
Wixom was “choked out” by Odighizuwa, leaving him momentarily unconscious. Zeigler decided to forfeit the match as a precaution.
“When you’re dealing with head injuries ... it’s not advised to let him continue,” the coach said.
Northwest opened the finals strong, beginning with the fourth win of the weekend for 125-pound Cody Vichi. Undefeated in all four of Northwest’s duals, No. 4 Vichi closed his weekend with a 4-3 decision over No. 3 Stevan Knoblauch and gave the Trappers an early 3-0 lead.
No. 5 Ben Jorgensen lost the 133-pound bout to No. 2 CJ Palmer, which knotted the team score at 3-3.
Jorgensen lost to Palmer 8-0 on Dec. 14, when Northwest faced off against Clackamas in a dual narrowly won by the Trappers, 21-20.
“We saw some chinks in (Palmer’s) armor, and Ben’s getting better and closer,” Zeigler said.
Sophomore Zac Loveless won a 3-0 decision over Robbie Rizzolino in the 141-pounds bout to finish a perfect 4-0 weekend.
“Zac was simply awesome all weekend,” Zeigler said. “He was unbeatable. He made no mistakes.”
No. 1 Coleman finished an up-and-down weekend with a 7-5 victory over No. 8 Kyle Bateman. Coleman took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but fell behind 4-2 before ultimately winning 7-5.
Zeigler said Coleman (who was 2-2 in Des Moines) had an off couple days and needs to be more aggressive.
“That’s unusual for us to not be able to win in that position,” said Zeigler of Coleman’s two losses at 165. “I feel like he needs to push himself through the entirety of the match.”
Zeigler’s criticism extended to the entire team, which he said could stand to puff its collective chest out a bit more.
“There’s got to be a little bit of swagger, there’s got to be a little bit of nastiness,” Zeigler said.
The Trappers reached the finals with Saturday’s 30-18 win over No. 17 Colby Community College (Colby, Kan.) and then a 22-15 win against No. 8 Muskegon (Muskegon, Mich.,). Northwest beat unranked Iowa Central Community College (Fort Dodge, Iowa) by a score of 34-6 in Sunday’s semifinals.
The National Duals provided the Trappers with “stiff competition” and gave them an idea of what to expect at the West District.
“It exposed us either directly or by common opponent to the entire country,” Zeigler said.
This weekend also exposed Northwest’s troubles at 157 pounds. Cormick Eaton lost a decision in his only action and Hayden Heap went 1-2, though his win was by forfeit.
Zeigler said that weight class was a definite weakness in Des Moines, but there still is plenty of time to shore up any problems.
“We’re going to try to make some adjustments and see if we can make up as much ground as possible,” Zeigler said.
Wednesday’s dual with the University of Great Falls Argos served as a tune-up for the National Duals, and an opportunity for the NWC wrestling team to get exposure in a nearby community.
The dual was the closest to Powell the Trappers will wrestle this season.
“To be wrestling in front of a crowd whose kids are potential Northwest College students ... (that) only bodes well for us and the college,” Zeigler said.
NWC individual records
125 - Vichi, 4-0
133 - Jorgensen, 3-1
141 - Z. Loveless, 4-0
149 - K. Loveless, 2-2
157 - Eaton, 0-1; Heap 1-2
165 - Coleman, 2-2
174 - McArthur, 3-1
184 - Nixon, 2-2
197 - Wixom, 2-2
285 - Escobedo, 0-4