Camel wrestling takes another step in the right direction | Local

For the first time in five years, Clay Rodgers is not starting from scratch to enter a new wrestling season.

Rodgers, who has coached the Campbell County High School wrestling team since 2017, had about 40 student-athletes showing up for the first day of training Monday. The team will start the season with 10 seniors, its largest group of students since Thunder Basin opened in 2017.

Hunter Henderson Sr. and rookie Hayden Friesen struggle during preseason practice Tuesday afternoon at Campbell County High School.

“We have boy groups that have been doing this in our program for years now and I feel like we can get in and we don’t have to stop the momentum from practicing so much,” Rodgers said. “I feel like we can pick up the pace in training because we don’t have to sit everyone down and show them how to do things.

The past five seasons haven’t been about winning tag team titles for the Campbell County wrestling program. The last five seasons have been about building a full squad.

Since the opening of TBHS, the camel wrestling program has been one of the most affected sports programs in terms of the number of participations. The tides started to change last year with the school’s highest wrestling count since 2017.

“It looks very comparable to last year,” Rodgers said after practice on Tuesday. “I think last year we got around 40 to 41 and I think today we had about 38 or 39 practices.

“It’s always better than my first three years. The numbers are good.

Campbell County won’t have that much this season. The Camels are back four state-placers from last year, including junior Darron Provost (second at 113 pounds), senior Colt Welsh (third at 113 pounds), sophomore Logan Johnson (third at 126 pounds) and senior Lucas Hill (sixth at 132 pounds).

“There are a lot of expectations to do as well or do even better this season, at least for me,” said Provost. “When we were doing open rugs we had literally double the number of people than before, so there is a lot more support around us this year.”

Camel wrestling

Camel junior Darron Provost does push-ups with his team while warming up during preseason wrestling practice at Campbell County High School on Tuesday afternoon.

With a large group of seniors, this year’s squad will have a presence of seasoned veterans whose program has been deprived of for half a decade. Last year’s team ended the year with just one senior, Rodgers said.

“This is our first real group of seniors since I’ve been here,” Rodgers said. “This is our first group of seniors to take this program in four years.

In the last two years, the seniors had graduated in second year or in juniors. This is the first group of guys who put on the four-year-olds, which gets Rodgers excited.

The inconsistency in the number of participants has led the camels to wrestle in the state tournament for the past four seasons. Since the split, Campbell County has finished 12th in 2018, 12th in 2019 and 10th in 2020. The team finished ninth as a team last year, their best result since opening TBHS.

The goal now is to improve that number and to align wrestlers in the right places on the list. Gone are the days when places on the list were won out of necessity, Rodgers said. After four long years, the places on the list are finally won by dedication, heart and work ethic.

“The time it has taken over the past few years to get this program back to where it was before the split is definitely visible,” Hill said.

The tides are changing in the Campbell County wrestling hall, and it’s a good feeling for a senior like Hill who has spent countless hours putting the Camels back on the map. This year’s team will have the most seniors since Hill was in high school.

Camel wrestling

Sophomores Cameron Morgan, left to right, and Isaiah Welch practice wrestling skills at Campbell County High School on Tuesday.

“I feel like having so many seniors really brings the team together and shows that we can all stick to it and we’re all committed,” said Hill. “In the last two years when we only had one senior, no one was really that excited about wrestling. But the seniors this year are ready to keep everyone going. It’s a big commitment.

Returning state underwriters rarely struggle to set goals for a new season. Hill, Johnson, Welsh and Provost are all working to finish higher on the podium this year.

“I really feel like we can be up there with the best teams,” said Provost. “Now we’ve filled all of our weights and we have kids who know what they’re doing to each of them. We can definitely finish in the top 5 as a team.

A big difference from last year will be the return of tournaments on regular season brackets. Last year’s tournaments were all doubles to limit the number of wrestlers in the gym at any given time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m going to love having real tournaments again more than just having duels,” Johnson said. “I’ve been wrestling in normal tournaments since I was a kid so it’s good to come back to them.”

Campbell County’s wrestling program won’t return to its dominant form overnight. But this year, it’s about taking another small step in the right direction to bring camels back to the top of Class 4A competition.

The Camels will begin the regular season at the Powell Invite on December 10-11. Campbell County and Thunder Basin will host the annual Pat Weede Memorial December 17-18 at the Cam-plex.

The regional class 4A East tournament will be held February 18-19 in Sheridan. The Class 4A State Tournament takes place February 25-26 in Casper.

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