COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — The Western Wyoming Community College wrestling team went to nationals with its youngest team ever this weekend. Seven of the 10 qualifying Mustangs were freshmen, and despite some great performances, they couldn’t live up to the sky-high expectations from last year’s finish with two national champs.
WWCC still ended up with an impressive eighth-place finish at the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association wrestling tournament and made some school history in the process. Western had nine wrestlers win matches, which was a first for the program at nationals, and it also came home with three All-American winners.
“Having seven freshmen there is awesome. I don’t know if any other team in the country had seven freshmen there. ... It’s by far the most we’ve ever had,” head coach Art Castillo said. “It was kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time. It definitely bodes well for next season. You never want to look too far ahead when you’re in that moment, but immediately after we were done, we were like ‘2020 is looking pretty good.’”
The top finishes for the Mustangs came from sophomore Connor Kirkland and freshman Landon Brown, who both took third place about 30 seconds apart from each other.
“Those two third-place matches were literally going on at the same time. I was on Connor’s mat, and I could see Landon wrestling on the mat right next to him, and I’m watching both of them kind of simultaneously. I couldn’t help myself,” Castillo said. “Landon won, and Connor’s match had about 30 seconds to go. ... It was a unique moment for them, and it was really cool. A great way to end their tournaments.”
Kirkland did not shrink from the big stage at all and had a great tournament to finish his WWCC career. He rolled through his first two matches at 197 pounds, taking a 13-4 major decision and then a 16-1 technical fall to arrive in the semifinals.
Castillo said Kirkland had a bad semifinal match, as his opponent wrestled very defensively and took advantage of mistakes for a narrow 8-7 win. Kirkland bounced back well after his title hopes ended, picking up a first-round pin in the consolation semifinals. He met his match in the third-place bout against Mercyhurst University’s Hunter Harnish, who won the award for most pins at the tournament, but Kirkland beat him 9-6 to take third place.
“I still feel that Connor was still the best 97-pounder in the country. I think he wins that (semifinal) match nine times out of 10,” Castillo said. “He bounced back and beat a very tough kid for third and fourth. He beat him pretty handily, controlled the whole match. I’m really proud of him.”
Brown also had a great tournament at 285 pounds, but had to take the long route to get to the third-place match after losing 3-2 in the opening round. Not only did he win the next six matches in a row, but he wrestled in four overtime matches en route to the bronze. The OT periods almost totaled seven minutes, which amounts to a whole extra match.
He won both of his final two matches with sudden victories, which was a fitting end to his national tournament. Brown only had one match that didn’t go the distance, as he pinned his opponent in the first consolation round.
“Going 7-1 at a national tournament, it’s very impressive. Definitely not the route you want to go, but it shows the kind of grit and character he has,” Castillo said.
The third All-American was freshman Kyle Evans, who wrestled extremely well to place fifth at 141 pounds. He opened up with a pin and a 13-2 major decision before losing to the eventual national champ in the quarterfinals.
Evans responded well to the loss with another major decision and pin to reach the consolation semis. He was dominant in his final match of the season, rolling to a 17-3 major decision to take fifth place. The freshman was coming off a two-year Latter-days Saints mission and spent the first couple months this season “knocking the dust off,” according to Castillo.
“Kyle’s a winner. He won 220 matches in high school. He’s a three-time state champion, a four-time finalist ... he understands winning,” Castillo said. “Right about January, we saw the guy we knew we recruited. ... He had a great tournament, scored a lot of points. ... He’s going to be primed and ready to win a national title next year.”
One of the heartbreaking matches for Castillo was sophomore Samuel Freeman’s 157-pound bout in the round of 16. He led 6-2 over the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country, but ended up losing 11-10. Castillo said he was really proud of the outlook on life that Freeman gained during his time at WWCC.
The other sophomore that was wrestling in his final match was pre-med major Jake Thompson. Castillo said he just had a tough tournament and lost to two really tough opponents, but afterward, he told him “Hey, let’s go become a doctor now.” Although the head coach is excited about the young team he has, it’s always a sad time to see great sophomores move on.
“Those three sophomores, we’re going to miss. Their contribution to our team, to our community, to our institution is going to be irreplaceable,” Castillo said. “That’s the nature of our business. Once we get them where we want them, it’s time for them to leave. We wish them well and they’ll be part of our Mustang family forever.”
The other Mustangs to win matches were Joey Revelli, Wyatt Monroe, Jace Anderson, and Jared Bird. Again, having nine match winners was another record for the Mustangs, but Castillo was not content with the overall finish.
