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February 27, 2014 9:14 am

NWC wrestling aims for national title

Written by Dante Geoffrey

NWC wrestling assistant coach Bernie Dupuy (center) and head coach Jim Zeigler (right) yell for a point during the Apodaca Duals earlier this year. The Trappers compete in the NJCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend in Spokane, Wash. NWC wrestling assistant coach Bernie Dupuy (center) and head coach Jim Zeigler (right) yell for a point during the Apodaca Duals earlier this year. The Trappers compete in the NJCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend in Spokane, Wash. Photo courtesy Dan Baney/Northwest College

Trappers hope to celebrate 10th anniversary of 2004 crown with another championship

If all goes well this weekend, Northwest College will mark an important anniversary in the best possible way.

The NWC wrestling team will vie for a national title at the NJCAA Wrestling Championships this weekend in Spokane, Wash., 10 years after winning the 2004 championship in Rochester, Minn.

The tournament will begin at 9:30 a.m. PST — 10:30 a.m. locally — Friday and final bouts will begin at 6:45 p.m. PST — 7:45 p.m. here —  Saturday.

The Trappers are bringing a full squad — one wrestler in each of the 10 weight classes — to the Spokane Convention Center, where they will face the best the country has to offer.

Most of the country’s best, it turns out, was never too far from Powell.

The fourth-ranked Trappers are very familiar with the nation’s top three teams. No. 1 Clackamas Community College, No. 2 Northeastern Oklahoma and No. 3 North Idaho have each taken a turn as Northwest’s foe this season.

Being No. 4 in the country would be a feather in the cap of almost every team, but not the Trappers, who are currently ranked the lowest they’ve been all season.

Northwest opened the 2013-14 season at No. 1 but were jumped by North Idaho in December and then by Clackamas and Northeastern Oklahoma in the most recent poll on Feb. 7. Some of the team’s minor drop in the rankings has to do with Northwest’s own Apodaca Duals on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

The Trappers were routed by Northeastern Oklahoma and narrowly beat by North Idaho.

“People were counting us out and we’re not out of it,” head coach Jim Zeigler said.

A tense and emotional performance at the West District Tournament in Rock Springs on Feb. 15 — highlighted by Zac Loveless’ four-overtime win in the 141-pound title bout and Jeff McCormick’s 149-pound title in his return to action — reignited the fire in the team and recalibrated the fans’ sinking expectations.

The Trappers won five individual titles (including Cody Vichi at 125, Cole McArthur at 174 and Miles Nixon at 184) and went 4-0 against Clackamas in title bouts.

“Anytime you go against the No. 1 team in the country ... and you win seven out of 10 matches in the tournament, you’re in a good position,” Zeigler said.

Clackamas still held on for the overall team title with 137.5 points to Northwest’s 134. North Idaho finished third with 112.

Seeding for the national tourney was released Feb. 19 and Zeigler said he was “very happy” with how things shook out.

“Our performance at Regionals against North Idaho and Clackamas helped us tremendously,” Zeigler said.

Many Trappers are set up to be the higher-ranked wrestler until, and if, they advance deep into the bracket.

Also, Northwest is positioned opposite at least two of the top three-ranked teams in six weight classes, and would not have to face any wrestlers from those teams until the finals in 141, 149 and 174.

The benefit of being seeded a round or two (or more) removed from other title contenders is that Northwest’s rivals will eliminate and wear out each other.

“When those teams are in there beating each other up, that really clears a path for us,” Zeigler said.

The Trappers won’t be able to avoid Clackamas, North Idaho, Northeastern Oklahoma and the like forever though.

“To win a national tournament you really have to win those head-to-head battles,” Zeigler said. “That’s the key and our kids understand that.”

Vichi (hand) and McCormick (appendectomy) each used the two weeks between regionals and nationals to heal as much as they could, and to learn to wrestle at less than 100 percent.

“Even if you’re not healing you get accustomed to the discomfort and the pain,” Zeigler said. “You get accustom to that feeling and you go out there knowing that it hurts and you have a greater ability to ignore it.”

Injuries are just one example of the adversity the 2013-14 Trappers have had to overcome, and Zeigler said his team has become better for all the tough times.

“There’s been high expectations throughout the year,” Zeigler said. “That’s a lot for a young 19-year-old man to shoulder.”

The high expectations are the biggest burden during the most disappointing losses.

“That was a difficult loss to Northeastern Oklahoma,” Zeigler recalled. “We got steamrolled. (But) to be able to dust yourself off and get right back in there ... I’m proud of our young men for that.”

Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, Zeigler said Northwest’s wrestlers have had a successful season, and he’s happy with what Northwest College was able to provide.

“No matter what happens when we get to Spokane, these young men will have the experience of a lifetime,” Zeigler said. “We’re going to go try to make those the best we can, those memories.”

The Tribune will be covering the event live from the Spokane Convention Center. Follow @dantegeoffrey on Twitter for updates throughout each day and Facebook.com/powelltribune for nightly recaps.

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