A few short years ago after losing the bulk of a solid squad he had inherited, then new Clayton wrestling coach Cory Daker may have been hard pressed to imagine just how far the next wave of Comet grapplers could go.
After Clayton cruised to a 55-21 victory over visiting West Johnston Wednesday night, the Comets have gone straight to the top of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference standings, clinching the regular season title.
But perhaps the bigger accomplishment for Clayton is not in the manner it has rocketed to the top of the conference, but that the Comets have their eyes set on even bigger and better things.
“I only care about regionals — that’s what our focus has been,” Daker said. “The goal for these kids, coming into the season, wasn’t to win the conference; they wanted to keep going in the state tournament.
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“We’ve still got a lot of stuff that we need taken care of before we get to our regional tournament.”
After forfeiting the first two matches on the docket, it was the lighter weight classes that took care of grabbing the momentum for the host Comets.
At 106 pounds, Nolan Short needed little more than a minute to pin his opponent, as was the case for Jayden Jones at 120. In the 113-pound-weight class, Christian Prescott held off Austin Dailey for a slim 10-6 victory to put Clayton ahead 15-12.
The Comets would take seven of the remaining nine matches and move to 6-0 in the conference with one match left against Southeast Raleigh before the conference tournament.
“I knew it was going to be tough coming in because they have some good veterans, they’re solid, (they have) a full lineup and they’re competing for weight classes,” West Johnston coach Jordan Miller said. “They showed up tonight. They got some early momentum and they just rolled with it.”
On senior night, the Comets’ three seniors came through.
At 138, Claude King won via forfeit, as did Chad Sprouse at 182. Gabe Tackels was dominant in recording a pin fall in just 25 seconds at 152.
The trio has come a long way from when they started. They ended the night with a combined 72-25 record this season thus far.
“They were not good wrestlers when they started and then to go this far--four years and how they’ve progressed — they’ve put the time in,” said Daker. “It’s not something that just happens. They wrestled and practiced during the summer and did the things you’re supposed to do.”
For the Wildcats, Matthew Chandler (285), Jonathan Rose (220) and Nathan Vasquez (126) each earned six points due to Clayton forfeits.
The big bright spot on the night for West was at 132 where J.R. Sewell landed a takedown with 16 seconds left in the third period of his match against Nick Brown to earn a hard fought 6-4 victory.
“Next weekend, we’ve got our conference tournament and I knew that J.R. could beat him but I wanted him to get that confidence going into next weekend,” Miller said. “He wrestled a great match. It will be another great one wrestling in the conference finals.”
Claiming the remainder of the points for Clayton were Trevor Loken at 145 with a pin, Luke Foster at 160 with a 10-0 major victory, Michael Lines at 170 with a forfeit win and Jonas Monroe with a second round pin fall at195 pounds.
The Comets are scheduled to wrap up regular season conference action against Southeast Raleigh (at home) Wednesday night, while the Wildcats face off against Harnett Central.