Call it the Western region tag team.
In part because of a spectacular finish by North Idaho College national champion Jamelle Jones, and with a little help from Clackamas Community College two-time national champion Tyrell Fortune, the Cougars and host Cardinals put a one-two finish at the National Junior College Athletic Association wrestling championships.
NIC, with two late wins ending a three-year individual title drought, leapfrogged two teams into second place with 98.5 points, finishing second to Region 18 rival Clackamas’ 105 Saturday night at the tournament in the Spokane Convention Center.
The Cougars’ win comes on the 40th anniversary of their last national team title. Tim Williams, who won his first of two individual titles that year, was on hand to watch the 285-pound Fortune repeat.
Fortune’s win over an Iowa Central wrestler helped assure the Cardinals of second place in the tournament after Jones recorded a pin at 197 pounds. It was also his second national title.
The Cardinals reached the 174-pound weight class needing a lift and Coeur d’Alene product Jesse Neilson gave it to them. Neilson scored five third-period points to win 5-3..
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Nielson, a two-time high school finalist and state champ his senior year as a Viking. “I try to wear guys out and grind it out. I guess I’m the first Coeur d’Alene national champion.”
Sixth last year, he won his way through the weight class with close victories by scoring late using what he called a slide-by move and solid positioning. His win moved NIC closer to second.
“What a hard-working guy,” NIC coach Pat Whitcomb said. “That’s his reward.”
Jones put them over the top with six points when defending 197-pound champ Walker Clarke from Labette sunk a deep takedown try. Jones’ chin whip put the veteran on his back 42 seconds into the second period and it was over.
“Every one of my practice partners has felt it,” Jones said. “He didn’t know about it. He had some slick moves and came in with a super duck under and it was instant. I hit it.”
Whitcomb marveled at the effort by the tournament’s outstanding wrestler, then addressed the team outcome on home turf.
“What a way to end it for all the guys,” Whitcomb said. “We wanted to take first. That’s a disappointment, but I tell you what, it’s fun. I’m very proud of them. Hats off to (coach) Josh (Rhoden) and Clackamas, they came here and wrestled.”
Fortune was one of six Clackamas wrestlers finishing among the top five in their respective weight classes to outlast six other contending schools.
He reflected on being a two-time champ, after beating a wrestler from Iowa Central, the only team that could have conceivably passed North Idaho for second.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Fortune said. “After doing it the first year, I knew I had to push myself this year and make sure nobody could catch me. The team title means everything to us.”
The morning semifinals didn’t go particularly well for Clackamas when three of five lost during the second day of the event.
Before the two finalists took to the mat, the Cougars had secured the victory with four wrestlers placing third, fourth or fifth while building a 13.5-point lead.
The school, located in Oregon City, Ore., was ranked No. 1 nationally, had ended a 15-year string of North Idaho College Region 18 wrestling titles, and placed first in a national dual-match tournament. They capped the year with the biggest prize of all.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Rhoden said. “I know it’s a cliché a bit, but all the hard work has paid off. We’re finally holding up our end of the deal as North Idaho’s rival. The kids believed in what we’re doing and we got to the finish line.”
Embodying the team effort was 184-pounder Brett Sanchez. Seventh in nationals at 197 a year ago, Sanchez lost his opener 7-0, then came back through the consolation rounds with six straight victories to pile up points and place third.
There was one other two-time champion during the tournament, 149 pound Victor DeJesus of Iowa Lakes.
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