Held on a very snowy day at Embry-Riddle University the NAIA Western Regional Wrestling Tournament had its moments of triumph and pain. With eight schools from Oregon and California to Montana and even Canada the Western Region is the smallest of the four NAIA regions. Embry-Riddle is the only Arizona member and was the host of this year’s regional wrestling tournament. Wrestlers from the northern states could be heard commenting that they didn’t expect snow in Arizona. They thought they’d left such weather at home. But the tournament continued.
Max Payne, a Prescott High School graduate, now a red shirt freshman wrestling for the Montana State-Northern Lights, was highly regarded in the 174 lb. weight class. Although he started strong, beating Tyler Thomas of Southern Oregon in the first round, he lost to Avminder Vik in the semi-final round. Vik then fell to Austin Vanderford, the top ranked wrestler from Southern Oregon, in the final. Payne beat C. Molina in the consolation semi-final and Tyler Thomas again in the final to take third place.
Two wrestlers from Embry Riddle won Championships. A.J. Valles beat all contenders at 133 lb. and Tyler Chang was the 157 lb. champion. Chang wrestled for Mingus High School and won three Arizona state championships. He is a senior at Embry-Riddle and is studying mechanical engineering with a specialty in robotics. Chang is a member of the Embry-Riddle robotics team now preparing for a big NASA competition.
In the team standings Montana State-Northern came in second while Embry-Riddle was fourth. The team winner was Southern Oregon.
The next step will be the NAIA National Wrestling Championships to be held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 3-5.