Six T-Birds punch their tickets to nationals at Saturday's West-Central District Tournament

Cloud County freshman Noah Aziere (174-pounds) finished third at Saturday's West-Central District Tournament
Cloud County freshman Noah Aziere (174-pounds) finished third at Saturday's West-Central District Tournament

GOODLAND, Kansas — The first-year Cloud County Community College wrestling program will take six wrestlers to the NJCAA National Tournament in two weeks after the T-Birds produced a strong showing at Saturday's West-Central District Tournament in Goodland, KS.

"I think it's really exciting for our program," said Cloud County Community College head coach, Cody Cole. "I don't think we necessarily competed as well as we could have, but it's exciting for Cloud County to have six national qualifiers. These guys battled through adversity. We had some really bad losses in some weight classes, but they came back and found a way to punch their tickets."

The six T-Birds who mill make the trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa in two weeks includes: Alec Castillo (141), Tylor Garcia (149), Ryan Delforge (157), Noah Aziere (174), Cameron Young (197) and Benny Hernandez (285).

Castillo and Aziere were Cloud County's top performers in their respective weight classes as each brought home third-place finishes.

Aziere dropped a second-round match to Cowley's Shawn Dent (7-2 dec.), who Aziere had beaten earlier during the season. He bounced back in the consolation bracket, though, to win four straight matches. He finished off his evening in style with a 10-1 major decision win over Northwest Kansas Technical College wrestler, Bowman Ellis.

As for Castillo, he too turned a second-round loss into a third-place finish after earning a tight 8-6 decision victory over Cowley's Justice Circle.

"We asked him to go down to a lower weight class and this was the first time he wrestled at 141-pounds," said Cole of Castillo. "For him to go through and get third was pretty impressive."

Freshman heavyweight Benny Hernandez finished fourth after a 2-2 day, right behind a trio of wrestlers — Odgerel Batkhishig of Northwest Kansas Technical College, Brian Andrews of Northeast Oklahoma and Brix Brickey of Barton — that are all ranked top-5 in the country.

Delforge, Garcia and Young all collected fifth-place finishes for Cloud County to punch their tickets to the national tournament, as well.

For Young, it was his first live action against competition since Dec. 3 at the Bob Smith Open in Fort Hays.

"I'm really excited for Cameron Young," Cole said. "He's been competitive in the room and in training, but it's a little different when you step out there in a tournament. It was good for him to come out and compete the way he did."

Cloud County will wait to see how its performances Saturday translate to national seeding. In the meantime, Cole said the T-Birds will be hard at work in the practice room as they prepare for the program's first ever trip to the NJCAA National Tournament, scheduled for Feb. 23-24 in Council Bluffs, IA.

"I think we now know we need to open up a little bit more. We had some losses (Saturday) in matchups we won earlier on in the year and we were trying to do the same things," Cole said. "Obviously, that doesn't work. We'll need to go back and game plan, add some stuff to our arsenal, open up, and do some of the things we work on in the practice room instead of staying comfortable."