By Jeremy McDonald
OREGON CITY, Ore.– Laced in white chalk on the crimson red brick walls of the Clackamas Community College Wrestling Room illustrate the names of Cougar All-Americans and the team’s finishes in the NJCCA Wrestling National Tournaments since 2007, the year Josh Rhoden arrived on campus.
Names like Tyrell Fortune (285), Cary ‘CJ’ Palmer (133) and Trent Noon (174) to go along with a no worse than an eight-place finish in Nationals that includes a National Championship in 2011.
Not to mention 59 Academic All-Americans since 2007 to add to the tradition of winning on and off the mat.
Following their second-straight league championship in 2015, the NJCAA fourth-ranked Cougars were in full command of Nationals after having seven of ten weight classes feature Clackamas Community College wrestlers qualify for the semi-final round after the first day.
That was, only to have two make it to finals as they found themselves finishing second was a hard pill to swallow for Rhoden and his squad in the humbling ending to the season.
“It’s nice to be national runner-up, (but) It’s also been really painful,” he said. “We’ve got to where we’ve been really competitive here, where we’ve been in the mix in the last five national championships.
“To come up short last year, where we know that we’ve had the best team was frustrating.”
To get back to where they were last year and finish the job, expectations set by Rhoden and assistant coach Rich Vigorito, the expectations are high for the team after the team have been in the hunt for the championship four of the last five years.
“We expect a lot of them and they expect a lot of themselves as a result,” said Rhoden. “These guys know what the expectations and they try to meet the standards and expectations that me and Coach Vigorito put on them and that really has helped us.”
From a athlete’s perspective, it’s an sense of pride that sets the fire to the expectations.
“I’ve been came up to by spectators and been told that our team have a lot of swagger,” said Sophomore John Mornin. “That our team have a lot of pride in what we do and I think dealing with the winning aspect.
“We feel like that need to win and know how to work hard to win is what we do every single day.”
The youthful squad is led by Morin at 197-pounds and Brandon Johnson at 285; both are ranked nationally as tops of their weight division in the preseason.
“I think this early on it doesn’t mean much,” said Johnson on the ranking. “It doesn’t mean much until we get into the season and start seeing match-ups against other people that are ranked and when we get to the end of the season, it all matters who wrestles the best at Nationals.”
As practice ends with knee-tap, push match and pop-ups, the fight is still there for the Cougars as they open the 2015-2016 seasons Saturday against NCAA Division-II Simon Fraser University.
As for the 59 Academic-All Americans in eight-years. Well, let’s just say it was all just a point of emphasis for Rhoden when he came in to help set these kids up to the next level.
“Junior Colleges get the rap all over the sports of ‘they’re not smart enough, they can’t do it at the division-I level’,” said Rhoden. “As a result you don’t see a lot of kids in wrestling going division-I, Division-II because they are not getting into the classroom. For us it was, let’s put a point of emphasis on this.
“They come in as guys who couldn’t get to the division-I level or D-II level because of academics and they leave going to division-I, Division-II level. It just becomes a theme of what we do.”
PRACTICE PHOTOS BY JEREMY MCDONALD
Jeremy McDonald is a professional sports journalist in the Salem/Portland area and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalist in Oregon with B.S. degrees from Southern Oregon University in Journalism (2011) and Health/PE (2013). Got a story idea? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @J_McDonald81!
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