Safarov National Champion At 125
The Northwest College wrestling team placed eighth at the NJCAA National Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa last weekend, while bringing home four All-American titles.
Nodir Safarov became the national champion at 125 pounds and Lisiate Anau was runner-up at 285 pounds while Jeff Oakes, at 184 pounds, and Tate Allison, at 157 pounds, made the podium with eighth-place finishes.
“[They] worked hard and wrestled their very best at the end of the year, so I’m proud of them for that,” said Trappers head coach Jim Zeigler.
The Trappers, who were among 47 teams represented at the tournament, had seven wrestlers qualify for the NJCAA National Championships. In addition to the four who earned All-American honors, Taylor Jeffries, Palmer Schafer and Nic Urbach also competed.
“Everybody contributed to the team score, everybody won matches, everybody scored points,” Zeigler said.
Having all seven Trappers score points made the difference between NWC placing eighth instead of 12th, the coach said.
Northeast Oklahoma A&M won the championships with 147.5 points, Clackamas Community College was second with 124.5 and Iowa Central Community College placed third with 121. Western Wyoming Community College was fourth with 99.5, Iowa Western took fifth with 86.5 points, North Idaho College was sixth with 80.5, Ellsworth Community College was seventh with 76.5 and Northwest had 73 points for eighth place.
Safarov, a freshman from Bekabad City, Uzbekistan, won the National Championship title at 125 pounds.
“He was solid throughout the tournament,” said Zeigler. “He just didn’t make mistakes and wrestled real good in the finals.”
En route to the finals, Safarov won his first match by a 17-5 major decision and his second by a 12-2 major decision.
In the quarterfinals, Safarov pinned Noah Bauer of Rochester Community and Technical College out of Minnesota in 3:35.
In the semifinals, Safarov beat Marcelino Lopez of Cowley County Community College by a 20-9 major decision.
Safarov faced off against Benny Gomez of Muskegon Community College in the championship match.
“That kid came out ready to wrestle; that kid’s tough,” Zeigler said of Gomez. “He’s a good wrestler. He wrestled really hard — a very worthy opponent.”
Safarov led 8-3 after the first period.
During the second period, Gomez got one point for an escape, then got a takedown with 54 seconds remaining in the third period to cut Safarov’s lead to 8-6.
“Made a match out of it for a while,” Zeigler said of Gomez. “Got one of the only takedowns Nodir [Safarov] has given up all year.”
Throughout the remainder of the third period, Safarov got an escape and a takedown while Gomez got one escape.
Safarov won by a 11-7 decision, ending his season undefeated with a 24-0 record.
“He’s the only undefeated national champion that NWC has ever had,” Zeigler said, adding, “that is extremely rare — extremely rare to go through an entire college season undefeated.”
It was the 14th national championship title that the Trappers have won during Zeigler’s years of coaching.
Anau, a sophomore from Pocatello, Idaho, came in second at 285 pounds.
He had a first-round bye before winning by a 5-4 decision to advance to the quarterfinals. Anau then won by a 3-2 decision over Bryan Ditchman of Joliet Junior College.
In the semis, Anau faced off against Brian Andrews of Northeast Oklahoma A&M, the No. 1 ranked wrestler who’d pinned Anau in 25 seconds earlier in the year.
This time, however, Anau took a 4-1 lead in the first period. The neutral position (both wrestlers standing) was chosen to start the second period and with 23 seconds remaining, Andrews got a takedown to decrease the lead to only one point, 4-3.
Andrews chose down to start the third period, and got an escape with 14 seconds left in the match to tie the score at 4. Two seconds later, Anau got a takedown which resulted in a pin in 6:49.
“For him to come back and have the confidence to stand in there with him and wrestle him and figure out he could actually beat him was a big deal,” Zeigler said of Anau avenging the previous loss to Andrews.
In the finals, Anau lost to Odgerel Batkhishig of Northwest Kansas Technical College by a 10-1 major decision.
Zeigler said Anau did a “great job” in taking second. Last season, Anau placed fourth at 285 pounds, making him a two-time All-American for NWC.
Allison, a redshirt freshman from Moorcroft, wrestled at 157 pounds.
Allison won his first two matches by 3-1 and 6-5 decisions to advance to the quarterfinals.
He dropped into the consolation bracket with a loss by a 6-2 decision.
Allison came back in the consolations to pin Alfred Daniel of Rochester Community and Technical College in 1:28, then lost a 7-4 decision to put him in the seventh/ eighth place match.
Allison lost by a 10-2 major decision to Noah Jackson of North Iowa Area Community College to place eighth and earn All-American honors.
“Tate [Allison] did a great job, getting on the podium,” Zeigler said. Allison was ranked eighth going into the national championships.
Oakes, a sophomore from Battle Mountain, Nevada, wrestled at 184 pounds.
He won by a fall in 3:33 and took a 9-2 decision to advance to the quarterfinals.
Oakes then lost by a 18-5 major decision to Tanner Harvey of Southwestern Oregon Community College to drop into the consolation bracket, where he faced off against Connor Kirkland of Western Wyoming Community College.
Kirkland and Oakes had met twice this season — at the Apodaca Dual and the Rocky Mountain District Championships — with Kirkland taking both encounters.
This time, Kirkland didn’t score a single point against Oakes. Oakes led 4-0 before winning the match by a pin in 5:49.
Ziegler said Oakes did a “super job,” in the match.
“Jeff avenged his loss to the Western Wyoming kid who I think is super good,” Zeigler said.
Oakes lost his next match by a 5-4 decision to wrestle for seventh and eighth. Oakes was pinned by Joseph White of Northwest Kansas Technical College in 4:06 to place eighth.
Oakes also became a two-time All-American, as he finished sixth last season at 197 pounds.
Overall, coach Zeigler said Oakes “did a good job.”
PINS BOOST TEAM
Jeffries, a sophomore from Gillette, went 2-2 in the 133-pound weight class.
“That was a hard one — hard for him, hard for me,” Zeigler said of Jeffries, who also made it to the National Championships as a freshman last season. “He’s worked real hard and I feel like he is one of the best eight in his weight class but just got in a tough spot in the bracket. He competed hard; he just didn’t get there. But very proud of him.”
Schafer and Urbach also went 2-2 at the tournament. They both picked up their wins by way of pins.
“Those are big scoring [points],” Zeigler said of the pins, adding the points generated from the four pins boosted the team up four places.
Zeigler also said that both wrestlers “did a great job.”
Schafer is a freshman from Lander and wrestled at 141 pounds. He has “really come on the last few weeks of the season and really kind of discovered some confidence and doing a great job,” Zeigler said. “I think the future could be bright for him.”
Urbach is a Powell High School alum who wrestled at 149 pounds.
For the season as a whole, Zeigler said he was “really proud” of his team.
“They stepped up,” Zeigler said. “They had a lot of challenges this year.”
The coach said one particular challenge was not having a lot of depth, which equates to not having backups; the team stayed healthy this season.
Zeigler plans to begin recruiting for the 2018-19 season — and said he’s also looking forward to working with the student athletes currently on the roster for next season.