There’s no place like home. Region 18 wrestlers discovered that on the first day of the National Junior College Athletic Association national championships being contested at the Spokane Convention Center.
A sizeable crowd watched as North Idaho secured five All-Americans, four of them semifinalists, and is in a spirited multi-team title challenge led by Region 18 rival Clackamas Community College.
“It’s a typical national tournament,” said NIC coach Pat Whitcomb. “It’s a meat grinder, and (Friday) is a long, long day for the kids. All this does is set you up. (Today) is a new day.”
Clackamas has five semifinalists, the most after one day of competition, and 68 points to the Cardinals’ 66.5. Last year’s top two finishers, Harper College from Illinois (61) and Iowa Central (63), are right behind and, like NIC, have four semifinalists.
“It’s great,” said Cardinals 125-pound sophomore Kyle McCrite, who prepped at Lakeland in Rathdrum and is enjoying the rare close-to-home event. “All my family and friends can watch. The atmosphere is a lot different from when you’re traveling.”
McCrite earned a first-round bye for his regional title and third-place national finish a year ago, when he had to come back through four consolation matches.
This year he was more efficient with a pair of comfortable victories to move to within one win of a title shot. His first was 13-1, and in the quarterfinals, he was on his feet to start all three rounds, securing takedowns in each, including recovery from bad position for his final two points in a 6-1 win.
“I learned from that,” McCrite said of his experience the previous year. “I wrestled a little smarter and learned I needed to shoot.”
He and Jamelle Jones, a 2008 national champ who competes at 197 pounds, had perhaps the easiest day among NIC wrestlers. Jones won by pin and piled up double figures in a 15-7 quarterfinal win.
But Cardinals semifinalists Jeremy Bommarito (157) and Jesse Nielsen (174) were tested, at least a little bit. Bommarito won by 15-point technical fall and a quick pin, but survived just 4-2 in his quarterfinal match.
“I knew he was a tough opponent,” Bommarito said. “But I saw my teammates placing and actually felt better about this match. It’s a great feeling being a first-time All-American in college and the first one out of my high school.”
Nielsen, following a first-round pin, pulled out a 3-1 overtime victory and got an escape with 7 seconds remaining to forge a 5-4 victory, thanks to a point for his one-minute advantage in riding time.
“It shouldn’t have been that close,” Nielsen said. “I didn’t wrestle good, but I got the win and that’s what counts.”
NIC 285-pounder Matthew Foxworthy lost 2-0 in the quarterfinals and, with three other NIC wrestlers, had to came through the wrestle-back rounds.
Only one, freshman 165 pounder and two-time University High state champion Jake Mason, survived. Mason rallied for a 4-2 decision to assure a top-eight finish.
“Awesome,” he said of his All-America status. “This is tougher than high school, that’s for sure. But I have to keep working and get points for the team.”
The tournament’s four returning national champions, including Jones, remain in the title hunt. Victor DeJesus of Iowa Lakes (149), Walker Clarke of Labette, in the same 197-pound weight as NIC’s Jones, and Tyrell Fortune (285) from Clackamas, all are seeking repeats.
Competition concludes today with the semifinals scheduled for 10:30 a.m. The final session begins with awards presentations at 6 p.m.