'You want to put it on the line': Tournament will feature some of nation's best wrestlers

Jan. 10—MIAMI, Okla. — To say the upcoming wrestling tournament at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College is stacked would be an understatement.

The National Junior College Athletic Association Coaches Association duals gets underway Friday, featuring 10 of the top 11 ranked junior college teams in the nation, including the host team — the ninth ranked NEO Norsemen. A total of 14 teams in the top 20 are in this year's field.

NEO Head Coach and Athletic Director Joe Renfro talked about the tourney.

"It's obviously a good situation for us," Renfro said. "We don't have to travel and we get a high-level event right here on our own campus. We are ready to go. We're focused on our training, but also focused on entertaining a bunch of people who are coming from all over the country. Anybody who's anybody is going to be at the National Duals Tournament. Most of the teams coming are serious about it and want to put it on the line."

Renfro said NEO started hosting the national duals about four years ago; he said NEO is an ideal location because it is centrally located.

The tournament also provides an opportunity to see teams he might not otherwise be able to see ahead of the NJCAA National Championships.

Renfro, a seven-time NJCAA National Coach of the Year, is no stranger to national championships. In his 10 years at NEO, he has captured three national titles, and in his 20-year career, he has won six. After 22 years with no wrestling program at NEO, Renfro guided the Norsemen to a national title in 2013-2014 — his first year at the helm of the newly reinstated program.

Renfro has led 21 wrestlers to individual national championships, including Carthage's Kale Schrader, who won the NJCAA heavyweight title last year.

Joining Renfro's No. 9 Norsemen as ranked teams competing for the coveted team title this weekend are top ranked Western Wyoming; No. 3 Iowa Western; No. 4 Clackamas, Oregon; No. 5 North Idaho; Northwest Wyoming and Triton, who share a No. 6 ranking; No. 8 Iowa Central; No. 10 Northwest Kansas Tech; and Labette County Community College, ranked 11th.

Also included in the field are other schools from Oklahoma, Oregon, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska.

NEO is led by the top-ranked junior college wrestler in nation in the 197-pound class in Geoff Freeman, of Parker, Colorado. Freeman will hit the mats with a number of athletes who attended area high schools and will look to make their marks during the prestigious tournament.

"It's a whole new level," Freeman said. "It's a dogfight. Every match you go in knowing it is going to be a long, seven-minute match and you know you have to leave it all out there. I lost a couple of matches last year, so this year, I'm looking to win them all."

Norsemen sophomore Justice Compton, of Frontenac, Kansas, comes in as the fifth-ranked 165-pound grappler in the nation and joins fellow Frontenac teammate Dawson Lapping, who will compete at 149-pounds. Other area athletes representing NEO include 134-pounder Gabe Commons, of Seneca, and Jake Anthonysz, of Cassville, who will compete at 165 pounds.

Commons, a Seneca High School graduate, talked about his choice to attend NEO and his thoughts on this team.

"Coach Renfro is a great coach," Commons said. "It's hard-nosed wrestling. You come here and you get better. There is no messing around. We come in and work hard everyday and let that work show on the mat."

NEO also will look to Tye Frnka, of Austin, Texas, to make some noise as the No. 6 ranked wrestler in the nation at 184 pounds, and Marcus Terry, of Augusta, Kansas, who is currently ranked eighth in the nation at 141-pounds. NEO's Jackson Wilkins, of Salina, Oklahoma, enters the tournament as the ninth-ranked 157-pounder in the nation.

Carthage High School graduate Davion King, the sixth-ranked 157-pounder in the land, will help lead Labette County. Joining King on the Grizzlies roster are local athletes Alex Short (149-pounds), from Joplin; Jayce Taylor, from Diamond at 165 pounds; and several wrestlers from Crawford County, Kansas — Christian Taylor at 149 pounds, Cruz Lopez at 125 pounds, Matt Smith and 165 pounds, and Jaquan Augustin, at 197 pounds. Though part of the roster, not all of the local grapplers will compete for the Grizzlies this weekend.

Action gets under way at 9 a.m. Friday in NEO's Student Activities Center with matches in six pools on six mats for seeding purposes. No. 9 NEO will be in Pool C with No. 11 Labette.

The eight-team championship tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the SAC.