Iowa Central Returns to the TOP; NJCAA wrap up in Rochester, Minn.

Rochester, Minn -- Iowa Central literally rode their way to National Title at the NCJAA National Wrestling Championships held at the Mayo Civic Center on February 16th. The Tritons lead by head coach Mark Ostrander, saw his the team title come down to the heavy weight match in whIowa Centralh #6 rated Cain Valasquez defeated Neosho Panther Dean Taylor, rated 2nd, 2-1 in the final match of the night to give Iowa Central a 134-130 margin of vIowa Centraltory over Neosho. The defending NJCAA Champions, North Idaho, finished 3rd with 166.5 points.

Having finished 2nd the past 2 season, the third time truly was a charm for the Tritons of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Coming in to the 2001-2002 season, Iowa Central had the 1# recruiting class in non-Division I schools, however they were battling the returning National Champions from 2001 North Idaho, and the champs from 2000, Neosho, who also boasts the 1# recruiting class from 2 years ago as compiled by Wrestling USA magazine.

In the final NJCAA team ratings, Iowa Central was rated 3# as a team heading into the NJCAA tournament and Neosho and North Idaho were rated 1st and 2nd. Neosho qualified all ten of their wrestlers for the NJCAA tournament as did Iowa Central. However, the Tritons 7# rated wrestle at 149, Kevin Contos, was left at Ft. Dodge for breaking team rules, leaving Iowa Central with 9 qualifiers.

Following the semi-final round, Iowa Central held a 9 point lead over Neosho, 128-119. The final round would determine the national championship, as Iowa Central and North Idaho both had 4 finalists and Neosho had 3.

At 125 pounds 1# rated James Rollins from Gloucester use a pair of wins over seeded opponents to reach the finals. In the second round of preliminaries, Rollins defeated the 2001 National runner-up NIowa Centralk Voss of Waldorf 7-3, and pinned #6 Andrew Bradbury of William Rainey Harper in the semi-finals to advance to the finals against Nick Vogt of Meremec. Vogt the 5# rated wrestler at 125 topped the #4 wrestler Derek Jones of Colby, 13-4, in the semi-finals. The 1# rating of Rollins held true as he defeated Vogt 8-5. Rollins one of three Gloucester wrestlers in the finals helped his team capture the NJCAA Division III National Title with 101.5 points followed by runner-up Nassau who had 65.5 points.

In the 41 years of the NJCAA Championships, only 40 wrestlers have won titles in both tries at JUCO's and 133# Ozzie Saxon of North Idaho became the 41st wrestler to do so. It is not an easy task to do, and it was not easy for Saxon. In the semi-final round Saxon need double over time and the luck of the final flip to score a 2-1 decision over 3# rated Pat Garcia of Western Wyoming. Saxon then faced Jafari Vanier, one of Iowa Central's four finalists for the championship. In what was a matter of dejavu for Saxon, he found himself in the same situation as his semi-final match. Tied with Vanier of Iowa Central 1-1 after the first over time, Saxon won the flip, chose down and escaped to win the national title at 133#, his 2nd in two years.

At 141# Neosho's Bogdan Ciufulescu was not to be out done by Saxon of North Idaho, as Ciufulescu also had a chance to become a 2 time NJCAA national champion. The Panther won the title in 2000, and made the 2002 finals by defeating 4# rated Nick Holt of North Idaho 14-4 in the quarters, and Paul Collum from Iowa Central 11-4 in the semi-finals. In the finals at 141#, Ciufulescu faced Peter DeLacruz of Pima. Delacruz, unrated, downed 5th, 6th, and 7th rated wrestlers to make the finals. In the final match Ciufulescu took an early and strong lead, but Delacruz kept battling to the point that the Neosho wrestler was two warning away from disqualification. In the end, Ciufulescu won the title 18-8. Ciufulescu, 32, has competed 5 times in the world championships for Romania, placing 4th in the worlds at one point, as well as being a 1996 Olympian. DeLacruz was awarded the sportsmanship award for his valiant effort against a two time JUCO champion and Olympian. Ciufulescu win helped close the gap between Neosho and Iowa Central.

