Top talent from across the nation made its way to Powell on Friday and Saturday to take part in the 24th annual Apodaca Duals — where Ryker Blackburn was named the Apodaca Award winner, the No. …
Top talent from across the nation made its way to Powell on Friday and Saturday to take part in the 24th annual Apodaca Duals — where Ryker Blackburn was named the Apodaca Award winner, the No. 7-ranked Trappers battled with top 15 teams and Brady Lowry made his long-anticipated return to the mat.
Kicking off the festivities on Friday, the Apodaca Award was presented to Blackburn.
The Apodaca Award was created to honor Christopher “Brooks” Apodaca, a student athlete who died tragically in the spring of 1998.
The award is given to the student-athlete who best represents the qualities seen in Apodaca by coach Jim Zeigler and those around him — it is a symbol of excellence in academics, wrestling, social and civic awareness, and leadership.
Blackburn is a third-year sophomore on the Trappers, having joined the team during the 2020-21 season.
“This was really special to me,” Blackburn said. “It has been pretty hard while I have been here. This year especially was taxing on energy levels and sometimes even the ability to want to come to practice. I have a really great team around me, they have made staying here and going to practice worth it for me.”
Blackburn said he wasn’t expecting to receive the award, but to be recognized as an Apodaca Award winner meant a lot to him.
He came into the season off of a knee surgery to repair his shooting leg, which he says has been tender at times but he has been able to push through.
“His toughness is well-known among teammates and competitors,” Zeigler said. “He wrestled an entire season with a torn ACL last year, and that is only one example. His passion and loyalty are unmatched on our team. When teammates were attacked by a grizzly, he rushed to the hospital and remained by their side for three days without leaving for a minute. He understands what it means to be a friend and a teammate. As a coach I have never met a more loyal and trustworthy teammate.”
Blackburn said that this team has been through a lot and has bonded throughout this year.
He is one of the top wrestlers in the nation at 197 pounds, and has his sights set on contending for the national championship this year.
Prior to the presentation of the Apodaca Award, the Trappers held a moment of silence for Joe Mickelson, a former wrestler and coach who passed away before the start of the season.
NORTH IDAHO 32, NORTHWEST 17
Following the ceremony on Friday, the Trappers matched up with No. 10-ranked North Idaho to start the dual weekend.
“Everywhere you looked there were good matches going on,” Zeigler said. “People were there on Friday and Saturday not only to watch us, but to see who we are going to be wrestling when we go to the national tournament. It gives them an idea of the level of competition that we are facing. To see those guys facing off is exciting to have high-caliber, quality wrestling in our gym and that’s in the spirit of the Apodaca Duals.”
After forfeiting the first two weights, No. 1-ranked Bobur Berdiyorov went to battle with No. 3-ranked Brant Porter in the first bout of the dual.
Both wrestlers earned a takedown in the first, but Porter held a 3-2 lead after an escape in the first period.
Neither wrestler scored in the second period, and Porter scored three in the third to hand Berdiyorov his first loss of the season.
In the second matchup at 149 pounds, Lowry made his season debut after recovering from injuries sustained in a bear attack in October.
It was a tightly contested match throughout, with Lowry leading 5-3 after the first and 11-7 after the second period.
In the third, three takedowns and a near fall helped Ryan Graves complete the comeback and defeat Lowry 15-13.
At 157 pounds, Gus Harrison battled but came up just short, losing a 5-2 decision with the lead growing to 21-0.
Orrin Jackson was pinned in the second period to extend the lead further out to 27-0.
No. 1-ranked Aziz Fayzullaev was in control of his match throughout, scoring the first points for Northwest after earning a tech fall 19-2 in the third period.
Fayzullaev suffered a finger injury in the matchup which held him out of the two remaining duals.
“The guy is just a warrior,” Zeigler said. “He went right back out and scored offensively, got a tech fall and that was huge. Couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Cody Todd lost by tech fall at 184 pounds, before No. 3-ranked Blackburn got a pin at 197 pounds over No. 10-ranked Bradley Whitwright and No. 10-ranked Cody Pinkerton earned a pin at heavyweight to make the final score 32-17.
“It’s an emotional evening for me and that trickles off to them,” Zeigler said. “When they sense my nerves or uneasiness or my emotions I think it can’t help but trickle into them a little bit. I don’t know if I am affecting them negatively with the awards ceremony or not. That’s something we will visit about after the season is over.”