“We’re continuing to evolve. We’re doing things we’ve never done before, which is fantastic. But quite frankly, we have to win national championships, and that’s our goal,” he said. “That was the first discussion we had as a team — ‘How do we get to that level?’ It starts right now. I came into the office (Monday) and had guys already wrestling and lifting. They know what they have to do.”
1. Clackamas 176.5
2. Northeast Oklahoma 152
3. Iowa Central 125.5
4. Northwest Kansas 109.5
5. Ellsworth 89
6. North Idaho 84.5
7. Iowa Lakes 72.5
8. Western Wyoming 71.5
9. Harper 52
10. Iowa Western 51.5
47. Bergen 0.5
— Dalton Stutzman
Round of 32 – bye
Round of 16 – Brayan Balderrama, Pratt, won by major decision, 13-4
Cons. round 2 – Kevin Saravla Merlos, Iowa Lakes, won by fall, 2:26
— Joey Revelli
Round of 32 – Shandon Akeo, Highline, won by decision, 9-3
Cons. round 1 – won by decision over Josh Garcia, Iowa Central, 3-2
Cons. round 2 – won by fall over Mike Botte, Middlesex, 6:43
Cons. round 3 – Anthony Sobotker, Nassau, won by decision, 4-3
— Kyle Evans, fifth place
Round of 32 – won by fall over Ben Winkler, Jamestown, 1:57
Round of 16 – won by major decision over Keaton Sander, 13-2
Quarterfinals – Elijah Ozuna, Clackamas, won by major decision, 10-2
Cons. round 3 – won by major decision over James Foy, Harper, 18-5
Cons. round 4 – won by fall over Joshua Franich, Highline, 1:47
Cons. semis – Bat-Erdene Boldmaa, NW Kansas, won by decision, 11-9
Fifth-place match – won by major decision over Gad Huseman, Iowa Western, 17-3
— Jake Thompson
Round of 32 – Melvin Hernandez, IA Western, won by fall, 1:50
Cons. round 1 – won by fall over Thaddeus Dietrich, Ancilla, 2:22
Cons. round 2 – Kolby Drogemeier, Barton, won by major decision, 12-4
— Samuel Freeman
Round of 32 – won by fall over Zach Garza, Ellsworth, 6:12
Round of 16 – Devon Eddis, Camden, won by decision, 11-10
Cons. round 2 – won by fall over Quentin Jiner, Cloud County, 5:45
Cons. round 3 – won by decision over Jake Patterson, Cowley, 10-4
Cons. round 4 – Zach Porter, NE Oklahoma, won by decision, 10-8
— Wyatt Monroe
Round of 32 – Garrett Lange, Cowley, won by sudden victory, 11-9
Cons. round 1 – won by fall over Braydon Johnson, MN West, 1:23
Cons. round 2 – won by decision over Khanden Howse, 9-3
Cons. round 3 – Nick Dado, Joliet, won by sudden victory, 3-1
— Jace Anderson
Round of 32 – Myron Crawford, Ellsworth, won by decision, 8-6
Cons. round 1 – won by major decision over Edwin Aguilera, Middlesex, 14-2
Cons. round 2 – won by fall over Connor Rosane, Highline, 6:40
Cons. round 3 – Tyler Baer, Rowan, won by fall, 4:30
— Jared Bird
Round of 32 – won by major decision over Demetrius Ruiz, Middlesex, 8-0
Round of 16 – John Wright, Harper, won by major decision, 15-2
Quarterfinals – Marcus Placide, IA Lakes, won by decision, 9-2
Cons. round 3 – Bailey Shutt, Thaddeus Stevens, won by major decision, 13-4
— Connor Kirkland, third place
Round of 32 – bye
Round of 16 – won by major decision over Chris Henderson, Pratt, 13-4
Quarterfinals – won by technical fall over Terron Robinson, Iowa Lakes, 16-1
Semifinals – Joey Daniel, Clackamas, won by decision, 8-7
Cons. semis – won by fall over Morgan Moreno, Rochester, 1:55
Third-place match – won by decision over Hunter Harnish, Mercyhurst, 9-6
— Landon Brown, third place
Round of 32 – Zach Santee, Niacc, won by decision, 3-2
Cons. round 1 – won by decision over Kolvin Berry, Cowley, 4-3
Cons. round 2 – won by fall over Devin Reynolds, Itasca, 1:20
Cons. round 3 – won by decision over Benny Hernandez, Cloud County, 5-4
Cons. round 4 – won by sudden victory over Andre Baguma, Northland, 3-1
Cons. round 5 – won by decision over Tommy Mommer, Clackamas, 6-1
Cons. semis – won by sudden victory over Andre Bissainthe, Iowa Lakes, 5-3
Third-place match – won by sudden victory over Connor Sullivan, North Idaho, 6-4