The number one and number two ranked wrestlers were beaten at 149# in the semi-finals to set up a finals match between the number 8 and 4 seeds. Keri Stanley(4#) of North Idaho topped the returning national champion and 2# ranked Bart Mahlert of Ellsworth 5-3 to reach the finals, and Ryan Mauer(8#) of Nassau downed the top seeded Patrick Williams(1#) of Neosho 4-3 in the semis. In the finals, Mauer downed the Cardinal's Stanley by the score of 8-5 securing an individual title while helping his Nassau team to a 2nd place finish in division-III.

157# B.J. Wright rated 3rd of Ricks pinned the number two rated wrestler, Nick Rausenberger of Nassau to advance to the finals against the 1# rated wrestler at this weight in Israel Martinez of North Idaho. Wright dropped a close 5-4 decision to the Cardinal wrestler, closing the chapter on Ricks wrestling. Ricks College who qualified 7 wrestlers for the NJCAA tournament has joined forces with BYU to become BYU-Idaho, and will discontinue wrestling at the college.

Long time coach Bob Christensen stated that," I am devastated and disappointed that Ricks is discontinuing the wrestling program. This is my 34th year of coaching and wrestling has been a large part of my life for many years, I have seen many changes in junior college wrestling in my time. I have made a great number of friends with wrestling, and I will miss the sport. I guess I will have to find something to do on weekends."

Entering the 2002-2002 season, his 18th season, Christensen has compiled a 202-62 Career Record at Ricks. In 2000-2001, Christensen's team recorded an 18-5 record, the most dual meet wins ever in a single season for the coach. The 18 wins also pushed Christensen over the 200 win mark for his career.

During his tenure, 40 Viking wrestlers have won Region 18 championships. Sixty-four of Coach Christensen's wrestlers have won All-American honors. Eight of Bob's teams have finished in the top four at the NJCAA finals. He won Coach of the Year honors in 1988 and Region 18 Coach of the Year in 1999. Christensen's career dual meet record at Ricks College now stands at 202-62-2. Probably the best know wrestler to come out of RIowa Centralks is Olympian
Rulon Gardner, which is just another example of the importance of junior college programs in developing wrestlers and the sport.

Bob was a state heavyweight wrestling champion at Missoula County High School in Montana. He won an NJCAA championship as a heavyweight at Ricks College in 1964. He finished third in the Western Athletic Central Conference in 1967 and 1968 as a heavyweight at Brigham Young University. Christensen first became a head wrestling coach in 1968 at American Falls High School in Idaho. He moved to North Fremont High School in Ashton in 1971 where he won two Idaho state championships in 1978 and 1980. He moved to Ricks College in 1984 Bob is married. He and his wife Marcy have five children. Coach Christensen will stay on with BYU-Idaho in Ricks as a full-time faculty member.

AT 165# Neosho's 1# rated J.J. Homes gave the Panther followers something to cheer about as he pinned Lassen's David Hilliard in a spladdle at the 5:17 mark giving Neosho a 130-128 lead over Iowa Central. Heading into the 174# finals trailing by 2 points in the team race, Iowa Central had a 1# rated wrestler taking the mat in Kenyatta Carter, who was a national runner-up in 2001.

In the 2002 finals Carter faced 2# rated Brian Brittingham of Gloucester. Brittingham would take an early lead on take downs and back points, but Carter battled back to tie the score in regulation time at 13-13. The first period of over-time saw both wrestlers taking good shots, but Brittingham came up with the winning take down for the 15-13 overtime win. Carter finishes as the runner-up for the second year in a row, although Iowa Central still trailed by two points in the team race, the Tritons still had two wrestlers left, but the challenge was great! At 184# Willie Parks (IOWA CENTRAL) rated 2# faced the returning national champion Josh Birt from North Idaho, and at heavy weight, the Tritons faced tough odds where Cain Velasquez (IOWA CENTRAL) 6# rated faced Neosho's 2# rated Dean Taylor who owned a previous win over the IOWA CENTRAL wrestler.

