P O W E L L, W y o. - Payson High School graduates Jacob and Seth Wright paced the Northwest College Wrestling Team to the national championship and earned personal glory for themselves as well with individual placings.
The two brothers helped the NWC Trappers of Powell, Wyo., rewrite the record books at the National Junior College Athletic Association Wrestling Championship tournament Feb. 27 and 28 in Rochester, Minn.
The Trappers posted 155.5 points to claim top dog honors, the most recorded by a single team during the entire 44-year history of the tournament. California's Lassen College was a distant second, posting 89.5 points, followed by Iowa Central Community College (87.5), North Idaho College (82) and Kansas' Colby Community College (78.5)
The NWC grapplers were ranked first in the nation before they even hit the mats this season and never surrendered their position. And for the first time in its history, Northwest College qualified a wrestler for the national tournament in all 10 weight categories.
The Wright brothers figured prominently in that success story. At the final tournament Seth grabbed second place in the nation in the 125-pound weight class, and Jacob took third at 157 pounds. They are the youngest two of four brothers in a well-known wrestling family, according to NWC Wrestling Coach Jim Zeigler.
Seth and Jacob were the two key additions to an already strong NWC wrestling squad, Zeigler said. Last year, the NWC wrestlers placed fourth in the nation with almost an entirely freshman team. In the off season, the team and the coaching staff recruited specifically to fill two weight classes they felt would take them to the national championship.
"The Wright brothers came as a package deal," Zeigler said , "and it just so happened that they fit exactly into the weight categories in which we were lacking."
Ziegler said he approached Jacob after he had attended Ricks College during the 2001-02 season along with his older brother, BJ. W hen he found out that Jacob's little brother, Seth, was just graduating from high school and also looking for a wrestling school, he decided to offer them a package deal. "The great thing about these two young men is that they were a great fit for our program not only because of their athletic skills and their specific sizes, but because of their character," Zeigler said. "They grew up on a dairy farm and fit well with the other small community kids on the team. They're knowledgeable wrestlers and became part of the group without missing a beat. We didn't have to change anything about them to make them part of our group; the chemistry was right."
Named the 2004 national coach of the year, Zeigler has carved a reputation for his coaching philosophy, which includes monthly team/family dinners, regular off-the-mat team/family activities and weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) compulsory academic study halls for the whole team. He recruits young wrestlers on the basis of their character and team potential.
When it comes to potential, Zeigler fondly says, "There's no question that the most talented of all four Wright brothers is baby Seth . He's also the smallest in size and carries around with him the little brother mentality. During the season he was not only Jake's little brother; he became the team's little brother in many of the annoying ways that characterize little brothers. Despite this, all the older and larger kids on the squad grew to love him like he was their own little brother. He probably doesn't realize it, but he motivated the entire team - no one wants to be outdone by their little brother. And this little brother has all the tools to challenge the best of them."
Seth's path to a national championship fell just short. He lost the title bout in an 11-7 decision to Earl Jones of Labette Community College of Kansas.
As a freshman with a 26-6 record and a national placing, Seth's possibilities for the future are wide open. He plans to leave on a mission next year for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and then possibly return to NWC, however, Zeigler said Seth already has opportunities to go to larger schools when he returns.
"Big brother Jake is not quite as obsessed with wrestling as Seth," a ccording to Zeigler. "Although he is just as accomplished (both were two-time state champions in high school), Jacob came to Northwest feeling that he had to prove something to himself after a disappointing personal season at Ricks. He came to Northwest on a one-year commitment to aim for a national title."
At the national tournament, Jacob lost his semifinal match by a fall in the fifth minute to Eric Luedke of Kansas' Colby Community College. It was the heartbreaker of the tournament, Zeigler said, because Jacob had a 5-0 lead at the time. Luedke went on to claim the championship "that was almost certainly in the hands of Jacob," Ziegler said.
"Following this difficult loss, Jake showed the character of a true champion," Zeigler said, "by winning his final two matches in first period pins and capturing a solid third-place finish."
With two years under his belt, his junio r college eligibility is now fulfilled, and he may not choose to wrestle at the next level as he pursues his education.
"Based on the success of this year," Zeigler said, "I think Jake can put his wrestling demons to rest. He can close the book on it if he wants and be satisfied."
Just like his little brother, Jacob proved himself a leader on the NWC team, but in a much more quiet manner than Seth.
"Jacob is an extremely hard worker and he's not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve," Zeigler said. "Only those of us who were close to him truly understood the difficult challenges he faced throughout the season with injuries and the pressure of having such a successful family. When it was all said and done, Jacob proved that he had what it took, although in our mind he never really had to prove it to anyone."
Seth and Jacob's parents are Kathy and Bill Wright of Elberta.