COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — OK. It’s time to start the discussion.
Can Northeastern A&M continue its trend of winning NJCAA national wrestling championships?
The Golden Norse will find out starting Friday, March 6 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.
“If you had asked me two months ago, I would have said it was pretty far fetched. Now, the guys are in a good mood, in good humor and they seem to be intense, but not too intense,” coach Joe Renfro said. “We need some of our guys to step up.”
NEO was first in 2014, fifth in 2015, first in 2016, third in 2017, first in 2018 and second a year ago.
Top-ranked Clackamas (Oregon) Community College spoiled NEO’s hopes of avoiding another odd year miss.
The Cougars, with two individual winners, two runners-up, two thirds, two fifths and a seventh, rolled up a tournament record 176.5 points. NEO was second with 152.
Northeastern A&M had been the previous record-holder with 169 points in 2014.
The Norse did crown two individual champs with Boo Dryden at 133 pounds and heavyweight Antonio Andrede.
They would have had an unprecedented third or fourth winner, but Mason Naifeh and Kendon Lee were second at 125 and 149.
This marks the seventh straight year NEO has qualified all 10 wrestlers and have won the West Central Qualifier.
The Norse have five wrestlers who are seeded in the top four at their respective weights: Mikey Mascarenas, second at 133; Blake Gonzalez, second at 141; Jayden Smith, sixth at 174; Corben Dodson, fourth at 197, and Dan Baker, third at 285.
Mascarenas, Gonzalez, Jon Trowbridge, Smith, Dodson and Baker were individual qualifier champs, Luke Montgomery finished second, and Scott Radke and Josh Molinar wound up fourth.
Shawn Tillman squeezed in after winning a challenge match at 149.
“I think they (seedings) worked out as well as they could,” Renfro said. “Obviously you don't want to wrestle anybody very high until the finals. Our draws aren’t too bad. They could be a lot worse, obviously, but they can always be a lot better, too.
“I think the seeds are in our favor as of right now.”
First round pairings Friday include
125 Montgomery vs. Chris Romero, Minnesota West Community & Technical College
133 Mascarenas vs. Scott Torres, Henry Ford (Michigan) College
141 Gonzalez vs. Nelson Roberts, Ancilla (Indiana) College
149 Tillman vs. No. 4 seed Martin Margolis III, Clackamas
157 Trowbridge vs. Trent Myre, Muskegon (Michigan) Community College
165 Radke vs. Christian Robinson, Niagara County (New York) Community College
174 Smith vs. Ikeena Unachukwa, Union Center (New Jersey) College
184 Molinar vs. Hayden Wempen, Northeastern (Colorado) Junior College, and
197 Dodson vs. Michael Nykoriak, St. Clair County (Michigan) Community College
Baker drew a bye and will face either Tyler Hill of Muskegon, or John Noll of Rochester (Minnesota) Community and Technical College, in the Round of 8.
Renfro likes the fact that the Norsemen are battle tested.
Where most of the schools had a schedule loaded with duals, the bulk of NEO’s action has come in open tournaments.
“We’ve had guys that have wrestled 45 to 50 matches. We’re tested,” Renfro said. “That’s why the schedule that we do. I would much prefer to get beat by an OSU guy than I would another juco guy. I am not saying we’re not going to get beat by a juco guy and I’m not saying its OK to lose to an OSU guy, but we’re going to wrestle those guys. We’re going to see the best we can and do the best that we can, then see how the cards fall.”
Competition begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday with three additional round following.
Then on Saturday, starting at 10:30 a.m., will be championship semifinals and consolation quarterfinals.
Third, fifth and seventh place matches will be at 1:15 p.m. with the championship finals at 7 p.m.