NJCAA championships set for Rochester beginning February 24

By Mark Krug NJCAA

The 2012 NJCAA Wrestling Championships takes place Friday, Feb. 24th and concludes on Saturday, Feb. 25th at the UCR Regional Sports Center in Rochester, Minn., with 268 wrestlers from 43 two-year colleges across the country competing for both team and individual honors. The tournament returns to Rochester after rotating to both Spokane, Wash., and Des Moines, Iowa the previous two years. This season marks the 13th time the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission has hosted the NJCAA Wrestling Championships.

Action begins at 9:30 a.m. (Central) Friday with first round matches and concludes with 10 championship bouts on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. with the parade of champions.

Saturday’s 10 championship matches will be broadcasted live on NJCAA TV (www.njcaatv.ihigh.com) thanks to the efforts of tournament host Rochester Amateur Sports Commission and iHigh.com – the online broadcasting partner of the NJCAA.

Iowa Central Community College heads into Rochester ranked No. 1 in the latest and final team rankings of the regular season. The Tritons are looking to win the program’s eighth national title and sixth since 2006. ICC won the North Central District team title and has six district champions advancing to Rochester that will look to avenge last year’s fourth place finish in Spokane. The Tritons boast two returning All-Americans with Brandon Wright (133 pounds) and Michael Perez (157 pounds). Wright was third in his division last year while Perez took home fifth place in the 149 pound class a year ago when he competed for Labette (Kan.).

Second-ranked Labette Community College (Kan.) also has six district champions that are expected to give the Cardinals a shot at a national title. LCC took home the team championship at the recent West Central District tournament and finished fifth at nationals a year ago.

Also advancing six district champions to Rochester this week will be third-ranked Lincoln College (Ill.). The Lynx finished in a tie for sixth place a year ago with in-state rival Harper College (Ill.) and took second behind the Hawks at the Central District Championship two weeks ago.

Defending national champion Clackamas Community College (Ore.) has a strong chance to repeat as five Cougar wrestlers won individual titles at the West District Championship tournament. Four of those wrestlers have finished in the top five at nationals in their respective weight classes, including Austin Morehead who took home second place in the 184-pound division last year wrestling for Rend Lake College (Ill.).

Northwest College (Wyo.) looks to improve upon its eighth place finish from a year ago in Spokane with a solid lineup this year led by 174 pounder Keith Cast. The sophomore was runner-up a year ago and is the top returning All-American in the weight class. The Trappers were second to Labette at the West Central qualifier.

Additional information on the 2012 NJCAA Wrestling Championships can be found at www.rochsports.org/2012njcaawrestling.php and official brackets for each weight class can be found on trackwrestling.com.

Click here to view the final team and individual weight class rankings heading into Rochester.

2012 NJCAA Wrestling Championships weight by weight overview:

125 lbs.
Steven Romero from Highline Community College (Wash.) is the favorite as he enters Rochester as the top-ranked wrestler in this class. Romero finished third last season, defeating Jeff Vesta from Neosho County Community College (Kan.), who will also be in this year’s tournament field, in the consolation finals. Garrett Jones from Labette is the other lone wrestler in this division that finished in the top eight a year ago.

133 lbs.
Brandon Wright of Iowa Central finished third a year ago and has been the top ranked wrestler in this division all season. Martin Gonzales of Clackamas is also expected to go deep into the bracket. He was defeated by Wright a year ago in the third/fourth place match. Gonzalez is ranked second in this weight class.

141 lbs.
Cody Randall of Clackamas has an edge in this division after taking home fifth place a year ago. He is also ranked second in this division heading into nationals. Iowa Central’s Terrel Wilbourn and Jordan Basks of Labette have both been ranked high within this weight class all year. Basks won the West Central title while Wilbourn slipped up at districts and enters Rochester as a wildcard selection. Wismit Moinius of North Iowa Area Community College (8th place in 133 lbs. last year) and Colby Community College’s (Kan.) Jace Campbell (8th place in 141 lbs. last year) should also compete well into the winner’s bracket. Yet Ethan Raley of Lincoln is ranked No.1 overall in this division and recently won the Central District crown.

149 lbs.
Sean Turner of Muskegon Community College (Mich.) and Mark Marianovich of Lincoln are two of the top returners from last year in the 149-pound division. Turner took home fourth place at 141 pounds while Marianovich was fourth in the 149 weight class. Vinny DiGravio from Mercyhurst North East (Pa.), who was the national runner-up in the 141-pound class last year, also has a chance to go deep into this bracket. Iowa Central’s Edwin Cooper enters Rochester with the No. 1 ranking in this weight class and won the North Central District title.

157 lbs.
Justin Pencook of Gloucester County College (N.J.), Eric Telford of Muskegon, and Michael Perez of Iowa Central are the lone returning wrestlers that had impressive showings in Spokane a year ago. Pencock took third place in the weight class while Telford finished sixth. Perez was fifth in the 149 pound class a year ago when he wrestled for Labette. Pencock is the top-ranked individual in this division, while Ryan Zumwalt of Northwest and Devin Aguirre of Labette are second and third.

165 lbs.
The lone weight class not featuring a returning All-American, district champions Ethan Orr of Labette, Colin Hewett of Iowa Central and Bernie Dupuy of Northwest are the top three ranked wrestlers in the 165-pound class heading into Rochester.

Northwest’s Keith Cast is one of many favorites in the 174-pound division after he finished second to Jesse Nielson of North Idaho last year in Spokane. Cast has been highly ranked in the weight class all season. However, Cast was defeated by Labette’s Ray Hall in the finals of the West Central District tournament. Hall finished fourth at nationals last year competing in the 184-pound class. Harper College’s (Ill.) Khari Washington is another returning All-American in this division after taking fourth place at Spokane a year ago. The latest individual rankings North Central District champ Jahwon Akui of Iowa Central as the top wrestler in this class.

184 lbs.
Austin Morehead of Clackamas finished second nationally in this division last season when he competing for Rend Lake College (Ill.). Morehead has been the top-ranked wrestler in this class all season. Lincoln’s Matt Dwyer is ranked second and John McArdle of Middlesex County College (N.J.) is third. Both Dwyer and McArdle won district titles earlier this month. McArdle also finished eighth nationally in this weight class last season.

197 lbs.
Lincoln’s Michael Johnson took home seventh place last year in this division and is the top-ranked individual heading into Rochester. Kolton Kersten of Iowa Central is ranked second and was the champion of the North Central District. Rudi Burtschi of Clackamas is also expected to make a good showing in Rochester. In 2009 he finished fourth in this weight class competing for North Idaho College.

285 – Hwt.
Ryan Steverson of Muskegon is the lone wrestler in the heavyweight division that finished in the top eight in Spokane last year. Lance Moore of Niagara County Community College (N.Y.) and Curtus Blaydes of Harper are at the top of this division in the final individual rankings. Both won district titles two weeks ago.

The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) is the governing body of two-year college athletics, offering athletic and academic opportunities to college students. It is the second largest national intercollegiate athletic organization in the United States with over 500 member schools in 43 states. Each year over 60,000 student-athletes compete in one of 28 different sports and the organization sponsors 48 national championship events and nine football bowl games. For more visit http://www.njcaa.org.

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