The 14th-ranked Trappers placed six wrestlers in the top four, and were led by sophomore John-David Henderson, who won the 149-pound title.
NWC head coach Jim Zeigler has had a first-hand view of Henderson’s growth since his inconsistent freshman season.
“He’s in a position where he took the beating last year doing things the way he’d always done it,” Zeigler said. “And as he’s come around he’s learned, he’s doing things much differently this year.
“I know how much talent he has, and how much he struggled as a freshman far from home. Now it’s starting to pay off for him.”
Freshmen Cameron Braden (157 pounds) and Heber Shepherd (184) were the runners-up in their respective weight classes, while sophomores Eduardo Penha (133) and Matt Schmidt (141) and freshman Justin Polkowske (157) placed fourth.
Zeigler called the fifth-place team finish “disappointing,” and added that “on a better day we could have been second.”
Henderson needed only two matches to claim his title. He opened with a pin of host Highline’s Antonio Nieves in the semifinals before he won his bracket with a 7-2 decision over Chris Garcia of No. 3 Clackamas.
“He beat a good kid,” Zeigler said of Henderson’s title match. “It was a really close bout, then in the third period John-David took off.
“In the end he had a fairly comfortable lead. He could have sat on it, but he scored again just to let him know he was dominant.”
Prior to Northwest’s departure to the West District Championships in Des Moines, Washington, Zeigler said a handful of wrestlers had the potential to finish anywhere from second to fourth.
Braden and Shepherd both “did their job” to advance to the finals and finish one win away from another NWC individual title.
Braden, ranked seventh in the nation at 157 pounds, opened with an 8-5 decision over Southwestern Oregon’s Leroy Santos in the quarterfinals, and advanced to the title bout with a 6-5 decision against Ulisses Lopez of Western Wyoming in the semis.
Clackamas’ John Leal beat Braden 5-2 in the finals.
Shepherd received a bye in the quarterfinals before a 7-1 decision over Southwestern
Oregon’s Tucker Cook sent him to the finals.
Again, it was Clackamas, this time in the form of No. 3 Haszell West, that denied the Trappers another title with a 5-2 decision.
Penha, ranked fifth at 133 pounds, lost 8-5 to Highline’s Andrew Ramirez in the semis following a quarterfinal bye. He bounced back with a 7-2 win over North Idaho’s Isaac Aguilar in the consolation semifinals, but was pinned in the third place match by Clackamas’ Michael Knoblauch.
Zeigler said the 141-pound bracket was “a very, very tough weight” this year, and the fourth-place finish will make Penha’s route more difficult at the national tournament.
“It makes it difficult in that it’s a tougher draw,” Zeigler said. He’ll have to beat a one-seed.”
It’s not an ideal path to wrestle deep into the tournament, but Zeigler said Penha could turn it into a positive.
“He can get them (a top-seeded wrestler) out of the way and then that next round not have that tough a match,” Zeigler said.
Schmidt went 1-2 at 141 pounds, though both losses came against Western’s Jaydon Rogers.
Schmidt lost an 18-3 technical fall to Rogers in the third-place bout, two rounds after dropping a 7-2 decision in the quarterfinals. In between, Schmidt beat Highline’s Cole Morrison 11-5.
Polkowske needed four matches to take fourth place at 165 pounds. He advanced to the semifinals with a 12-6 win against Oscar Cuevas-Acosta of Western, before being bounced to the consolations via a pin to Southwestern Oregon’s Lucius Van Rensburg. An 8-0 major decision versus Highline’s Volodymr Kalinin sent Polkowske to the third-place bout, where he lost an 8-3 decision to Brendan Harkey of Clackamas.
Zeigler was proud of what Polkowske accomplished as a freshman, and believes there is more potential to be reached.
“He has good abilities, his problem is he makes mistakes, he makes very costly errors,” Zeigler said. “When he stops doing that — and that’s kind of where John-David was last year — he’ll do all right.”
No. 3 Clackamas won the West Region with 149.5 points, followed by Southwestern Oregon (109.5) and Highline (101.5).
The Trappers leave for the NJCAA National Wrestling Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday.
Zeigler said he will study the potential paths of Penha and Henderson, while focusing on self-improvement for the other four national qualifiers.
“I know what they’re capable of, I know where they stand against the rest of the country,” Zeigler said of Penha and Henderson.
While placing fifth in a six-team tournament is not the standard for Trapper wrestling, Zeigler said the program’s youth and direction is trending upward.
“We were fifth, but it’s a two-year process,” he said. “We were a freshman lineup except for those three kids (Schmidt, Henderson and Penha). It’s a two-year process, we’re working it.”