Back to defend
COUNCIL BLUFFS — Todd Small knows what it’s like to compete with a target on his back.
When he was a prep in Georgia, Small captured back-to-back state championships for North Gwinnett.
He continued his run to the top with Iowa Central last year, winning the 125-pound title at the NJCAA National Championships as the Tritons won the overall team crown.
Now, along with Ellsworth’s Tim Young, Small is back on the big stage looking to complete the double-double.
The tournament takes place here Friday and Saturday inside the Mid-America Center. Action will continue through the championship quarterfinals and fourth round of consolations on Friday, with championship finals set for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Small enters the 133-pound field ranked No. 1. He’ll be joined by his nine fellow Iowa Central teammates as they chase the eighth title in 13 seasons for head coach Luke Moffitt.
“Being the top guy is always an amazing feeling and shows the work that I have been putting in,” Small said. “But I don’t let that dictate how I wrestle my competition. To me, rankings don’t mean anything because I think anyone can get beat regardless of ranking. I don’t take anyone lightly and I wrestle everyone the exact same.”
That mentality helped Small overcome an injury last year to run through the national field. He is one of just a handful of Tritons back from a season ago, which put more pressure on him to be a leader in the practice room.
“I’ve helped guys more on the mental aspect of wrestling,” Small said. “Preparing them to be mentally tough because I feel as though we are already physically tough.”
Joining Small will be Kevin Radcliff, Eric Clarke, Riley Palmer, Ethan Karsten, Jose Rodriguez, Brady Vogel, Antrez Clagon, Tyree Sutton and Gunner Cash.
Clarke is the No. 3 seed at 141 pounds, with Karsten the same at 157. Rodriguez earned the four-seed at 165 pounds, Vogel the No. 5 seed at 174 and Sutton the top-seed at 197 pounds after besting Young in the regional finals.
“Bonus points are always so important,” Moffitt said. “We’ve done a great job here lately of scoring them when they have been out there and that is something we’ll need to do once more if we want to finish on top Saturday night.”
Clagon placed fourth last year for Iowa Central and Vogel was a national qualifier.
Radcliff and Palmer could each be matched up with the No. 1 seed in their respective weight classes in the second round, with Cash getting the No. 8 seed in the opening round.
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M enters ranked No. 1 in the latest poll, with Clackamas second. Ellsworth is sixth, Iowa Western ninth, Iowa Lakes 15th and North Iowa Area 19th.
Live results and video will be provided by FloWrestling.
NJCAA NATIONAL WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Iowa Central’s first matches
Kevin Radcliff vs. Hunter Lajiness, Henry Ford.
Todd Small vs. Justin Hershberger, Pratt/Jordan Carsen, Harper winner.
Eric Clarke vs. Vinny Puinti, Joliet/Tramone Jenkins, Spartanburg winner.
Riley Palmer vs. Tylor Garcia, Cloud.
Ethan Karsten vs. Eric Dobbins, Triton.
Jose Rodriguez vs. Zachary Pitts, Labette.
Brady Vogel vs. Shawn Dent, Cowley.
Antrez Clagon vs. Nick Suk, Middlesex.
Tyree Sutton vs. Alex Cantu, Labette.
Gunner Cash vs. Andrew Wade, Spartanburg.