The Trappers got off to a slow start during Friday’s opening round and headed into Saturday in third place 10.5 points behind Clackamas Community College. Head coach Jim Zeigler said Saturday morning to take second place his wrestlers would need to “basically win out.”
And they basically did.
Northwest won its first seven matches (six by fall) and finished Saturday with a 15-3 overall record and 2-1 record in the finals.
The Trappers placed seven All-Americans and scored 149 team points (including a 20.5-point swing) to overtake Clackamas (139 points). Northeastern Oklahoma A&M won the tournament with 169 points.
Loveless won the 141-pound title with a 5-0 record on the back of three pins and two major decision victories.
A 9-0 victory over Northeastern Oklahoma’s Michael Williams in Saturday evening’s title bout put a bow on what has already been a successful career for the Payson, Utah, native.
Zeigler said he expected Loveless to walk out of the Spokane Convention Center as a national champion.
“I knew it before he walked onto the stage,” Zeigler said. “Just looking into the guy’s eyes, I could tell.”
Moments before Loveless walked on the mat his coach said to him, “I just feel good.”
“So do I, let’s go,” Loveless answered.
Loveless was a national runner-up at the 2013 national tournament in Des Moines, Iowa and he returned this season to complete some unfinished business.
“Last year’s experience helped a lot,” Loveless said.
The champ said he overcame early tournament jitters on his way to the title.
“Before the tournament I was kind of nervous but after my first match I let it out,” Loveless said.
He picked the right time to let it out, as the championship match on the elevated stage under the spotlights was his final contest. Recently engaged and headed back to Utah to continue his education, Loveless has decided to move on to the next chapter of his life.
Loveless was awarded the “Sportsman of the Year” award following the tournament’s action.
While Loveless left no question about who was the best in his class, Coleman’s title depended on a last-second answer.
Coleman took down Colby College’s Calvin Ochs as time expired in the third period to win the 165-pound title, but Coleman’s two points weren’t initially granted by the referee and it looked as if the match was headed to overtime.
Coleman and the Northwest corner thought the takedown occurred before the clock read all zeros, and Zeigler asked the officials to review the boy’s final moments.
“I felt his butt hit and then I heard the clock go off,” Coleman said. “So I kind of knew I had it.”
Coleman paced around the mat while both referees huddled over an iPad that was positioned to catch the wrestlers in the foreground, and the clock in the back.
The head official finally turned his eyes from the screen to Zeigler. He nodded at the coach, who smiled knowingly, before raising his fist and extending two fingers into the air.
“I knew I just won the national title,” Coleman said. “I was just waiting for them to confirm it, and they did.”
The Mesa, Ariz., native jumped into the arms of assistant coach Bernie Dupuy after officially winning the title he always believed was his.
“I told myself I was going to be a national champion,” Coleman said. “When we got here on Wednesday, right as we got off the bus I remember telling myself, ‘I already won it, I just got to go get my medal now.’”
Ochs scored an escape in the second period and Coleman was awarded a point for riding time, which had the score 1-1 when the third period’s horn sounded.
Freshman Jon Wixom, who came into the tournament ranked ninth in the nation, was the national runner-up at 197 pounds.
“I feel like I peaked at the right time,” Wixom said.
Wixom was 4-1 with two pins (including a semifinal pin over No. 2 Ihoughama Odigizuwa of Clackamas) and two decisions.
North Idaho’s Vj Giulio pinned Wixom in the first round of the title bout, but the loss will serve as the final lesson in what Wixom said was an educational first year. Wixom, physically gifted and willing to learn, had an uneven first half of the season, but excelled when volunteer coach Mak Jones entered the Northwest’s wrestling room
Jones, a former Trapper and Powell High School wrestler, began helping Wixom in December, and coach Zeigler noted a marked improvement in Wixom’s performance from that point on.
Wixom continued to absorb the experience at nationals, where he said he learned how to better prepare himself for upcoming matches.
With a year of college wrestling under his headgear, Wixom said he feels more comfortable with the college competition, which he said is much tougher than what he faced in high school.
“High school kids would just lay there, you could pause and rest,” Wixom said.
But there’s no in-match breaks in collegiate wrestling, and Wixom said he plans to continue his work in the offseason.
Sophomore Jeff McCormick, who recovered from an emergency appendectomy just in time to compete at the NJCAA West District Tournament Feb. 15, battled fatigue and seven opponents to claim third place at 149 pounds.
“It was a pretty rough, long day,” McCormick said.
McCormick suffered a first-round loss but came back to win six straight matches, including a 3-2 decision over Gloucester Community College’s Daniel Pak in the consolation finals.
McCormick shook off a momentary daze from hitting his head and came back from down 2-0 to win the third-place match. It was a remarkable ending for a college student that was minutes away from death less than two months ago.
“I don’t think I could ask for much more considering everything,” McCormick said.
Miles Nixon went 5-1 and took third at 184 pounds.
Nixon, ranked fifth in the nation, met Labette’s Tyler White, ranked third, in the third-place match.
Nixon got a takedown late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead entering the bout’s final frame.
White tied things up with a takedown of his own but another Nixon takedown followed by a three-point near fall wrapped up the match for the Trapper grappler, who won 9-1.
Nixon battled through a painful elbow injury that requires two to three months of rest (or Tommy John surgery) to heal.
“He only has so many matches in him, and he didn’t want to waste any,” Zeigler said of Nixon.
Like Loveless, Nixon is poised to leave behind the rigorous routine of an athlete for the life of a family man. Zeigler said Nixon “wanted to win his last wrestling match.”
Sophomore Cody Vichi went 4-2 on his way to a fourth-place finish at 125 pounds. He won by two falls, a major decision and a decision.
Vichi’s progress in the consolation bracket earned the Trappers 18.5 team points, tied for fifth-most on the team.
Sophomore Cole McArthur took fifth at 174 pounds. McArthur was upset in his first round match but was able to go 6-1 the rest of the way to place and scored 14.5 team points.
McArthur said he focused on “just one match at a time after that first loss. Coach told me to keep my head up and keep going at it.”
The Ronan, Mont., native said he had to get his head in the right place to help his team.
“I just kept thinking that if I get myself in order the team will get the points,” McArthur said.
Freshman Kaelen Loveless went 2-2, with his final loss coming in controversial fashion. The 157-pounder lost his final match by a 6-4 decision on Friday, after a pin was disallowed because the referees ruled the clock had run out in the second period after conferring with the scorer’s table. The option to review via the iPads was not available until Saturday. Kaelen Loveless still scored four team points.
Sophomore Ben Jorgensen was knocked out of the 133-pound quarterfinals and lost his first consolation match to finish the tournament at 1-2 with three team points.
Freshman heavyweight Gabe Escobedo was pinned in his only two matches of the tournament.