Birt looking to become the 3rd wrestler of the night to join the elusive NJCAA double champion roster took to the mat with Parks. With the national champion still on the line, Iowa Central's Willie Parks went out and wrestled a strong match and scored a 9-4 victory over the defending champ. With this win, Iowa Central moved ahead in the team race 132-130 over Neosho, but the Tritons still had a head-to-head match where Neosho was favored.

The Championship would come down to the heavy weight finals. While the heavyweights waited to determine the national championship, the 197# finalists took to the mat. Gloucester would go 3-for-3 in the finals as NIowa Centralk Vinciquerra would decision Pat Bennett of SUNY Morrisville 6-5 for the title.

Now it was time fore the heavy weights! It what will be one of the closest finals in NJCAA history, Neosho's favored Taylor and IOWA CENTRAL's Velasquez face off for the individual and team title. The first period saw several attempts by both wrestlers to secure a takedown, but both were unsuccessful. In the 2nd period, IOWA CENTRAL's Valasquez would take down and secure an escape for a 1-0 lead by the end of the period. In the 3rd, Neosho's Taylor would take down and secure an escape but not before Valasquez compiled over one minute of riding time.

With the score tied 1-1 both wrestlers worked for the decisive takedown, but when time expired, Valasquez still had riding time and Iowa Central had their first championship in 21 years.

Neosho's coach Terry Peck stated," This was a great tournament, and obviously we wanted to win the title, but this is was its all about, coming down to the final match of the finals." Coach Peck has led Neosho to a 7th, 1st, and 2nd place finish in 3 seasons. Of interest in the fact that Peck was an assistant at IOWA CENTRAL before taking the Neosho job.

A far as Coach Mark Ostrander goes and his take on the championship," Exhausted! The past two years we were out of first by 20 points and we were just trying to hold on to 2nd place. This year, we have 4 in the finals and Neosho has 3 and IOWA CENTRAL 4. We loose the first 2 in overtime, and Parks has to take on the returning national champ and Valasquez has to take on a kid that has beaten him. Knowing that we had tough matches ahead and with two loses we already had, I needed some Tums."

But, after it was all said and done Parks and Valasquez. Both won. Ostrander stated "Our kids really wrestled their hearts out. I think one of the keys to our title is that I told the kids the importance of extra points for advancement and bonus points. We brought 9 guys and walk away with 8 all-Americans, a record for Iowa Central. But, we have 35 guys in the room and they all help in getting this title. I am so thankful for all the support that I have gotten from the IOWA CENTRAL fans, coaches, administration, and community. I wouldn't have done it without them. I also owe thanks to Dennie Fredriecks, who established a great foundation for the program. We have always tried to make strides to improve each year, and I think we have shown that this year."

Iowa Centrals all-Americans are-

q       Justin McClintock, 5th at 125,

q       Jafari Vanier, 2nd at 133,

q       Paul Collum, 5th at 141,

q       Tim Springs, 3rd at 157,

q       Kenyatta Carter, 2nd at 174,

q       Willie Parks, 1st at 184,

q       Brenon Chema, 5th at 197, and

q       Cain Valasquez, 1st at heavyweight. J

q       John Hegarty was a national qualifier for IOWA CENTRAL at 165.

By defeating the defending national champion, IOWA CENTRAL's Parks was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.

Top ten team finish: NJCAA National Wrestling Tournament

Divison I                                                           Division III
Iowa Central 136                                          Gloucester 101.5
Neosho 130                                                     Nassau 65.5
North Idaho 116.5                                       Ridgewater 55.5
Pima 77                                                            Wm Rainey Harper 52
Ellsworth 71                                                     MN West 26
Colby 51.5                                                       SUNY- Morrisville 22
Highline 51.5                                                    Itasca 16.5
Muskegon 45                                                   Thaddeus Stevens 15  
Northwest 43.5                                                Middlesex 12
Lassen 42                                                         Williamson Free 9