It wasn’t easy in Des Moines, Wash. It certainly won’t be easy in Des Moines, Iowa.
The North Idaho College wresting team, fresh from winning its 10th consecutive Region 18 title on Feb. 13 at Highline Community College near Seattle, goes for its 14th national title at the NJCAA tournament this weekend at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Iowa.
The fifth-ranked Cardinals will be underdogs. No. 1 Iowa Central, which beat NIC 26-18 a month ago and will have the benefit of local fan support, is a slight favorite. It should be pressed by No. 3 Labette, No. 4 Northwest (Wyo.) and possibly No. 2 St. Louis-Meramec, though NIC coach Pat Whitcomb doesn’t know much about the Magic.
Whitcomb is familiar with the other contenders. NIC split with Northwest and lost to Labette 21-13.
“I still give Iowa Central the nod because they’ve won the last four (NJCAA titles),” Whitcomb said. “We won four of 10 matches versus Labette. Iowa Central, we gave up a couple of pins and lose by eight. We’re probably a step behind going in, just looking at the rankings. I’d like to have one more guy in there.”
NIC will take eight wrestlers, including five regional champs, as the Cardinals won the title by 19.5 points over second-place and sixth-ranked Clackamas. They’ll be without a potential All-American (top-eight placing at nationals) in Eric Luna, a freshman 149-pounder who quit the team prior to regionals.
The Cardinals are stout in the upper weights, led by No. 1-ranked Kamron Jackson at 197, No. 1 Roger McCovey at 285 and No. 2 Celic Bell at 184. Lakeland High grad Kyle McCrite is No. 6 at 125 and Jesse Nielsen, a Coeur d’Alene High product, is No. 9 at 165. Steve Vasquez is No. 8 at 174. Joey Pieroti was ranked most of the season at 157 but enters the NJCAA unranked. McKray Jones is not ranked at 149.
“We can score big points (in the upper weights), but they’re going to need some help,” Whitcomb said. “I feel good about this crew and how hard they’ve worked.”
Whitcomb has added motivation to stop Iowa Central’s championship run at four. Four schools have won an NJCAA-record four titles in a row, including NIC from 1985-88. Whitcomb was a two-time individual champ for the Cards in 1986-87.
“A lot of what we do here is based on tradition,” Whitcomb said. “You’re in a long line of tradition. We have more team titles, more All-Americans, more national champions. We don’t want to give up that record to anybody.”
Whitcomb anticipates the points being spread out with the eventual champion likely having three to four finalists and five to six All-Americans.
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