National champ: Fayzullaev does it again

Eight Trappers earn three medals, ninth place

By Steve Moseley, Special to the Tribune
Posted 3/7/24

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA – The Northwest College Trappers’ top wrestler left Iowa last weekend with a second consecutive national title, this time at 184 pounds.

The Trapper …

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National champ: Fayzullaev does it again

Eight Trappers earn three medals, ninth place


COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA – The Northwest College Trappers’ top wrestler left Iowa last weekend with a second consecutive national title, this time at 184 pounds.

The Trapper double-dipper’s full moniker is Azizbek Fayzullaev from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. But he is known universally in his wide circle of teammates, coaches, competitors and friends as simply, Aziz.

He led coach Jim Zeigler’s squad in tournament scoring with a powerhouse run to his second title after an undefeated season last year at 174 pounds.

The Trappers parlayed a second place by heavyweight Cody Pinkerton and fourth from Orrin Jackson, plus clutch team points elsewhere on the roster, to finish a lofty No. 9 in the nation.

Northwest College scored 82.5 points. Western Wyoming repeated as national champion with 161 points.

The NJCAA National Wrestling Championships played out Friday and Saturday last week at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Fayzullaev’s status as the No.1 seed earned him a first-round bye. From there he wrestled his way to the championship spotlight match with two pins on either end of a technical fall, then won a decision 8-3 in the semis.

For the title the gifted Trapper faced, and defeated, a familiar foe in Western Wyoming’s Darion Johnson by a 7-3 score that left little doubt from the beginning what the eventual outcome of the tie breaking season matchup would be.

Fayzullaev said the key to his success this year was to “work hard with my coaches,” adding, “after my first loss, Coach Zeigler explained why I made mistakes and made me come back stronger.”

What’s next for this globally elite athlete?

“D-1,” he answered, meaning NCAA Division I, the top level of intercollegiate sports. Where? Smart money says one ought not bet against the Maize and Blue of the Michigan Wolverines.

“Aziz,” said Zeigler, “had enormous pressure to repeat” his national title which “is one of the hardest things to do,” adding Fayzullaev is due incredible respect for his performance and that his international Trapper “worked his heart out” and “fought a lot of adversity” through the season.

He had knee surgery in October followed by a groin injury in January and a bum shoulder in February.

“We had trouble even properly training him,” said the coach.

Of Pinkerton, Zeigler said the Trapper heavyweight had an amazing season as this year’s prestigious Apodaca Award winner.

“Cody is the heart and soul of our team,” he said. “Cody loves every guy on this team.”

That fact left them all — teammates and coaches alike — all the more inconsolable after the 5-3 loss to CJ Carter of Iowa Western.

“Cody wrestled an incredible match,” said Zeigler. “I think he is the better of the two (finalists), in fact I know he is. The whole arena recognized who wrestled like a champion.”

The former Douglas Bearcat blasted through the field with a bye and a decision, followed by three pins in succession including a blitzkrieg 1:42 stick in the semis.

After some time alone, head buried in his hoodie, Pinkerton was ready to emerge, talk and even conjured a smile.

Offered condolences, he shrugged and said, “I sure tried. I really opened up this weekend and left it out there. I put the weekend in God’s hands. It was God’s will.”

Pinkerton’s love for Northwest College and his teammates is obvious and sincere.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better one,” he said of the program. “Everyone is loving. It is my favorite team to be a part of.”

Saturday morning began with deep disappointment for 165-pounder Jackson, who fell by pin in his semifinal to Pratt’s (Kansas) Cayleb Atkins. He quickly regrouped, rallied and promptly stuck Western Wyoming’s Jayden Luttrell in 3:24.

The victory catapulted Jackson straight off the mat into a big hug from an emotional Zeigler and, later, into the match for third.

There he faced an absolute brute and lost by tech fall to Leo Tukhlynovych from Rochester (Minnesota).

Asked for his thoughts post-match, Jackson quickly answered, “I’m proud of how far I’ve come this year. I wrestled with a lot of love this year. I’ve been surrounded by love out there,” from coaches and teammates alike.

About Northwest College he said, “It’s the best choice I ever made.”

Mutual affection was a theme that ran through all the post tourney comments.

Of Jackson, Zeigler said, “He’s had an amazing journey. I left him home (from nationals) last year because I love him and I told him he needed to feel the pain.”

At the time, Zeigler felt Jackson’s casual attitude on trips and while lounging around with his buddies was getting in the way of buckling down; of sacrificing whatever it takes to win on the mat, even when it hurts.

Zeigler held firm this year, “He’s going to do it. He’s going to have to be a wrestler to come” to Iowa.

And did he ever earn last week’s plane ride.

“Top four this year. It’s an amazing leap,” said Zeigler, bursting with pride for how his Coloradan has matured and buckled down.

“Joyful emotion; he provided that for me” this season, he added.

Other Trapper national qualifiers were Caleb Nadig (149) went  2-2, Jack Lounsbury (157) went 0-2, Jesse Thornton (174) went 0-2, Josh Womack (197) went 2-2 and Kaiden Rubash (133) went 2-2.

The coach said Nadig wrestled hard both days and that he’s really excited about the promise of Rubash and Lounsbury.

“Josh (Womack) had two great wins” that “were huge” in the big picture. Those points loomed large in the Trappers’ run to No. 9 in the country.

In the big picture, Zeigler said, “This was a great weekend for us.”

The team, “Was well prepared and fought every single match. They were everything they’re supposed to be. They trained and worked hard, sacrificed and achieved.”