DES MOINES, Iowa — A pair of returning national champions lead a group of 11 Southern Oregon wrestlers this weekend as the second-ranked Raiders look to claim a team national title at the 2013 NAIA Wrestling National Championships at the Jackson Exhibition Center.
Southern Oregon finished the dual season with a 12-3 record and saw its four-year streak as West Region champions come to an end with a runner-up team finish to third-ranked Great Falls two weeks ago. With 11 qualifying wrestlers, the Raiders will be vying for their fifth team championship and first since 2001. Southern Oregon has finished second at the NAIA Championships in three of the past four years.
"The guys look ready to go and we're excited," SOU head coach Mike Ritchey said. "We're in the conversation, and that's all you can ask for at this time of year."
Action begins today at 10 a.m. and concludes with the championship matches Saturday night. Every match can be tracked via live scoring at naia.org.
Mitchell Lofstedt will close out his storied SOU career this weekend looking to claim his third 125-pound title. Last season's Gorriaran Award winner, given to the wrestler with the most pins in the least amount of time during the NAIA tournament, Lofstedt enters the weekend with a 30-1 overall record and 19 pins. A pair of wins this weekend would make him the first 150-match winner in SOU history.
Lofstedt has topped the 125-pound rankings in every poll this season after claiming titles in 2010 and 2012 and finishing as the national runner-up as a freshman in 2009. A title this weekend would make him the 25th individual — and first 125-pounder — in the 56-year history of the NAIA tournament to win three national titles.
Brock Gutches, who hails from Crater High, also looks for his second consecutive national title after leading the 174-pound rankings all season. After winning it all as a freshman, Gutches finished the 2012-13 regular season with an 18-3 record.
"We've got kind of an idea where we're sitting," Ritchey said of brackets, which were released Thursday night. "I like our draws; we match up with some of the teams that I think are contenders — Grand View, Great Falls and Missouri Valley. We've got some matchups with those guys, so it's one of those years where you can control your own destiny a little bit."
Prescott Garner dropped to third from first in the 133-pound ranking after losing a narrow 10-8 decision to new No. 1 Cameron Neiss at the regional tournament. Ninth-ranked Miguel Baltazar joins Garner in the 133-pound bracket.
Second-ranked Jimmy Eggemeyer will head into the 149-pound bracket looking to take that final step after finishing as the national runner-up last season with a 5-3 decision loss in the title match. He gives the Raiders three returning All-Americans and finalists from 2012. He lost a 3-2 decision to top-ranked Mike Vassar two weeks ago in the championship bout at the regional tournament.
Dalton Urrutia will take his 20-12 season record into the 157-pound bracket, while 16th-ranked Derek Mestrovich will represent the Raiders at 165 pounds. Eleventh-ranked Jacob Abrams and Tyler Thomas will compete in the 184-pound bracket.
Third-ranked Taylor Johnson claimed the 197-pound title at the regional tournament and will head into the NAIA championships with a 24-5 record. Seventh-ranked Bubba Owens rounds out the SOU roster at heavyweight after finishing second at the regional tournament.
With Great Falls bringing a full roster of 12 wrestlers and defending national champion Grand View claiming favorite status, Ritchey knows his Raiders will need to perform well across the board in order to have a chance to take the whole thing.
"It all comes down to performing in the quarterfinals," Ritchey said. "If you can get enough guys in the semis then you're in the hunt; if you don't, then it's a real tough battle to come back through. Hopefully we'll have a good quarterfinal round Friday night and see where we sit, see how many warriors we've got battling and roll into Saturday."
Three SOU wrestlers won individual titles and six earned All-American status last season, and Ritchey hopes the Raiders will be at least as active in the final rounds this weekend.
"Hopefully," he said, "we'll get some guys in the finals, and from there if you're wrestling on Saturday night you've had a good year."