WESTERN WYOMING 39, NORTHWEST 12
Heading into Saturday, the Trappers matched up with No. 2-ranked Western Wyoming in another top 10 matchup.
Northwest again forfeited the first two matches, before Berdiyorov matched up with No. 2-ranked Joe Mecham.
Berdiyorov led 2-1 after the first period, but fell behind after the second after two takedowns made it 5-3 in Mecham’s favor.
Mecham got an escape after choosing bottom, and a stalling call on Mecham gave Berdiyorov a point in the third to make the final decision 6-4.
Lowry battled at 149 pounds but was ultimately pinned, before Harrison earned a come-from-behind victory to get a pin in the second round at 157 pounds after trailing 6-2 against No. 10-ranked Jayden Luttrell.
“Gus said never say die, he worked himself into a situation where he was able to get a fall and I was proud of him for that,” Zeigler said.
Jackson was pinned in the second period, and a No. 1 vs No. 2 match between Fayzullaev and Christian Smoot was missed at 171 pounds after the injury held Fayzullaev out Saturday.
Gavin Carter stepped in at 184 pounds on Saturday, but was pinned in the first period by No. 3-ranked Darion Johnson.
Blackburn earned a 6-0 decision and Pinkerton battled for a 3-1 sudden death overtime victory at heavyweight to make the final score 39-12.
“Ryker and Cody had a strong weekend,” Zeigler said.
IOWA CENTRAL 33, NORTHWEST 21
The final matchup for the weekend set up the Trappers against No. 12-ranked Iowa Central.
Forfeits at the first two weights put the Trappers down 12-0, before Berdiyorov earned his first victory of the weekend at 141 pounds with an 11-4 decision.
Lowry battled but was ultimately pinned at 149 pounds by No. 9-ranked Matt Sarbo, while Harrison earned a pin over No. 9-ranked Nathan Napolitano.
Jackson was pinned at 165 pounds before a forfeit at 174 to make it 30-9 in favor of Iowa Central.
“I think our young guys need to get past some anxiousness that they have while they are out there,” Zeigler said. “That comes with more mat time, experience and age — all things we can’t give them in a day. It needs to take its course and I think guys like Orrin are going to be fine.”
Carter got a pin at 184 pounds before Blackburn pinned No. 9-ranked John Lovett.
Pinkerton dropped a tight 6-5 decision against Harp to make the final score 33-21.
Northwest will have three weeks to prepare and recover from any injuries before the Rocky Mountain Regionals in Sterling, Colorado, on Feb. 18.
Zeigler said that the team is going to use these three weeks to prepare and fine tune everything before making their way to the qualifiers, with the hopes of advancing as many Trappers as possible to the national tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in early March.
He said that Fayzullaev is not expected to miss any extended time with his injury.
*Rankings for teams and individuals are based on NJCAA rankings released on Jan. 3*
ROAD TO RECOVERY
The NWC wrestling program received a shock in October when four wrestlers were attacked by a grizzly bear while out shed hunting in the Shoshone National Forest.
Gus Harrison and Orrin Jackson sustained minor injuries during the incident and have been wrestling since November, while Brady Lowry, one of the two attacked by the bear, made his first return to the mat on Friday after two years not being able to compete.
“It was nice to get back out on the mat,” Lowry said. “I didn’t perform how I wanted to perform but it was the first time in two years that I have wrestled.”
He said that he felt nervous heading out on the mat unsure if he was ready, but he felt good overall about the weekend.
Lowry said it has been a journey while recovering, and was finally fully cleared by a doctor the Monday before the Apodacas.
After the Apodacas, Lowry has three weeks to get back into top form before heading to the Rocky Mountain Regionals in Sterling, Colorado, on Feb. 18.
“Just going to get my head right,” Lowry said. “Push myself as hard as I can every day at practice, do some extra practices. Qualifiers and nationals are all that really matters.”
Kendell Cummings suffered bite marks to the face, head and torso and was life-flighted to Billings following the attack and has since recovered from injuries.
“It’s been great,” Cummings said. “This team has been here for me, helping me with anything I need. It has been awesome to step back from the competition to help my team out and make them better and watch them progress. It has kind of been nice to take a step back.”
He said he has been doing great and has been working out, but has redshirted this season and plans to return next year.
Cummings and Lowry said that since their hospital stay, the team has helped push the pair to be the best they can be and help progress towards a return to the mat whether it be this year or next.