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Cardinal wrestlers anxious for a return to top

Sports Writer | June 17, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — After finishing third at the NJCAA tournament last season, the North Idaho College wrestling team is turning to its past to get the Cardinals back on top of the nation for the first time since 2003.

Behind three returning All-Americans in Kyle McCrite, Jesse Nielsen and Roger McCovey, NIC coach Pat Whitcomb believes the time is now.

“You really don’t want to wish the summer away,” Whitcomb said. “But we’ve got the pieces to contend for a title.” Whitcomb said.

Keri Stanley returns to NIC as an assistant coach after wrestling for the school on its last national champion in 2003. Stanley had been an assistant coach at Dickinson (N.D.) State University before returning to replace Jeremy Zender, who has moved on to other opportunities.

“He was a champion on the last championship team,” Whitcomb said. “Hopefully, he can bring some of that magic back. Getting him back here is a huge benefit for us.”

Jacob Burge, who had been expected to come in and compete for a starting spot at 174, opted to transfer to NAIA Notre Dame (Ohio).

“He would have been a good one for us,” Whitcomb said. “It’s going to be a big hole to fill, but he transferred to go wrestle with his brother at Notre Dame.”

NIC has signed seven athletes for the upcoming season, headed by local products Braden Mowry of Coeur d’Alene High and Jacob Mason from University High in Spokane.

“Looking at the group of recruits we’ve got coming in,” Whitcomb said, “it’s pretty exciting. With Keri coming back and the energy he brings, we’re ready to get into the room and get started.”

Mowry joins the Cardinals after a second-place finish at the Tri-State wrestling tournament in December. He is expected to wrestle at either 133 or 141 pounds and is a two-time Idaho state champion and three-time finalist.

Brock Banta of South Fremont is expected to wrestle at 125 or 133, and is a two-time Idaho state champion and three-time finalist.

Mason is a two-time state champion in Washington, and expected to wrestle at 165 pounds with Nielsen moving up one weight class to 174.

“I think that’s what you look at doing,” Whitcomb said. “You want to put the kids in the classes where they can be All-Americans. We need to think not only about placing, but being national champions right now. We’ve got all the capability to place in the top of the nation.”

Jamelle Jones from Dover, Del., an NJCAA champion in 2008 at Merimac College in St. Louis, has transfered to NIC.

North Idaho has also added three from Michigan — Caleb Rivera (184), Matt Whitman (197/215) and Marcel Dubose (285).

“Bringing both (Jamelle) Jones and (Marcel) Dubose in here is a huge plus,” Whitcomb said. “Both of them could win a national title right away.

“It was really good to get him (Dubose) in here,” Whitcomb said. “As a heavyweight he can step right in. We could end up redshirting McCovey.”

Rivera is a state champion from Grandville High.

Whitman is a three-time state placer from Lakeshore-Stevenson High.

Dubose is a three-time state champion from Highland Park and was also a high school national champion.

With NIC hosting the national tournament Feb. 25-26, 2011, at the Spokane Convention Center, Whitcomb expects to have plenty of local representation in the event.

“I think it’s going to be a great deal for the Northwest,” Whitcomb said. “It couldn’t be a better time to have all the Idaho kids qualify. Our fans will only have to travel 20 miles to see it. It should be a good time to have a lot of solid locals to come watch. We expect to pack that convention center that weekend and get that national title back where it belongs.”

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