Tritons begin trek for repeat

COUNCIL BLUFFS – Luke Moffitt’s top-ranked Iowa Central wrestling program will once again have a target on its back here this weekend.

Seeking their second straight national title and ninth in school history, the Tritons will compete in the NJCAA Championships.

Action begins today with first round matches at 9:30 a.m. inside the Mid-America Center. Finals are scheduled for Saturday night at 7 p.m.

“We’re in the same boat as we normally are going in,” said Moffitt. “I can see four or five teams winning it, but we’re the only one with nine guys compared to 10 for the others. With (six) byes in the opening round, I look at it like we’re behind starting the tournament. We have to score bonus points and get the momentum rolling to catch up.”

Participating for Iowa Central will be Alex Delacruz (No. 1 at 125), Zak Hensley (No. 2 at 133), JJ Alfau (No. 7 at 141), Ryne Cokeley (No. 1 at 149), Brandon Murray (No. 8 at 157), Stephon Gray (165), Armani Robinson (No. 5 at 174), Tyler Hoffman (No. 1 at 184) and Kendrick Jones (No. 5 at 197).

Alfau and Hoffman are each defending national gold medalists for the Tritons, while Delacruz earned bronze a year ago. Iowa Central, which is coming off a North Central District crown, placed fourth at the NWCA National duals earlier this season.

Other leading contenders in the team race are No. 2 Clackamas, third-rated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, No. 4 Ellsworth and fifth-ranked Iowa Western.

“This is the first year (the NJCAA) has come out with new rankings between regionals and nationals, which means little,” Moffitt said. “With us being one guy short, we need to come out with a little bit of an edge. All we can do is take it one match at a time.”

As a conference, the ICCAC qualified 46 individuals. Ellsworth advanced 10, while Iowa Lakes, Iowa Western and NIACC will each be represented by nine.

Moffitt likes having the opportunity to wrestle nationals in Iowa. Last year’s event was held at the Jacobson Exhibition Center in Des Moines.

“I hope we can keep it here in the future,” said Moffitt. “Council Bluffs took the reins, so we don’t have to provide any volunteers. It takes our stress level down a ton. We just go down and compete. We always have a good fanbase show up. Our guys feed off that.”

Second round and quarterfinal bouts will also take place Friday, along with first, second and third round consolations. The semifinals are set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday along with consolation semis and finals.