Jeff McCormick, who was ranked No. 2 in the nation at 157 pounds when he had an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 4, will return to the lineup for NWC at the West District Tournament in Rock Springs on Saturday.
“Jeff feels like it’s going to be a victory for him to be able to step on the mat and wrestle again,” said NWC head coach Jim Zeigler.
McCormick has been participating in cardio and weight training for the past two weeks, but is not cleared to wrestle until Friday.
The surprise comeback has helped to spark an upbeat attitude in the Trappers, who were understandably hanging their heads after a rough month.
The Trappers were without perhaps their best wrestler, had a handful of others with nagging ailments and put up little fight in losses to North Idaho and Northeastern Oklahoma at the Apodaca Duals Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
But as the team prepares for the postseason, the focus and confidence is returning to where it was when Northwest began the season as national title favorites.
“Wrestling seems to be fun for them again,” said Zeigler, who sounded upbeat and eager during a Wednesday morning phone interview with the Tribune.
With McCormick back, and 125-pounder Cody Vichi returning from a hand injury, the Trappers may bounce back in a big way.
“At least on paper we have our very best lineup we’ve had all year,” Zeigler said.
McCormick isn’t returning at full strength, nor at his full weight, but Zeigler said he could provide a big impact.
The mass he lost while ill will move him down to 149, a class in which the Trappers have struggled to find a consistent performer.
“If he doesn’t do well it’s really not a loss to us but if he does do well it’s a huge gain for us,” Zeigler said.
And if McCormick makes it to Nationals? Zeigler chuckled at the thought.
“If he gets to Nationals, even at 70 percent ... Jeff at 70 percent is good enough to be an All-American,” Zeigler said.
Kaelen Loveless will move from 149 back up to 157, which Zeigler said is his natural weight class.
“It’s a better fit for Kaelen,” Zeigler said. “I think you’re going to see him perform better at 157 than at 149.”
At 133, Ben Jorgensen wrestled the starting job away from Brenden Turner. The two had been neck-and-neck for most of the season but Jorgensen beat Turner in a challenge match last week to claim the weight class.
The rest of the lineup will stay the same with Vichi at 125, Zac Loveless at 141, Diorian Coleman at 165, Cole McArthur at 174, Miles Nixon at 184, Jon Wixom at 197 and Gabe Escobedo at 285.
The coach said both he and the Trapper wrestlers took their 1-2 showing at the Apodacas to heart and looked to make necessary adjustments.
“After getting beat and handled pretty well at the Apodacas, that’s kind of an eye-opener,” Zeigler said. “As it gets to be further in your rear view mirror you have a better understanding of what happened.”
Zeigler said his team trained almost nonstop upon its return from winter break on Dec. 28, and fatigue may have become a factor in late January.
“Those were 33 days of training where we had only a couple days off,” Zeigler said.
The coach said since the Apodacas the team has “worked smarter, rather than harder.”
With so many wrestlers on the mend, Zeigler said he’s concerned just with getting as many guys qualified for nationals, held in Spokane, Wash., Feb. 28-March 1.
The top 70 percent of wrestlers at District can advance to nationals, meaning 40 of the competitors at the six-team West Districts will qualify.
A national tourney ticket would give the Trappers more time to heal and improve.
“We’re looking at the idea that we have two more weeks after this,” Zeigler said. “We’ve got to get through this (Districts) but we have our eye on Spokane,” he said.
No. 4 Northwest will face No. 1 Clackamas, No. 3 North Idaho, No. 18 Southwestern Oregon and No. 20 Highline from Region 18 and Western Wyoming from Region 9.
After all the uncertainty that’s shadowed the Trappers this season, a restocked squad could make some noise at the season’s end.
“All teams experience challenges,” Zeigler said. “In our cases it’s injuries and an illness with Jeff.
“But not everybody has the opportunity to recover from those. Everybody still has a chance. We’ll find out at the end.”