P O W E L L, W y o. - Bismarck Century High School graduate Eric Sabot led the Northwest College Wrestling Team to the national championship and earned personal glory for himself with the national title in the 141-pound weight class.
Sabot paced the NWC Trappers of Powell, Wyo., as they rewrote the record books at the National Junior College Athletic Association Wrestling Championship tournament Feb. 27 and 28 in Rochester, Minn.
The Trappers posted 155.5 points to claim top dog honors, the most recorded by a single team during the entire 44-year history of the tournament. California's Lassen College was a distant second, posting 89.5 points, followed by Iowa Central Community College (87.5), North Idaho College (82) and Kansas' Colby Community College (78.5).
The NWC grapplers were ranked first in the nation before they even hit the mats this season and never surrendered their position. And for the first time in its history, Northwest College qualified a wrestler for the national tournament in all 10 weight categories.
Sabot figured prominently in that success story. He ended his NWC wrestling career as an All-American with a 29- 6 record for the season with no losses to a junior college opponent.
Despite his heavy-duty athletic prowess, Sabot is appreciated on the team for his "quirky humor," according to his coach Jim Zeigler.
"Eric is the team comedian," Zeigler said. "And what makes him so funny is he doesn't know he's funny. He's always in a happy mood. Always has plenty of energy. And never shy. Eric likes to declare every single thing he's about to do - 'I think I want a drink of water' - 'I think I ate too much' -'I really feel big today.' He makes these declarations every day just out of the blue and it always brings a smile. He's the one person on our team who can make a ridiculous off-the subject comment in the middle of one of my intense speeches, and everyone will burst out laughing, including the other coaches and me. That's when we generally just shake our head and say that's it, we'll talk about it later."
Besides his humor, Eric possesses more nervous energy than anyone else on the team, according to Zeigler. "His biggest battle in preparing for a tournament is not to run himself out of gas before the matches begin. As long as I make sure he rests and I monitor his fluid intake (Mountain Dew), anytime we put him on the mat when he feels pretty good, he's going to be a winner. Seventeen out of 18 times in the spring semester alone, feeling good or not, Eric was a winner."
That doesn't necessarily mean Sabot's bout for the national championship title was a breeze. In fact, many audience members described his literal last-second win like "something from a movie." At the end of an extremely tight battle for the national title against Dustin May of Kansas' Labette Community College, the match was tied 1-1. But at the very last tick of the clock, literally, Sabot got a takedown to win the match on a 3-1 decision.
"He gave us a few scares," Zeigler said. "He was the number one ranked kid from the beginning of the season and he allowed a few of those guys to stay in pretty close with him. But when he walked off the mat (while I was suffering from a near heart attack), Eric would always say, 'I knew I had him all along. Don't worry I'll be better next match. I think I drank too much Mountain Dew.'"
Despite suffering numerous "near heart attacks" due to Sabot's style, Zeigler said the young wrestler is "always able to focus when he needs to. He finished his two-year career here at Northwest in a blaze of glory as a national champion at 141 pounds, upping his last year's fifth place finish."
It might be that ability to survive those close finishes that helped earn Zeigler the 2004 national coach of the year designation. During his 11 years at Northwest, he's carved a reputation for his coaching philosophy, which includes monthly team/family dinners, regular off-the-mat team/family activities and weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) compulsory academic study halls for the whole team. He recruits young wrestlers on the basis of their character and team potential. When Zeigler selects a prospective wrestler, it's a holistic endorsement of all the attributes and qualities of the young man.
After graduating from Northwest College in May, Sabot plans to continue his education and his wrestling career at an NCAA Division I school with the goal of someday starting his own business.
His collegiate success follows an outstanding high school career that included three state wrestling championships.
Sabot's parents are Kim and Lance Sabot of Bismarck.