By Steven B. Patton
The Clash National High School Wrestling Duals XI is right around the corner and once again more than a third of the field will be comprised of nationally ranked teams. This year’s line-up will include perennial Minnesota powerhouses Apple Valley, St Michael-Albertville, Kasson-Mantorville, and Simley along with out-of-state Clash veterans like Montini Catholic, Carl Sandburg, and Marist from Illinois, Brandon from Florida, Vacaville from California, and Blue Springs from Missouri. Along with these elite programs will be some new top notch programs that will start the season ranked among the best teams in the country.
Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) from Oak Park, Illinois is a school of about 3200 students in grades 9-12. The Orange and Blue Huskies will start the season ranked 13th in the US by InterMat and will be bringing a physical, relentless style of wrestling to the Clash, exemplified by their recent graduates Chris and Nick Dardanes who have been tearing up the mat for the U of M. You may have also heard of this program as a result of recent graduate Ellis Coleman’s runner-up finish at the Junior International in Bulgaria, or his famous “Flying Squirrel” YouTube video.
The school, located in a western suburb of Chicago with a population of roughly 65,000, has produced one of the top programs in Illinois over the last decade. OPRF sports a record of 155-40 since 2003 including a state 3A title in 2009 and runner-up finish last season.
At the helm of the program since 2004 is former Illinois state champ and NCAA All-American Mike Powell. Coach Powell’s accomplishments and life story were featured in Sports Illustrated and on NBC Sports Network in September. There is no way to do his story justice in this limited space so I’d encourage readers to check out the videos on the OPRF website.
The Huskies lose two state champions to graduation but return nine wrestlers with experience at the very tough Illinois state high school tournament, including juniors Larry Early (37-7, 3rd at 120) and Davonte Mahomes (36-4, 3rd at 152) along with sophomore runner-up Matthew Rundell (41-3 at 106) and junior Johnny Gahagan (20-14 at 126) who claimed 4th place.
Other returning state qualifiers include Joe Ariola (Sr, 35-7 at 170), Jake O’Mara (Sr, 145), Joe Robles (Jr, 113), Andre Lee (Jr, 195) and Emonte Logan (Jr, 220) who is currently out with a torn ACL. The real strength of this program may be their incoming freshman class which is led by Isaiah White, who is ranked by Flowrestling as the 5th best freshman in the country.
The school motto for OPRF High School is “Those Things That Are Best”. Don’t be surprised if the Orange and Blue Wrecking Crew are exactly that at the Clash this year.
Kearney High School from Kearney, Missouri will be starting the year ranked 24th in the US and will also be making its first appearance in the Clash. Kearney is fresh off of a Class 3A state title last season and returns a very formidable line-up.
Nestled in a town of about 8500 people 30 minutes NW of Kansas City, the Kearney Bulldogs are starting to build quite a reputation in the wrestling community. Kearney High school, which is coached by 2X All American Chad Hopkins, sports an enrollment of about 900 students in grades 10th – 12th which puts them in the middle of the range of high schools competing at the Clash. Nonetheless, it may be one of the few to include four Fargo All-Americans on their roster.
The team, which finished 7th last season in the 37 team, USA/Dollamur Kansas City Classic, looks to be deep at a lot of weights again this season, which should play to the Bulldogs’ advantage at the Clash. The squad will feature three returning state champions, including 2X state champion seniors Jaret Singh (48-4 at 113, Fargo AA) and Kevin Kinney (47-2 at 132, Fargo AA) along with Junior Grant Leeth (51-2 at 138, Fargo AA). Leeth was a Fargo champ as well as capturing Missouri’s first Super-32 individual championship this fall. Rounding out this brutal line-up are state runner-up, senior Blain Drescher (43-10 at 160) 3rd place finisher, junior Seth Brayfield (49-3 at 120, Fargo AA) and sophomore state qualifier Tyler Horton (34-17 at 220).
Alan C. Pope High School from Marietta, Georgia is the third top 50 school to be making its first visit to the Clash National Duals. Situated 30 minutes NW of Atlanta, Marietta is home to roughly 57,000 residents making it one of the largest suburbs of Atlanta. Pope High School was founded in 1987 and now boasts roughly 1800 students in grades 9-12.
