Young Mustangs excel on mat

By Donna Stephens Originally Published April 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 12, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.
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Teams compete at the state championship wrestling tournament at the Jack Stephens Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Central Arkansas Christian finished third in the tournament.

Central Arkansas Christian has been among the state’s best high school wrestling programs for years, but coach Keith Almond said his Mustangs overachieved this season.

CAC, which won a state championship before the Arkansas Activities Association sanctioned the sport and also won the first Class 1A-5A sanctioned title, finished third in the state tournament a few weeks ago.

The team missed a runner-up finish by just 3.5 points.

“We were pretty young, and going into the year, we didn’t know what to expect,” Almond said. “Just giving the coaching analysis, we overachieved from what we thought we could do.”

He attributed good senior leadership and work ethic across the roster for the continued improvement throughout the season.

Maumelle won its first state title, taking the Class 1A-5A championship with 288.5 points. Beebe was second with 195.5; CAC finished third with 192. The rest of the top 10 included Little Rock Christian, 156.5; Bismarck, 117; Greenbrier, 114.5; Ashdown, 101.5; Mountain View, 92; Episcopal Collegiate, 92; and Gentry, 88.5.

CAC had four wrestlers earn all-state honors (signified by a top-three finish in weight classification).

Sophomores Braden Zini (in the 182-pound weight division) and Jason Kidder (220) won individual state championships. Zini beat Harrison Caubble of Valley View in the title match to finish the season with a 33-2 record; Kidder pinned Brody Welcher of Beebe in the final to complete a 26-1 mark.

Seniors Jared Clasen (138) and Aaron Dempsey (160) finished runner-up to Maumelle’s Justin Butler and Keon McVay, respectively. Clasen closed with a 30-3 record; Dempsey was 17-7.

Other Mustangs placing at state were Preston Barnett, sophomore, fifth in 120; Kyler Simmons, junior, fifth in 145; and Shane Almond, freshman, fifth in 152.

Fifteen Mustangs finished the season; 13 should return next year. Almond said he should also get some good eighth-graders moving up.

“Our youth program has been a good feeder for our program,” he said. “We’ve got 20 to 25 there. We start them in kindergarten, and we’ve been able to see the results of that the last couple of years. Some of our ninth-graders have come in with more experience than some on the roster.”

As an example, he pointed to his son, Shane, and his fifth-place state finish.

“He probably wouldn’t have done that as a ninth-grader if he hadn’t been wrestling for four years,” Almond said.

He said this year, for the first time, the Mustangs probably would continue their wrestling workouts year-round. Wrestlers will move from high school’s folkstyle to freestyle for the offseason; several will aim for the Arkansas Freestyle State Tournament on May 4.

“There are out-of-state tournaments we can attend, and we’re getting some parents really involved now,” Almond said. “You know, these dads never wrestled. They’re coming on board and they don’t have a clue, but after about two years they’re catching on; their kid really likes it.

“That’s the neat thing about wrestling. You’ve got a team and individual weight classes, and an individual can climb as high as he wants. As hard as he practices, it can pay off,” Almond said.

He praised the leadership of seniors Clasen and Dempsey, calling them “team-oriented.” Dempsey finished state runner-up for the third year.

“You can move up a weight class, and I asked them ahead of time if they wanted to move up because they might have a better chance to win individually,” Almond said. “But they said they’d rather stay where they were even though the kids who beat them had beaten them earlier in the year.

“They said they would rather wrestle the best in the state even if they finished runner-up. I was impressed. That taught me a lot. They wanted to take on that challenge, and if they came up short, they could handle it because that was helping the team. That’s the kind of guys they are.”

Almond said both Clasen and Dempsey would attend the University of Central Arkansas next year on ROTC scholarships.

He said he thought Zini and Kidder could become the first Mustang wrestlers to wrestle in college.

“We’ve had those who’ve had the ability but didn’t choose to do that,” he said. “These two placed fifth in the state tournament last year and basically said, ‘I love wrestling; I want to be at the top.’ They kept wrestling, and this year I expected them to win going in just because they had worked so hard.

“I told them about the middle of the season, ‘You’ll be the kid to beat.’ Word’s going to get around, and they quickly came into that.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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