If the 2018-2019 Clinton wrestling season had a definitive theme, it was about rising above the expectations on paper and proving themselves on the mat.

The situation entering the season is well known. How can Clinton stay amongst the Class 4A powers after it lost 11 different state qualifiers and multiple state placers over the last two seasons? The answer came in the form of young talents anxious to establish themselves as the next great wave of Red Tornado wrestling greats.

With nine of this year’s 13 starters being freshmen, sophomores or juniors, Clinton checked off numerous milestones along the way. CHS head wrestling coach Rob Pitman put this group near the top of all the teams he coached in his career.

“This has been one of the more enjoyable years that I’ve ever coached,” he said. “It’s not just because we were a lot better than we planned we were going to be. It’s because the group of kids bonded together, worked hard and persevered through a lot of things.

“This is the first year that I can remember in my 13 years of coaching that every single kid finished with a winning record. It’s just a testament to them not fearing competition or hard work. We finished 7-4 in duals, and the three duals we lost, we were one match away from winning those.

“It’s just going to fuel us through the offseason and motivate us going into next year, knowing that we’ve got an expectation to improve on what we did this year. There’s going to be some added pressure, but it was a fun season and journey. The experience these guys got will only benefit us next year.”

Starting with the team accomplishments, CHS ended the dual year with a district title (11th in school history), a Dual State appearance and a record of 7-4. The Reds ended the year ranked in duals (No. 8) and tournaments (No. 10).

The team didn’t put out a full roster consistently, starting 13 of 14 spots. However, it did the most it could with those 13, notching winning records in each spot as Pitman pointed out above. The 13 starters each came away with a winning record, at least three wins or more above .500 in their weight class.

In tournaments, CHS finished sixth at Blanchard, third at Weatherford, second at Conference and fourth at its home tourney. Clinton placed eight to 12 wrestlers on the podiums in each tournament. In addition, it placed five on the podium in a 10th out of 22 team finish in the elite Monett, MO. Tourney.

Clinton rolled those successes together and didn’t fold under the pressure of the 4A west regional tournament, placing fifth as a team with nine placers and five state qualifiers.

Finally, sophomore 195-pound wrestler Ruben De La Cruz and senior, heavyweight wrestler Ruben Gutierrez cemented the team’s status as a worthy state competitor to past groups, placing fourth and third respectively at the state tournament.

Some major individual notes, 11 wrestlers won 20 or more matches and four won 30-plus matches.

Three freshmen started for the Reds. Colton Jackson (106 pounds), Aaron Seabolt (126) and Mason Taylor (132) won at least 20-plus matches and combined to go 71-48.

Four sophomores started their first year for Clinton as well and arguably shined the brightest. Moses Hernandez

(113) and Cain McDow

(145) reached day two of the regional tourney and ended with a combined record of 53-33.

Elijah Roque (138), who suffered a broken collarbone at regionals, had a tremendous shot to reach state had he not suffered an injury. He ended the year 32-11 and will obviously be a key component to Clinton’s future successes.

Speaking of key wrestlers, De La Cruz made massive noise in his first year at Clinton. He recorded the most wins on the team with 34 and placed at state. The sophomore class accounted for more than a third of the team’s total wins.

Despite being the smallest class, the juniors did more with less than any other group, sending Jaime Mitchell (152) and Tory Hester (160) to state. Mitchell missed two months of the season with a fractured leg but recovered in time for regionals and never looked back on his way to a third-place finish and a spot at state.

Hester took the long road to state. Down 9-2 after the first period of his win-or-go-home, fifth-place match at regionals, Hester went on a 13-5 run the rest of the way, winning 15-14 to reach state in dramatic fashion.

The seniors leave CHS in capable hands and kept this program on the winning track in their final year. Braeden Trent (120), Ethan Hines (182), Bryce Isaac (220) and Gutierrez (285) showed their big-stage talents by all placing at regionals and earning two spots at state. It was a total team effort.

The year earned CHS wrestling well-deserved respect from its opponents. Although Clinton lost key pieces from past seasons, it continued the narrative that it doesn’t go through rebuilding campaigns. The program reloads with talent that’s yearning to show what it can do. It did that again in 2018-2019.