After three second-place finishes, is this the year that the Cougars finally win a national title?

JIM BESEDA/PAMPLIN MEDIA - Josh Rhoden coaches during a match earlier this year. Rhoden, who is a graduate of Crook County High School, is the head coach at Clackamas Community College, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. Could this be the season when the Clackamas Community College wrestling team finally breaks through and wins the national championship that has eluded them in recent years?


OK, maybe.

After finishing second to Iowa Central in 2015, second to Iowa Central in 2017, and second to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M last season, Clackamas is as solid from top to bottom as any team Josh Rhoden had put on the mat in his 13 seasons as head coach of the Cougars.

Last week, the Cougars climbed to No. 1 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association wrestling poll and then backed up the hype at the Dec. 8 Clackamas Duals as they thumped Southwestern Oregon 43-6 and rolled Warner Pacific 53-0.

The two lopsided decisions, coming on the heels of quality wins over No. 3 Western Wyoming (20-18) and No. 4 North Idaho (34-3), pushed Clackamas' record to 5-0 and extended the Cougars' dual win streak to 43 matches — a string that started on Jan. 8, 2016.

Not surprisingly, Rhoden is cautiously optimistic in his assessment of what the Cougars have accomplished up to this point in the season and what is yet to come.

"Shoot, how many times have we been here before, right?" Rhoden said. "One of our new assistants was all excited when the latest poll came out and I was like, 'Yeah, man, I've been here before. Like six seasons in a row, I've felt this feeling and … we've got a long road ahead of us.'

"I think we're pretty good. It's just hard to tell right now, and you never know what type of toll the season will take and, of course, what happens at nationals. All these guys get excited about some of these rankings and things, and I have to remind them, 'We haven't earned anything yet, trust me.'"

But it's difficult for almost everybody associated with the program to not get excited when they look at the latest individual rankings and see Seth Brower ranked No. 2 at 125, Jason Shaner No. 3 at 133, Elijah Ozuna No. 4 at 141, Mason McDaniel No. 3 at 165, Trajan Hurd No. 8 at 174, Darryl Aiello No. 3 at 197, and Tommy Mommer No. 1 at 285.

"At the three weights where we're not ranked, we think the three toughest guys on our team are just now coming into the lineup," said Rhoden, referring to Marty Margolis III at 149, Joel Romero at 157, and Trevor Senn at 184.

"Now, all that has to prove itself out through competition, but the way I feel about it, we're only getting better and we're only in December."

In Saturday's dual with Southwestern Oregon, the Cougars swept the first nine bouts as Brown, McDaniel, and Hurd each won by fall, Margolis won by technical fall, Shaner and Senn won by major decision, Ozuna and Aiello won by decision, and 157-pounder Colby Winnett won by forfeit.

The only blemish in the scorebook came at 285 where Mommer scored the initial takedown against SWOCC's Hunter Hart, but got caught in a bad position and ended up on his back with 15 seconds left in the first round.

Against Warner Pacific, the Cougars swept the eight contested weight classes, including wins by fall for Margolis at 149, Israel Casarez at 165, Beau Bradley at 174, and Mommer at 285.

The Cougars are off until later this week when they are scheduled to send a team to the Dec. 20 Reno Tournament of Champions at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada.

Clackamas then plans to take a short break over the holidays before heading to Miami, Oklahoma, for the Jan. 10 Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Duals, which includes duals with both NEO and Iowa Central.

Clackamas Community College head coach Josh Rhoden is a graduate of Crook County High School.

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