NIC wrestlers win 27th Region 18 title


Never underestimate the heart of champions!
 
The North Idaho College wrestling team, the NJCAA No. 4-ranked team in the country, won its 27th regional championship in 29 years in dominating fashion behind tournament titles from Heinrich Barnes and Evan Mattingly.
 
The Cardinals scored 172.5 points to outdistance runner-up Southwestern Oregon Community College (116.5 points) at the Region 18 tournament at Yakima Valley Community College on Feb. 10. In addition, the Cardinals qualified 10 wrestlers to the NJCAA national wrestling championships which begin Feb. 23 in Rochester, Minn.
 
“We’ve said all along that our main goal was to take 10 wrestlers back to nationals” said NIC head wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb. “There is a huge difference in the national brackets if you go in as the regional champion, as opposed to the runner-up or lower. To qualify 10 wrestlers and two regional champions for nationals is a tremendous feat.”
 
It’s hard to imagine a program with the stature of NIC, with 13 national championships and 27 top three finishes, to be an underdog in a regional tournament. However, the Cardinals struggled against Region 18 conference opponents this season, losing duals to Southwestern Oregon (SOCC) and Highline, tying Clackamas and squeaking by with a one point victory at SOCC.
 
NIC set the tone early at the regional tournament in the semi-finals with pins by Heinrich Barnes (141 pounds), Dino May (165) and Kyle Sand (184), in addition to major decision victories by Brandon Paluniuk (133) and Evan Mattingly (197). The Cardinals weren’t going to relinquish their defending regional title easily, and the stage was set when No. 4-seeded Lee Morrison defeated No. 1-seeded Kenny Quallich of SOCC 8-4. Quallich is also ranked seventh in the nation.
 
The Cardinals placed eight out of 10 wrestlers in the tournament finals for the second straight year. NIC held a 49.5 point lead over second place SOCC heading into the finals round, essentially securing the regional championship before the evening matches began.
 
In the championship finals, eight Cardinal wrestlers took the mat, but only Barnes (141) and Mattingly (197) finished as champions. Brandon Palaniuk (133) lost a tough match to top-seeded Josh Williams of SOCC, 7-3, and All-American Coby Jones was outmanned by top-seed Sam Schmitz of Clackamas, 10-4. Two Cardinal wrestlers top-seeded in their weight class were upset in the finals. Dino May (165) was handled by second-seeded Zach Pagnotta of SOCC and All-American Kyle Sand (184) lost the most competitive match of the finals to Highline’s Brad Padgett, 9-5. For the second year in a row, Padgett, the top-ranked 184 pound wrestler in the nation, earned the Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament Award.
 
The top three regional placers in each weight class, plus eight additional wildcards voted on by coaches, qualify for the national tournament. NIC heavyweight Robbie Shaw, ranked No. 8 in the final NJCAA poll, finished in third place, recording two decisive pins after being upset in the semi-finals. The final Cardinal qualifier, Travis Temple (125) was selected as a wildcard entry after finishing fourth in a highly competitive weight division.
 
The No. 4-ranked Cardinals will enter the national tournament with five wrestlers in the national rankings, Barnes (No. 2), Jones (No. 5), Sand (No. 2), Mattingly (No. 5) and Shaw (No. 8), which should influence the seedings in the national tournament brackets.
 
NIC finished the regular season with a 10-6-1 record. NIC’s only losses came to two teams ranked in the top five, Western Wyoming and Labette Community College of Kansas. The Cardinals knocked off No. 3-ranked Northwest Wyoming College, 30-17, and four-year programs Simon Fraser, 32-12, and Pacific College (Oregon) 33-3.


For More Information
NIC head wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb, (208) 769-7870

Posted: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

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