COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA
Story Courtesy: Kevin White-Daily Nonpareil
Michael Zachary hasn't had his eye on a national title for very long.
In fact, Iowa Western's redshirt freshman has only been training for one since the spring semester started Jan. 8.
"That was my whole focus the day I started practicing," Zachary said. "Nothing else was acceptable in my head. That's kind of the attitude I take to everything. Losing is not acceptable in my family."
On Saturday night, Zachary stood under the bright lights of the Mid-American Center and went after his goal, but his prospects were short-lived.
After 20 seconds of fending off Zachary's shots, Western Wyoming's Kenny Astle put him on his back and controlled him for the rest of the period. Then, he finished it off in the second frame, pinning Zachary in 3:55 and clinching the 149-pound NJCAA wrestling championship. He was the top finisher for the Reivers, who placed fifth in the team race and had five All-Americans.
"His strength caught me off-guard," Zachary said of Astle, who received most outstanding wrestler honors. "He was the strongest kid I wrestled in the tournament, and I really let that affect me. Usually, I don't."
The tough loss capped a whirlwind past few months for Zachary, who transferred to Iowa Western from Grand View University in August.
A former two-sport star at West Des Moines Dowling who won a pair of state titles in both wrestling and football, Zachary joined the Reivers hoping to earn a shot at the next level.
However, once he arrived, he learned he didn't have enough credits to be eligible for the fall semester.
Wrestling was a bit of an afterthought at the time. After redshirting as a freshman at Grand View, he considered focusing solely on football.
But at the end of the year, tragic news changed his mind. On Dec. 4, Zachary learned that his friend and former teammate at Dowling, Trevor Schwager, had died in a car accident in West Des Moines at age 18.
Over Christmas break, Zachary thought everything over and decided he wasn't ready to quit just yet.
"All the stuff I'm doing for wrestling, is really all for him," said Zachary, who wore a bracelet in Schwager's memory on Saturday night. "He was a wrestler. He was my partner in high school for two years straight. I basically lived with him for my whole senior year, so he was a big part of my life.
"That's kind of when I was, like, 'OK, I'm going to wrestle. I'm going to make a run at the national tournament just for him."
Zachary finished his abbreviated first season with the Reivers at 7-1. After working himself into shape the past two months, he showed his ability this weekend.
"He is a phenomenal wrestler," Iowa Western coach Josh Watts said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. We saw him wrestle in high school, and he was very explosive, very disciplined. My expectation for him was to go out there and compete and contribute to the team, and he did that to the max for us."
Zachary said he'll "most likely" be back next winter.
"I don't like leaving things unfinished," he said.
Iowa Western scored 86.5 points, 57 behind champion Northeast Oklahoma.
Brumfield, a two-time All-American, placed fourth at 133 pounds after scoring a pair of decisions in the consolations and falling 8-3 to Barton's Gage Gomez in the third-place match.
Peeler (fourth) fell in the semis, bounced back with a decision in the consolation round and got pinned by Clackamas' Nick Maximov in the third-place match. Ham (sixth) went 0-3 on the day after reaching the semis on Friday.
Cody Kingery – a former three-time Iowa state place-winner at Underwood – closed the junior-college chapter of his wrestling career with the best result he could have earned.
After getting pinned in the second round by Nassau's Michael Abidin on Friday, the 174-pound sophomore was set on taking third place. He captured it by ripping off six straight wins to finish 7-1 in the tournament despite a shoulder injury that made him increasingly dependent on ice and painkillers as the weekend progressed.
He ended with a 5-3 win over Northeast Oklahoma's Devin Crawl that ended with him flexing and pointing to the stands.
"I was kind of struck a little bit," Kingery said. "It's not first place, of course, but coming back from that second-match loss and having the shoulder injury that I have, I couldn't have asked for any better."
When he walked off the mat after getting his hand raised, Kingery ignored Watts' outstretched hand and wrapped his arms and legs around his proud coach.
To clinch the bronze medal, Kingery had to go through second-seeded Matt Hebel of Western Wyoming and Abidin, again. The first match was a 3-2 nail-biter that was decided by riding time and a late escape.
"I don't give up very easily on bottom," Kingery said. "I always pretend like it's somebody trying to drown you underwater, and if you get rode out for the remainder of the period, you drown."
In the second match, Kingery waited for Abidin to go for the throw, then put him on his back and pinned him.
"I was hungry for that one, because I knew I definitely should not have lost that match," he said.
Whether it was hearing the cheers of the crowd or bumping into familiar faces on the floor, Kingery said he felt support from the southwest Iowa wrestling community all weekend.
He also had the familiar voice of his former high school coach, Joe Stephens, in his ear the whole time. Stephens, who was the assistant director of the tournament, said Kingery is the first collegiate All-American he has ever coached.
"There's something about him," Kingery said. "Me and him really have a good connection. When he's around, I perform well, and we're just on a whole different level of coach-athlete."
Although he got the attention of several coaches from four-year colleges this weekend, Kingery said he isn't sure where he'll continue his career next.
"It's a humbling sport," Kingery said. "You've got to stay humble and keep grinding through it."
Team scores (top 20): 1, Northeast Oklahoma 143.5; 2, Clackamas 117.5; 3, Iowa Central 115; 4, Western Wyoming 89.5; 5, Iowa Western 86.5; 6, North Idaho 79.5; 7, Ellsworth 76.5; 8, Northwest Wyoming 69; 9, Barton 65.5; 10, Northwest Kansas Tech 53; 11, Muskegon 41.5; 11, Niagara 41.5; 13, Iowa Lakes 41; 14, Nassau 40; 15, Harper 34.5; 16, Rochester 31.5; 17, Southwestern Oregon 31; 18, Highline 29.5; 19, NIACC 28.5; 20, Spartanburg 26.5.