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Brower secures national wrestling title

Ex-Crater standout becomes first All-American, national champion at Lander University

New school, new weight class, new level of competition on the wrestling mat.

Still the same result, though, for Central Point standout Zeth Brower.

Less than a year after earning his first national championship, Brower added a second recently with his performance for Lander University at the NCAA Division II National Championships in St. Louis.

The former Crater High state champion went 4-0 as the No. 4 seed at 141 pounds, knocking off the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds en route to the national title.

Last April, Brower won his first national championship and secured a third straight title for Clackamas Community College at the National Junior College Athletic Association Wrestling Championships.

“It’s kind of crazy because I feel like the last one just happened and now this one happened,” Brower said during a break from classes in Greenwood, South Carolina. “It kind of went by quick but it feels every bit just as good.”

Brower became the first-ever All-American wrestler at Lander, which began competing in 2019, and its first national champion.

“I kind of came here with that goal to be the first champion out here and put them on the map, so it’s a pretty cool experience all around,” he said. “Everyone is super excited here. The administration, athletic director and the president are super involved with the school so I’ve gotten a lot of support all around, it’s pretty awesome.”

At Crater, Brower was a two-time state runner-up (2015 and 2016) and 2018 state champion after placing third in 2017. Besides earning his national title at Clackamas CC at 133 pounds in 2021, he also placed third there in 2019 before missing 2020 on a medical redshirt brought on by lingering concussion issues.

When it came time to find a new home following his run at Clackamas, Brower said he always knew he wanted to branch out well beyond Oregon and Lander definitely filled the bill.

“I just kind of wanted to get out and travel a little bit so that’s why I came out here,” he said. “I love it out here. Seeing this side of the country is pretty cool.”

“I’m definitely going to stay here at Lander,” added the 21-year-old redshirt sophomore. “I kind of want to put a staple on here and help put them on the map. I really want to help get this program going, and I think we’re off to a good start.”

Brower’s season got off to a good start, but a broken hand suffered during the semifinals of an open tournament match — one that he went on to finish and win — put him on pause for about two months. He had to medically forfeit the ensuing championship match.

“I woke up the next day and my hand was swollen as big as a bowling ball,” said Brower. “It was big. It was also my dominant hand and right in the middle of school so it was a lot to deal with.”

He returned with about five weeks of training time left before regionals, and went on to win that event to enter nationals as the South Atlantic Conference Carolinas (SAAC) wrestler of the year.

Brower opened the national tourney with a 5-2 decision over Ethan Leake of Chadron State, then used a late takedown to score a 2-0 decision over fifth-seeded Christian Small of King University.

In the semifinals, Brower was able to edge top-seeded Joey Bianchini of St. Cloud State, 4-3, in a back-and-forth battle that saw Bianchini suffer his first loss in 29 matches.

“He’s a really solid wrestler but I was able to ride him out for the whole third period, which gave me the win because I got riding time,” said Brower. “I just kind of had to get tough and gritty. It wasn’t a pretty match or anything like that, it was just really tough.”

It didn’t get any easier, with Brower scoring a takedown in the final 15 seconds during the championship match against second-seeded Branson Proudlock of Findlay to win 6-4.

“It was a nail-biter, for sure,” said Brower. “Those are fun matches, though, but it was tough.”

A year ago, Brower enjoyed four pins and a major decision to dominate his weight class in the NJCAA championships to finish that shortened season 18-0. Discounting the one match he was unable to wrestle in, Brower again went 18-0.

“That kind of comes with jumping up a division,” Brower said of fewer falls this time around. “JUCO is tough in many senses, for sure, but this is a different level also. Division II is pretty tough, so all my opponents were actually really tough.”

“I had to fight a lot of adversity this year with being out as long as I was,” he added. “I don’t think I performed at my best, I just kind of had to get tough and just get it done.”

For Brower, it seems like that rocky road is more of a staple to his wrestling career than a blip on the radar after his concussion battle, a COVID-limited season last year and this year’s broken hand setback.

“Every year it seems I have a bunch of speed bumps and road blocks but I just have to kind of adapt and overcome,” he said. “With the help of my family and my coaches out here and this program, it made it possible. I’m truly blessed to be where I’m at.”

“I think that’s just how it goes for me,” Brower added of his unconventional championship paths. “It builds character, so I’m OK with that.”

Reach Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Zeth Brower