CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College wrestling program, just a month into it's second season, has reached a new high water mark as the T-Birds moved up to No. 12 in the NJCAA team rankings released this week by InterMat Wrestling.
Cloud County was ranked No. 25 in the initial poll for the 2018-19 season, marking the first time the T-Birds were nationally ranked as a team. The significant climb up the ladder is thanks in part to positive showings during a grueling November that saw the T-Birds dual three NCAA Division II programs in addition to competing at the Oklahoma City University Open and University of Nebraska-Kearney Open.
The T-Birds are one of five KJCCC schools represented in the rankings, joining Northwest Kansas Technical College (No. 6), Pratt Community College (No. 8), Labette Community College (Tied for No. 12) and Barton Community College (No. 18).
"I think it's important for us to be ranked and to be inside the top-15 is a tribute to the kids and the program," said Cloud County head coach, Cody Cole. "They've been working hard and this is a start to one of our milestone goals, which is to be ranked inside the top-10. We're not quite there yet but we're heading in the right direction."
Cloud County has three wrestlers make their way into the individual rankings as sophomore Benny Hernandez sits at No. 6 at 285-pounds, freshman Quentin Jiner ranks 6th at 157-pounds, and freshman Dakota Miller moved up to No. 7 at 133-pounds.
Both Hernandez and Miller are 9-4 overall in their respective weight classes so far this season, while Jiner is a misleading 5-8 overall as most of his losses have come against NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II opponents.
"I think Dakota is only going to continue to climb. The ceiling is very high with him. We just need to make sure we're carrying over the work in the room into every single match," Cole said. "Quentin goes out and competes every time. We're trying to fix some minor stuff with him, but I think he has the potential to be an All-American. And then with Benny, he has come back this year as a great leader and he wrestles hard every day. He's a super talented heavyweight and I can see him climb up in the rankings as the season progresses."
Cole added he believes the talent level is there for additional Cloud County wrestlers to make their way into rankings by the time the next poll comes out in January as the T-Birds continue to hunt a spot inside the top-10.
"Our whole team has been competing very well and I think we'll see a lot of growth as we move through the year," Cole said. "We have guys like Austin Eldredge at 149-pounds, who is injured right now, but I think has the potential to be an All-American. Noah Aziere at 165-pounds and Cameron Young at 184-pounds both have the potential to be All-Americans. And then Zach Bowen (197) is another kid who can be a national qualifier. Those guys aren't represented yet (in the rankings). They haven't wrestled where they need to be to get in the polls, but they are certainly capable."