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Third generation could be charm for Clay Campbell on the mat

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Photo by Tamie Meck Senior Clay Campbell medaled for the first time at the highly-competitive Warrior Classic, where he was 6-2 and placed fourth.

When Paonia senior Clay Campbell lost to a 4A wrestler in the third round at this year's Warrior Classic he went to work, winning five consecutive consolation matches and placing fourth at 145 pounds.

While he would like to have ended the tournament on a win, "I made the podium," said Campbell.

It's no small feat to place at the Warrior, which this year attracted 42 teams and 400 wrestlers. It's considered one of the most competitive tournaments of the year outside of the state championships.

"He had one of the tougher brackets," said head coach Nate Wiggins. "He just had a phenomenal tournament."

Campbell is having a phenomenal year. He's now 16-3 and took first at the Dec. 9 Panther Invitational in Delta.

But there's one medal he has yet to win: a state medal.

A three-time state qualifier for Paonia, as a freshman Campbell was two wins away from placing at 113 pounds. He was an agonizing one win away from medaling as a sophomore, and again as a junior, where he ended the season with a personal best 30-14 record.

Campbell is one of five seniors wrestling for the Eagles. A fifth generation member of the ranching Campbell family, he grew up on his family's 500-acre ranch and knows that hard work pays off. Being that close to making the podium at state, he said, just makes him want to work harder.

Last summer, Campbell attended as many camps as his work schedule would allow, including the Paonia Summer Duals. "The more time and the more situations you see, the more you learn," he said.

This season, "He's getting it done," said Wiggins. "He's improved a ton." Placing fourth at the Warrior "is good, especially for a first-year placer."

He's also wrestling more aggressively on his feet. "My mind's in the right place," he said. "I feel like I'm wrestling more in the mindset to win, instead of wrestling not to lose. Moving in that direction is helping me a lot."

Drill partners including Sackett Chesnik, Grey Neal and Jesse Burns, all ranked in the top 10 by On the Mat, are also helping a lot. Chesnik wrestles at 138, where he's 15-1. "He's just such a technician, and he does everything very precisely and he does it well," said Campbell.

Neal, a 152-pound sophomore with a 13-3 record and a No. 2 ranking in the state "... is just strong as an ox and he'll go in and just go for it," he said. "It's good to have that level of competition in the (wrestling) room. Some days you walk out of that room and you hate the other guy, but he's only in there to get better and to make you better. That tough competition in the room helps tremendously."

It also helps that Campbell grew up being coached by former head coach Andy Pipher, who in his 21 years as head coach won 22 state championships and five state team titles.

Campbell is ranked No. 5 in the state heading into the new year, but he doesn't pay much attention to rankings. "Rankings help for bracketing, but when it comes time, it's just who performs better on the mat," he said. On any given day, "Anyone can get upset, have a good match or a bad match."

Something Campbell does pay attention to is "Faded Glory," the wall at PHS bearing the names of all Paonia state placers since Russell Hylton placed second at 112 pounds in 1957. He walks by the wall every day on his way to practice. It doesn't escape him that there are no Campbells on the Faded Glory wall.

Clay Campbell is the third generation of Campbell wrestlers to pass through Paonia High School. Grandpa Jess Campbell went on to wrestle four years at Fort Lewis College in Durango, as did Clay's dad, Cal. His uncle Chad Campbell also wrestled at Paonia.

Grandmother Linda Campbell said that when Clay's dad wrestled, only the top two regional placers qualified for state (today the top four qualify). Cal got to state his junior year, but his senior year there was a measles epidemic and he missed the regional tournament.

Campbells own state championships in other sports. Clay's older sisters Shelby and Abby were members of the 2010 basketball team that won the state title. Abby also qualified for state in volleyball. Third cousin April Campbell holds the school record in the 100-meter hurdles.

Great grandpa Cal was coaching when Paonia won its first football title in 1959, and grandpa Jess was on the team. Last May Clay became the third generation of Campbells to play on a state champion baseball team when the Eagles won the Class 2A title. They ended the year at 25-0.

He's got one more year of baseball, and it could be another winning season, but for now, he's focused on mid-February and the state championships at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Said Campbell, with the conviction of a champion, "I just need to get my name on the board."

Photo by Tamie Meck The referee raises then-freshman Clay Campbell’s arm after winning a home match under the big light. The third generation of his family to wrestle for Paonia, Campbell is working hard to be the first to medal at state.
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