The Greyhounds are the defending Class 4A dual and traditional state champions from Georgia and have racked up an overall record of 139-11 in dual meets over the last five years including a 27-1 campaign last season. Georgia crowns champions in six classes and Pope will be one of three of those champions competing in the Clash this year. They will be joining Class 5A state champions Collins Hill (11th in Clash 7) and Class 2A state champs Jefferson (10th in Clash 10).
For head coach Jim Haskin, in his 17th season at the helm of the Greyhounds, the state title was his second in a row. If these credentials aren’t enough to strike fear in potential Clash opponents, here are two more things to consider. The Greyhounds only lost one starting wrestler to graduation and they made last season’s run without their most notable wrestler.
Senior Brook Climmons, who is ranked as high as 2nd in the US at 182, missed much of last season due to a football injury but is back for his senior season. Brook already made a splash at Fargo this summer finishing runner-up at 182 and earning All-American honors. Joining Climmons, will be seniors Billy Meek (2nd in last year’s GA state tournament at 160), Trevor Stevens (4th at 195 and 5th at the recent Super 32), Preston Markwell (SQ at 126), Curran McMahon (SQ at 220) and Taylor Howard (SQ at 285). Complimenting this crew of seniors will be juniors Jake Henson (State Champion at 152), Joey Tabachino (3rd at 170), Tyler Haskin (SQ at 120) and Samuel Skinner who is starting the season ranked 10th in GA at 106. Rounding out the line-up will be Davis Burson (Soph., SQ at 138) and at least eight other wrestlers with varsity experience.
Thompson High School from Alabaster, Alabama will be the first team from Alabama to compete in the Clash tournament. Alabaster is a community of about 30,000 people just south of Birmingham in the center of the state. Although Thompson High School’s enrollment of just under 1800 students in grades 9-12 ranks it among the largest in the state, they did not have a wrestling program prior to 2008. Shawn Weltzin, who had wrestled under Terry Brands at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was invited to start a middle school program in 2007 with a plan to develop wrestlers and eventually build a high school program as the sport developed.
It apparently didn’t take long because Coach Weltzin started a varsity program the following year and Thompson High School went on to win its first Class 6A state tournament three years later. They followed it up last season with a dominating performance in winning their second straight state title during the 2011-2012 season. The Warriors not only set a state scoring record with 231.5 points, but also tied a state record by qualifying all 14 wrestlers to the tournament.
Coach Weltzin was named Birmingham Metro Coach of the year in 2007 and 2008 and Alabama Wrestling Coach of the Year in 2011.
Although the Warriors lost three state champions to graduation they will boast 13 seniors on their roster this season, including some serious depth and experience at a number of weights. Leading the team will be senior state champion Nick Hall (1st at 145) along with Austin Gould (Sr, 3rd at 113), Reed Jack (Sr, 5th at 120), Mario Haynes (Sr, 4th at 126), Cahman Holder (Sr, SQ at 170), Hunter Pinneo (Sr, SQ at 195), Conner Gilson (Jr, 2nd at 106), and Brewer Gilland (Jr, 2nd at 132). Along with these state place winners will be Riley Pike, a freshman who is starting out the season ranked 2nd at 106.
Green Valley High School from Henderson, Nevada will be traveling to the Clash this year for their first appearance. The community of Henderson is just a 4-iron shot Southeast of Las Vegas and is one of the faster growing cities in America. The community had less than 10,000 residents in the 1950s but has grown to over a quarter million today. One of the dozen or so high schools that serve the Henderson area is Green Valley, which opened in 1991, and has a current enrollment of close to 2800 students.
After finishing as state runners-up in the 2010-2011 season, Green Valley put together an impressive 25-1 dual campaign last season, which included a 6th place finish at the rugged 105-team Tournament of Champions in Reno. In February, the Gators edged out Cimarron-Memorial for the traditional Class 4A state title, crowning three individual state champions. Cimarron-Memorial was the last school from Nevada to participate in the Clash, finishing 19th in the second Clash tournament.
