Tradition Continues for Championship Tritons

Tradition Continues for Championship Tritons

Luke Moffitt has always wondered what the 2002 Iowa Central championship team felt like when they won the national title with a closing win in the heavyweight bracket.

Fifteen years later, Moffitt's wish was granted — even if it gave the Tritons' wrestling coach a few more gray hairs in the process.

"In 2002, Cain Velasquez won the heavyweight final and we clinched the team title by a point. I always wondered what that would've been like,'" said Moffitt, who took over the program in 2005. "Now that we did it, (due to the stress level), I wish I'd never brought it up."

In his 13th season at the helm, Moffitt saw his team go through a rollercoaster of emotions. In the end, the Tritons clinched the seventh national title under Moffitt and ninth overall with a clutch closing performance from Thomas Petersen.

"We tried not to think about (the ramifications of Petersen's match),'" Moffitt said. "We just wanted Thomas to go out there and be focused and take care of business. He had beaten his guy (Mario Pena of NIACC) a couple of times this year, but he just had to go out and stay focused.

"When he put his shoulders to the mat, the place erupted. That was the loudest I've heard (the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs). It was an incredible feeling as a coach to see guys our go out and not just win it for themselves, but want to be a part of another championship team."

With four grapplers in the finals, Moffitt knew the gold was within reach. Second-place Clackamas had five finalists, though, meaning nothing was guaranteed.

Everything started to fall in place when Triton 125-pounder Todd Small won the only head-to-head finals match between Clackamas to start the ball rolling.

"That was a huge win," Moffitt said. "If Todd doesn't win, that's a huge point swing against us and in their favor.'"

Zac Hensley had a heartbreaking loss at 133 pounds, and Clackamas regained the lead with a title at 149.

Top-ranked Dayton Racer (157) then gave Iowa Central a huge push with a major decision in the 157 championship. Two Clackamas finalists remained, with one for Iowa Central.

With Colt Doyle claiming a win at 174 for Clackamas, the Tritons were in need of some help. Iowa Western's sixth-ranked Preston Lauterbach obliged, pinning No. 3 Haszell West of Clackamas at 184 to set up the dramatic conclusion.

"We knew we needed help after they won 174,"' Moffitt said. "I thought maybe Lauterbach was going to get (West). I felt coming in that he had been wrestling strong.

"Once that happened, the Iowa Central and Iowa Western crowds both went nuts. That was the second-loudest I've heard that place. We didn't catch any other breaks, but that was huge for us."

Iowa Central had 10 wrestlers at the two-day tournament, but Moffitt made the point that everyone in the Triton camp had a role in raising the trophy.

"We couldn't win it with just the 10 guys,'" Moffitt said. "Everyone who comes into this room — coaches and wrestlers alike — had a say. We all push each other.

"We had a meeting after nationals and several guys — both former wrestlers and current — talked about how important each and every guy is in the process."

Is this another chapter in a dynasty for Moffitt at Iowa Central? The Tritons have now won seven national titles in the past 12 seasons. Iowa Central's nine crowns are second overall, only to North Idaho's 14.

With all the individual championships and team success, Moffitt is a firm believer that the foundation of the program lies within the walls at campus.

"Without a doubt, we have the best fans and support staff within the administration. Our crowd and Northeast Oklahoma were the two biggest fan bases there. Both were chanting and really pushing us," Moffitt said. "And it doesn't end there. This entire institution is winning; it's not a fluke that all of the Iowa Central programs are successful.

"It starts from the top and works its way down. Everyone behind the scenes worked with our guys and made an impact. They all helped mold this team into champions."

With the success this season, Moffitt earned his fifth National Coach of the Year honors.

"National Coach of the Year is a great honor,'" Moffitt said. "But it's one we share. I have great assistants and a good support system that made everything possible."

With all of their work in the wrestling room and on the mat, Moffitt has also seen his program flourish in the classroom. Iowa Central had a team-high overall grade point average, with their 10 qualifiers and two alternates at an aggregate 3.13.