Clackamas CC wrestlers set bar high heading into 2017-18 season
When the discussion turns to national junior college wrestling powers, Clackamas Community College is almost always in the middle of the conversation.
This season is no exception.
The Cougars of Oregon City graduated five wrestlers from the team that finished second behind Iowa Central at the 2017 NJCAA National Championships, but return a solid nucleus that includes national qualifiers David Campbell, Nate Johnson, Dillon Ulrey and Nick Maximov.
Throw in the addition of reigning 157-pound national champion Dayton Racer, a transfer from Iowa Central, and a recruiting class that ranked among the top five in the nation, and the Cougars have enough pieces to make a serious run at a record fifth consecutive NWCA Junior College Dual Meet championship, another Region 18 team title, and a possible NJCAA national crown.
"Obviously, there's a drop off any time you lose two national champions and three other All-Americans," Cougars coach Josh Rhoden said. "That being said, we had a great recruiting class and we redshirted a lot of kids last year, so I think we have the potential to be a better team overall, or at least as good as last year's team.
"I don't know that we're going to score 147 points at the national tournament again. I think the record is 158 or something, so that doesn't happen very often. But do we have a group that can do it? Yes, I think we do."
In the previous 11 seasons under Rhoden, the Cougars have compiled an impressive 118-31-2 dual meet record and finished no worse than eighth in 11 consecutive trips to the NJCAA national championships, winning it all in 2011, while finishing second twice (2015, 2017), and third three times (2009, 2013, 2014).
During that same stretch, Clackamas has produced 99 national qualifiers, 61 All-Americans, 19 national finalists, eight national champions, and 78 Academic All-Americans.
"We work so doggone hard at it," Rhoden said. "And if you work hard enough and you build a good enough reputation, it's getting to where every year the expectations grow, if that's possible somehow.
"Not that there's added pressure. It's just that you get guys that want to be here and know what they're getting into, and they come here for that purpose. It starts making it a little bit easier to get guys here and continue to have that kind of success."
Clackamas (4-0) opened the season with consecutive blowout wins over South Umpqua of Roseburg and Cerritos College of Norwalk, California, and then defeated No. 2 North Idaho 24-17 and No. 4 NAIA Providence of Great Falls, Montana, 28-24.
The Cougars also put on a strong showing at the Nov. 19 Spokane Open with Elijah Ozuna (133) and Braedon Orrino (149) claiming individual titles, while Darryl Aiello placed third at 285, and Trevor Senn finished sixth at 184.
Rhoden also has been impressed with sophomore Gage Harrah at 197, freshman Clai Quintanilla at 141, sophomore Dylan Reel at 174, and freshman Mitchell Willett at 157, while Maximov, the 184-pound sophomore, gets the early-season nod as the Cougars' most improved wrestler.
"There are still some weights where there is stil some competition in terms of getting the right guy there or getting the guy who is there better," Rhoden said. "Obviously, I think a national champinship is what people who support the program want to happen, as well as those of us inside the program.
"But we keep trying to focus on the process. How are we performing? How is our effort? Certainly, results end up being important, but we're tying to put more of an emphasis on finding ways to get better day to day and week to week, rather than asking, 'Did we win every match we were supposed to win?'
"So far, so good, and hopefully everyone comes back from Thanksgiving break healthy and ready to rock."
The Cougars return home on Saturday to host the Clackamas Duals at Randall Hall, taking on Highline Community College at noon, followed by matches against Southwestern Oregon Community College at 2 p.m., and Warner Pacific College at 4 p.m.