Coached by Jon Ferry, who is in his 9th season, the Gators will be fielding a road-tested and battle-proven squad which features eleven wrestlers with state tournament experience, including three who earned All-American honors at Fargo this year. Some of the standout wrestlers on this roster will include state champion sophomore Sean Cannon (106, Fargo AA) and junior Jared Brathor (113). Returning state runners-up include seniors Zack Perry (132) and Ryder Newman (160, Fargo AA) and Junior Donovan Peek (152). Returning third place finishers for the Gators were seniors Spencer Watson (126) and Richard Razo (138) along with Junior Josh Temple (120, Fargo AA). Complimenting this formidable line-up will be seniors David Hosey (4th at 170) and Sam Macaloon (SQ at 195).
Bound Brook High School from Bound Brook, New Jersey will be hoping to do what every other New Jersey team has done when they’ve come to the Clash – finish in the top three brackets. Jackson Memorial finished 2nd in Clash IV and 3rd in Clash V, and South Plainfield and High Point each finished 11th in Clash V and Clash VII respectively.
The latest census indicates that the community of Bound Brook is home to 10,499 residents but from its reputation in the wrestling community, you’d think it was much larger. Walking the halls with the other 500 high school students are two All-Americans and a very solid line-up of wrestlers. With a roster that often didn’t include a senior last year, Bound Brook won the Group 1 (smallest schools) state championship and compiled a 19-4 dual meet record. New Jersey has four separate team dual championships based on school size, but then combines all wrestlers into one group for the individual tournament. Craig Delacruz was the Crusaders’ only state place-winner, finishing fourth at 106 and compiling a 40-7 record in the process.
Kyle Franey, in his 5th year as coach, will be bringing a battle-ready squad that will look something like: 106: Gonzalo Limenza (13-0, Jr), 113: Craig Delacruz (40-7, So, 4th in State), 120: Robert Francis Murray (31-10, Sr, SQ), 126: Zachary Vatalare (30-12, Sr,), 132: Jeison Arias (29-9, Jr, SQ), 138: Nicholas Accetta (25-10, So), 145: Emmanuel Soto (12) – (26-12, Sr), 152: Joshua Uglade (36-11, Jr), 160: Andrew Gombas (18-13, So), 170: Isaiah Soto (28-9, Jr, SQ), 182: Aaron Saavedra (27-11, So), 195: Ronald Picado (33-8, Jr), 220: S. Michael Johnson (14-6, Jr, SQ), 285: Dante Washington (Sr)
Port Washington High School from Port Washington, Wisconsin will be taking the Clash plunge for the first time this year. After winning 70+ conference duals in a row, the Pirates stepped up their game and added the Cheesehead Tournament to their schedule five years ago and this year will be bringing their experienced squad to the Clash. Port Washington, Wisconsin is a natural port on Lake Michigan, about 25 miles North of Milwaukee, with a population of just over 11,000 residents.
Port Washington High School is home to approximately 900 students in grades 9-12. Angelo LaRosa, in his 7th season as head coach, has steered the Pirates to 11 consecutive conference titles and finished the 2011-2012 season ranked 4th in Division II in Wisconsin.
The team returns all but two starters and will be lead by a crew of veterans including Noah Rosado (38-7, Jr, 6th at 106), Zach Smith (29-7, So, 3rd at 113), Nathan Schnell (23-9, Sr, 138), Quentin Lueck (19-11, Jr, 145), Jordan Dieringer (23-5, So, 3rd at 152), Josh Meins (36-15, Sr, SQ at 170), Ryan Steitz (19-15, Sr, 195) and Andy Fidler (31-18, Jr, SQ at 285).
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Also appearing in their first Clash tournament will be two new Minnesota teams. Class A will be represented by state runner up, Kimball Area lead by coach Mike Schindler and AAA Burnsville High School under coach Sam Sand.
The Clash is a national high school wrestling tournament held annually in Rochester, Minnesota. 32 of the best High School wrestling teams from around the country will gather in Rochester on December 28th & 29th, 2012 for this unique two-day dual-format wrestling tournament. Steve Patton is the tournament chairman. For more information, visit the event website at theclash.theopenmat.org.