Clackamas CC wins their third consecutive NJCAA national championship (Photo/NJCAA.com)
Clackamas Takes on COVID and Nature to Secure Third Consecutive Title
Unprecedented times took on a new meaning this past wrestling season. Overlooked are the unimaginable circumstances that piled on for the Clackamas Community College Cougars.
"In true Oregon fashion," Clackamas head coach Josh Rhoden said. "We [were] going to be super conservative on the COVID side compared to the states that our competitors are in."
Move-in week for the Cougars was at the end of August 2020. Routinely, fall camp would start around a month later, at the end of September. COVID and local forest fires as close as 17 miles away caused the team to evacuate campus.
Having lost multiple recruits over COVID and forest fire concerns, October seemed to look promising as the team was able to participate in outdoor weights and cardio training.
"We were just trying to keep everyone on the same page, all along knowing good and well we may not wrestle this year," Rhoden said. The national tournament was scheduled for April 21-22, where the Cougars planned to compete for their third team title in a row.
Behind closed doors, conversations centered around concerns of having a season on the mat continued. Rhoden opened up communication with Nick Mitchell at NAIA power Grand View in Iowa, in hopes of using Grand View's facilities for his team to train.
In the midst of attempting to find an alternative training plan, a COVID outbreak shut down the Clackamas athletic programs for the remainder of the quarter, followed by a January ice storm that removed all power from campus. Come February, the team was granted permission to use North Idaho College's training facilities twice with proper quarantine, but the request to train in Iowa in a "bubble" setup was denied.
"We have social media. So it's easy to see that Western Wyoming and Iowa Central and all of these places are wrestling," Rhoden said.
At the end of March, COVID regulations finally allowed the Cougars to use their training facilities, less than one month before the team would claim their third team title in a row.
"We got the lead at 133 with Zeth's win," Rhoden said. "You go from maybe not even being in the venue to [getting to] compete for a chance to win a third title in a row, to securing a third title in the most dramatic fashion."
The Cougars finished the season on top with 152.5 points, outscoring Western Wyoming, who had 147 at the conclusion of the tournament.
One thing this season did do, however, was strengthen Rhoden's relationship with wrestling. "I'm already blessed," Rhoden said in regards to his relationship with the sport. "I like [wrestling] more, as a result of having it taken away."