North Idaho College wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb has wonderful memories of 2003, and it has nothing to do with gas costing about $1.50 per gallon or “Finding Nemo” being popular at the box office.
That year marked the last of NIC’s 13 national championships. The Cardinals have been chasing title No. 14 for a decade and Whitcomb figures they’re “overdue” to make it happen when the NJCAA Tournament begins a two-day run Friday at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines, Iowa.
“This team reminds me a lot of the 2003 team in that we have quite a bit of experience back and great chemistry,” Whitcomb said. “Guys haven’t blinked at working hard and for this time of year we’re extremely healthy.”
By late Friday night, Whitcomb should have a pretty good idea where his team stands. Top- ranked NIC and second-ranked Labette could have five head- to-head clashes by the end of the quarterfinals. Both teams qualified 10 wrestlers.
“If we’re going to win a national title we’re probably going to have to beat some of their guys,” he said.
NIC won the Region 18 title by 23 points over Clackamas, which is ranked fourth. Third-ranked Northwest Wyoming placed third. The Cardinals didn’t wrestle defending national champion Labette during the season.
Brock Banta (125 pounds), Michael Carreon (133), Mead High product Jeremy Golding (149), former U-Hi standout Ryan Zumwalt (165) and VJ Giulio (197) captured regional titles. Carreon and Zumwalt are returning NJCAA All-Americans, along with Jarrett Morrill (141), Kyle Sweedman (174) and Caleb Rivera (184). Moses Lake’s Nico Moreno (157) and Curtis Berger (285) each placed third at regionals.
“If we go out and win some of those close matches, we could have an All-American in every weight,” Whitcomb said. “This is as good a team as we’ve had on paper in a long time, but we have to see how guys are going to react to bad things because they’re going to happen, and so are good things. If you can’t overcome it when something bad happens, you’re not going to be around for the good things.”