With a win in the heavyweight title match of the Rocky Mountain District Tournament earlier this month, Northwest College wrestler Daniel Jordan found himself the top-seeded Trapper heading into this …
With a win in the heavyweight title match of the Rocky Mountain District Tournament earlier this month, Northwest College wrestler Daniel Jordan found himself the top-seeded Trapper heading into this weekend’s NJCAA National Tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Not too shabby for an athlete who didn’t take up the sport until his sophomore year in high school.
“I’m feeling pretty good; I think I’ll do more than what was expected of me at the start of the year — hopefully turn some heads,” Jordan said. “My experience isn’t really that extensive, but I’m looking forward to proving people wrong.”
Jordan is the No. 8 seed going into the tournament, and head coach Jim Zeigler said he thinks the freshman from Cedar City, Utah, will surprise some people.
“Heavyweight is a really tough weight right now, and Big Dan is going to have as good a chance as anybody to get on the podium,” Zeigler said of Jordon. “He’s seeded eighth, which is the lowest spot on the podium, so he’ll just try to climb the ladder and get a little higher.”
Trapper teammates joining Jordan at nationals will be: Boburjon Berdiyorov, who took second at districts at 133 pounds; Yair Moran, the runner-up at 174 pounds; two-time national qualifier Palmer Schafer at 149 pounds, who earned a wild card bid after finishing third; and Porter Fox at 184 pounds, who also earned a wild card.
Lander native Schafer is a returning national qualifier, having competed in the tournament last season and compiling a 2-2 record. The sophomore finished third at districts, but because of his status as a returning national qualifier, he was granted a wild card bid to continue his season.
“I’m pretty excited; I saw some good success the first year,” Schafer said. “Since I’m up a weight [from last season], I think the competition will be a little tougher. But I’m looking forward to rising to the occasion.”
Fox — this year’s winner of the Apodaca Award and a wild card recipient at 149 pounds — said getting to nationals is the culmination of what has turned out to be a special season.
“I’m really excited to go; it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to be there. I didn’t have the best season, but I was able to keep fighting through it. I’m glad to be here, and I’m ready to go, gonna give it everything I’ve got.”
Moran, who battled back in districts to take second at 174 pounds, said he’s looking forward to facing off with the best wrestlers in the nation.
“It will be a good test to see where I’m at,” he said. “The season went pretty well. I took a couple of losses here and there, but I qualified for nationals, so it’s been worth it.”
Zeigler said the five qualifiers have spent the last week-and-a-half fine-tuning their skills with an eye toward making some noise on the NJCAA’s biggest stage.
“I think the mindset of the kids is relaxed right now; I don’t think they’re wound too tight,” Zeigler said. “We’ve been keeping steady workouts — there’s a lot more freedom to our workouts right now. We did the hard work in December and January; right now it’s just a matter of staying healthy, working on our timing, things like that. Just concentrating on feeling good.”
One of the things Zeigler has done differently this year is bring in a number of next season’s recruits to work out with the national qualifiers. The longtime coach asked his team to embrace the idea as a means of showing potential Trappers what the team is all about.
“We had three recruits in on Thursday and Friday of last week, and we had one in on Monday of this week, so we’ve had four of our top recruits in over the last several days,” Zeigler said. “Doing workouts around the recruits has given them a taste of how we do things and what the Johnson Fitness Center has to offer, which is just a fantastic facility. I think seeing our kids up and early and training for nationals, I think it’s inspiring to our recruits.”
In turn, working with the recruits helps the current wrestlers see beyond this season — and that a bright future exists for NWC wrestling.
“That alone excites my guys, and inspires them to do well now,” Zeigler said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to have some new guys coming in next year, and I want to go show them what I can do this weekend.’ It drives their commitment.”
For Zeigler, who’s been taking wrestlers to the NJCAA National Tournament since before many of his current crew could walk, it’s hard to quantify just what the experience means to him.
“I’m excited for a variety of reasons — just the excitement of the national tournament and the experience that these young men are going to have,” Zeigler said. “The things that it does for them, to have that opportunity just to compete at the national level, it does great things for their confidence. It’s part of their education, and I love that they get that opportunity to grow and develop.”
And if a few of his wrestlers can defy the odds and earn a place on the podium?
“If we can come home with a little hardware, even better,” the coach said, laughing.