MIAMI, Oklahoma — The Cloud County Community College wrestling team competed in a gauntlet of duals against national ranked foes on Friday out at the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Duals.
No. 15 ranked Cloud County squared off in five duals against top-10 teams in the country, earning big wins and quality performances up and down the lineup in what is valuable experience as the T-Birds inch closer to the district tournament and national tournament.
"For it being the first time competing since the break for a lot of guys, I was really happy with the fire and competitiveness we showed. There were a lot of tough matches all day long, but I thought we were competitive even in matches we got beat," said Cloud County head coach, Cody Cole. "We won't see any of these guys again until nationals, so it was great to see that level of competition and see how our guys stack up."
The T-Birds, wrestling shorthanded without starters No. 7 ranked Benny Hernandez (285) and Austin Eldredge (149), fought uphill on the scoreboard during the duals, falling 39-13 to No. 2 ranked NEO to begin the day; 32-9 to No. 5 ranked Ellsworth; 31-18 to No. 7 ranked Iowa Western; 32-12 to No. 4 Iowa Central; and 50-0 to No. 6 Iowa Lakes.
Cloud County received strong individual efforts in each of the duals, but Cole said they were unable to put together a complete nine-man effort at the same time on the afternoon.
"We'd have 3-4 guys wrestle really well in a particular dual, then the other 4-5 guys not wrestle well. It made things kind hard for us (to win a dual) because it kept flip-flopping," Cole said. "We couldn't put together a solid nine matches, which was frustrating because everyone showed some good stuff at different times all day long. Not being able to put it all together really caused the dual scores to be lopsided."
Freshman 125-pounder Blayne Harris was one of the T-Birds who Cole pointed to on Friday as Harris earned a pin over Iowa Western's John Cleristor and pushed Iowa Central's Keven Radcliff to the brink before falling 13-11 in overtime.
"I think he's really bought in to our wrestling style and he was in matches all day long," Cole said of Harris. "He took the No. 8 kid in the country into overtime and gave him everything he wanted."
Other notable wins for the T-Birds on Friday included freshman Dakota Miller pinning the No. 3 ranked wrestler at 133-pounds, Iowa Western's Jacob Ruiz, in 3:22. Miller is currently ranked No. 4 in the country behind Ruiz.
Sophomore 184-pounder Cameron Young-Leggett, redshirt freshman Zach Bowen (197) and freshman Quentin Jiner (157) each finished 2-3 on the day, while Young and Jiner each got the opportunity to wrestle against the No. 1 ranked wrestler in their respective weight classes.
Young battled NEO's Alex Kauffman to a tight 1-0 decision loss in the first dual of the day, while Jiner squared off against David Hollingsworth from Iowa Lakes in the final dual, falling by a 9-5 decision.
Cole also said he was pleased with the showing from redshirt sophomore Noah Aziere, who finished 2-3 on the afternoon in a loaded 165-pound division.
Aziere's wins came against Ellsworth's Wilfried Kadohou via a pin in 5:35, and a 9-2 decision victory over Iowa Central's Russ Jennett.
"I thought Noah wrestled very well today. He was in a lot of tough matches and was able to start opening up offensively a little bit more," Cole said. "He's starting to get back to that national qualifier level we saw him at last year."
The T-Birds will look to build and learn from Friday's experiences as they prepare for a challenging spring semester that will see them begin KJCCC dual competition, as well as the West-Central District Championships and NJCAA National Championships looming at the end of February and beginning of March.
"I think the big thing that I want to see the guys take away from (Friday) is that we can wrestle against the top guys in the country. We have to fix our mistakes. But if we can clean some things up, we're just as talented as some of these guys and I hope that's what they saw and realized," Cole said. "I'm proud of the guys because I think this is the most heart we've wrestled with as a team all year. They continued to fight and battle, even when they were down, they were trying stuff and trying to open up to be better wrestlers. I think as we continue to grow, and continue to learn to open up and figure out we can compete with these other guys, that this team can achieve big things that way."