MIAMI — For the seventh straight year, Northeastern A&M will send all 10 of its wrestlers to the NJCAA National Championship.
Will the Norse be able to maintain their run of bringing home a team title in even-numbered years as well?
“I think we’ve got a good team — it’s just hard telling how good we are,” Norse coach Joe Renfro said. “We're going to have to have a good two days on Friday and Saturday on March 6 and March 7.
“It’s not going to be the best team that wins the national tournament; it’s the toughest team. I think we are pretty tough. We are gritty and we proved that in the finals. Now if we just keep rolling, we will be fine.”
NEO was first in 2014, fifth in 2015, first in 2016, third in 2017, first in 2018 and second a year ago.
“Like I told the group, it's a good last building block on the foundation before we start building the house this week and go to the national tournament,” Renfro said.
“It looks good, but we’ve definitely got some work to do. Fortunately, we’ve got a few days to prep then we’ll hit the road and see what we can do, put our actions in motion.”
The Norse crowned six individual champs Saturday at the West Central Qualifier here — Mike Mascarenas, 133 pounds; Blake Gonzalez, 141; Jon Trowbridge, 157; Jayden Smith, 174; Colben Dodson, 197, and Dan Baker, 285 — and had a runner-up finish, two fourths and a sixth.
This is the third time they’ve had six West Central winners in the program’s modern era.
NEO had seven gold medalists in 2016 and 2017 and six in 2014 and 2018.
Luke Montgomery was second at 125 and Scott Radke and Joshua Molinar, fourth at 165 and 184, respectively.
Shawn Tillman actually placed seventh at 149 pounds, but romped to a 15-2 major decision against Tristin Hauk of Cloud County in a challenge match to land a spot in the national tournament.
Tillman dropped a 7-4 decision to Jett Merlo of Neosho County for seventh, then bounced back against Hauk.
“I think he let the nerves get to him a little bit,” Renfro said. “Once he realized the other guys were going to pull through for him doing their part, I think he stepped up a little bit in a couple matches.”
NEO again rolled to the team title with 183.5 points while Cowley (Kansas) Community College was second at 135.0.
Rounding out the field were Northwest Kansas Tech, 120.0; Pratt (Kansas) Community College, 109.0; Colby (Kansas) Community College, 106.5; Labette (Kansas) Community College, 88.5; Neosho County (Kansas) Community College, 81.5; Barton (Kansas) Community College, 67.5; Cloud County (Kansas) Community College, 66.0, and Arkansas Baptist, 15.0.
Trowbridge got the deciding points in a 5-4 decision against Liam Corbette of Labette with six seconds left.
Smith also won a nail biter, getting a takedown with eight seconds left to claim a 6-4 decision against Tyson Villalpando of Neosho County.
“That’s what you’ve got to have in order to be successful. You’ve got to have those guys that have heart and keep fighting,” Renfro said.
Mascarenas logged a 9-0 major decision against former Norseman Jack Karstetter, now at Labette.
Karstetter had placed seventh for NEO in the national tournament in 2018.
Gonzalez rolled to a 16-0 technical fall over Rush Fannon of Colby.
Dodson pinned Bryce Westmoreland of Pratt at 4:52.
Baker romped to a 14-6 major decision against Cowley’s Tyler Shannon.
Montgomery lost 6-2 to Michael Spangler of Pratt after getting a technical fall and major decision in his first two matches.
“To be seeded sixth in the tournament then pulling out second, he did really well,” Renfro said of Montgomery.
Radke dropped a 12-1 major decision against Andrew DeArmond of Barton.
Molinar fell 7-1 to Joey Ewait of Barton.
Complete tournament results can be found at www.trackwrestling.com.