By Jeremy McDonald
OREGON CITY, Ore.– 2016 was a year of growth for the young wrestling team at Clackamas Community College.
Different yes, said Cougar Head Coach Josh Rhoden for him and Assistant Coach Rich Vigorito, but the team improved and grew as the year progressed despite the usual wear and tear of a season.
“This year was a different one for Coach Vigorito and I,” Rhoden started. “We had a very good group of guys and we believe we had the roster to win a team national championship but some other things prevented that with Injury and the like.
“Our starters continued to improve throughout the year and worked very hard for us. They made gains each week and matured throughout the season from good high school wrestlers to college wrestlers. They helped us each step of the way by listening, working hard for us and being committed to the program!”
Despite all the injuries, athletes stepped up when need be as Clackamas wheeled off a 16-2 season, easily surpassing 100 dual wins in the past 10 years under the tutelage of Rhoden.
The Cougars added three-peats to that with their third straight championships in the NWCA National Duals and winning the West Region Championships. Not to brag or anything, that win in the Regional Championship was their fifth in the last six years.
Then Nationals rolled around. The environment was electric described Rhoden as his team was sitting in third place after the opening day.
“We were only a point and a half out of first (place) after the first session and needed each guy to do their job in session two in order for us to have a chance on Saturday,” said Rhoden.
However, the injury bug bit again as Michael Knoblauch was ruled out with a concussion and four wrestlers lost by a combined seven points that prevented Clackamas from having seven All-Americans.
But, Haszell “Bam” West (184, third-place), Chris Garcia (149, second-place) and John Morin (197, second-place) would earned and be named All-American by the end of Saturday’s matches as the Cougs finished sixth as a team at Nationals.
That sixth-place finish has continued a streak dating back to when Coach Rhoden became the Head Coach at Clackamas in 2007 of at least a Top Eight finish in the National Bracket, confidence is high for the NJCAA second-ranked Clackamas Cougars.
Yeah they’re losing several guys to graduation, but that’s typical said Rhoden, the focus is the here and now as they move forward with the goal in mind of creating the best team possible.
“We do lose some guys to graduation which, if we are doing our job correctly, we should lose about half to graduation each season,” Rhoden stated. “We have some work to do in recruiting and we are already targeting some very good kids who are good wrestlers.
“I think our goal isn’t to worry about how we do at this tournament or that but to see if we can create a culture that challenges each wrestler to strive to earn All-American. The goal for me is to see 10 guys earn All-American because that means we would have the best team and the best balance. Other than that next year will take care of itself as we move through the off season.”
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