Highline heavyweight tops regionals
By Konner Hancock - Staff Reporter
Highline's Miguel Morales took first place in the National Junior College Athletic Association Regional Tournament heavy weight class despite the wrestling team ending up last in the West District.
Last Sunday, Highline traveled to Coos Bay, OR. where it faced Clackamas, North Idaho and South-Western Oregon.
Clackamas took first with 104.5 points, North Idaho scored 70, South West Oregon with 67 and Highline ended in last with 48.5 points.
Each of the other teams came into the tournament ranked higher then Highline, including Clackamas, which sits second out of 45 teams in the NJCAA.
"[Regionals] was pretty easy, no tough competition," said Morales. "[In nationals] I think I'll take it all."
Other bright spots for the T-Birds included Andrew Ramirez at 141-pound weight class ended up in second place and Jesus Torres coming in at second in the 125-pound weight class.
"I think we will do pretty well, hopefully come back with some more all-Americans," said Morales.
Wrestlers Claudeus Laude at the 133-weight class, Antonio Nieves at 149, Cole Morrison at 157, Bobby Jackson at 165, Jacob Zocco at 174, Mario Luevano at 184 and Joshua Wessels at 197 all placed third or fourth in their weight class.
"There were only four people in each weight class so the individuals who took fourth in reality took last place," said Assistant Head Coach Bradley Luvaas.
Highline hasn't competed this well in any tournament this season.
"We haven't had the most talented group and we've had a lot of ups and downs this year, but through it all we've got good kids and model citizens on our team," said Head Coach Scott Norton.
Despite the effort, Highline's national ranking did not change after the regional tournament, the team still sits at No. 20 out of all 45 teams in the NJCAA.
"Bottom line, all the credit goes to them for showing up and competing," he said.
The squad has struggled most of the year, winning only one of their six dual meets and not placing in the top three of any tournaments this season.
However, Highline performs better in the regional and national tournament, Norton said.
"I would say from day one we've always talked about the end of the year. My expectations are that our wrestlers improve each match that they wrestle. Over the last two weeks we've just been talking and reminding them of their goals and that they deserve to be going to the nationals," he said.
The T-Bird's final stop of the season is the NJCAA Nationals tournament. All 45 teams in the league will compete in Iowa for the NJCAA title.
"Last year we did not win a dual meet in our region either, but we finished with four all-Americans and a top-12 finish in the country," said Luvaas.
This year the team only has one of the four all-Americans from last year: Ramirez.
Ramirez wrestled his way into second place during regionals but lost in the final match against Clackamas wrestler Kurt Mode in a 6-3 decision. Despite the fall in regionals Ramirez said he knows he has the ability to "win it all."
Other Highline wrestlers are confident they can go into the national tournament and do well, Ramirez said.
"Our team has a solid track record of doing well at the end of the year and every team in our region knows it. However, our guys really did step it up [in regionals]," said Norton.
"It's tough to predict nationals because a lot of things happen and some kids get overwhelmed. However, our goal is to make sure they believe in themselves and wrestle as hard as they can all seven minutes. It's really out of our hands," Norton said of the coaching staff.
The NJCAA National Tournament takes place in Council Bluffs, Iowa starting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 24. The championship matches start at 7 p.m. on Feb. 25.
"I couldn't be more proud of the team's overall performance. They impressed me [at regionals], and our wrestlers know that it's difficult to do," Norton said.