Central Point’s Brower clinches national title for Clackamas
Zeth Brower experienced the pinnacle of being an athlete last Thursday.
No matter the sport, the dream of coming up clutch to lead your team to a championship is never far from your mind.
To turn that dream into reality, as the Central Point wrestler did in securing his first national championship and a third straight title for the Clackamas Community College program, well it’s hard not to let those emotions overcome you.
And that’s what led to an exclamatory moment for Brower one week ago in Iowa after his pin in 3 minutes, 18 seconds at 133 pounds.
“It was awesome, there’s no feeling like it,” said Brower. “I don’t really celebrate or anything like that but when you get a pin, especially with the title riding on the line with the team, it was just a lot of emotion.”
It’s a moment that Clackamas head coach Josh Rhoden will also cherish for a long time.
“It’s kind of wrestling’s version of the walk-off home run,” said Rhoden. “Zeth hit that on Thursday night.”
“It doesn’t matter what sport, whether you have the ball in your hands to hit the last 3 or a chance to score the last touchdown or name the analogy in sports,” added the coach. “In wrestling it doesn’t happen very often. We’ve won two other national championships in a row before this one and none of those were within a margin that mattered by that one finals match. I don’t say that in any way other than just to reference just how exceptional that is to have, so it was pretty awesome because you literally have to have ice water in your veins a little bit because everybody’s watching.”
What they were watching proved to be a wrestler confident in his abilities and comfortable in his position on the mat.
As the No. 1 seed, Brower set out to prove a point after finishing third at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Wrestling Championships in 2019 and missing last year due to a medical redshirt spurred by lingering concussion issues.
“I felt very comfortable the whole season,” said Brower, who was a two-time state runner-up at Crater (2015 and 2016) and 2018 state champion after placing third in 2017. “I knew exactly what I had to do and I had a clear vision of what it took, coming off a loss and coming back needing to get that top spot.
“It just takes a lot of keeping your head down and working hard, just staying humble and staying quiet and letting the work show out in the end. I knew that all the hard work was going to pay off, I just had to keep a level head in the chaos and go out and get that top spot.”
The manner in which Brower pulled it off certainly was impressive. He entered the tournament 13-0 — roughly half as many matches as a typical campaign — and posted four pins and a 13-4 major decision to dominate his weight class.
“This last week he was literally as good as you could be,” said Rhoden. “As good as you could want someone to compete, he was that. You always hope that you get guys prepared for those big moments and be ready to be the best version of themselves, and in his case he really did.”
“He just allowed himself to compete and wrestle freely,” added the coach. “That’s a hard thing to do, especially in a moment like he was in where if you win, you don’t just win for yourself but your entire team now vaults into the lead of the national championship in what was really a close team race that we hadn’t led yet in.”
Brower breathed a sigh of relief after his semifinals pin put him into the championship match simply because he had assured himself of a better finish than his previous trip to nationals.
After his teammates had worked hard to put Clackamas in position for a third straight crown with a steady push in the consolation rounds — the Cougars had four third-place finishers and two in fifth place — Brower found himself as his team’s final option to overtake Western Wyoming for the title after teammate Cameron Enriquez finished as runner-up at 125.
“It was definitely something we talked about but there was no pressure on me from my team,” said Brower of entering his last match. “We had such a good chemistry and they worked so hard to get us into the position where I could seal the deal like that, I knew I just had to do it.”
Brower surrendered a first-period takedown to No. 2 seed Jason Henschel of Pratt, but got a reassuring pep talk from assistant coach Daniel Leonard during a break for a headgear malfunction that refocused his energies.
“People get taken down no matter what level you’re at, you’ve just got to stay focused,” said Brower, who turns 21 on May 8. “My coach told me when I got back to the corner that he’s not going to wrestle you for seven minutes, and I knew that too so I just kept going.”
An escape and ensuing takedown quickly put Brower ahead 3-2 entering the second period, and he took it from there after starting from the down position.
“I was obviously looking for a pin,” said the redshirt sophomore. “I planned on getting away and taking him down because I could kind of feel him starting to give a little bit and I was just starting to pick it up, but I wasn’t expecting to catch him in that pin specifically out of that scramble.”
A Granby roll and some unexpected good fortune later and the match was his.
“I caught that leg and felt him sitting on his butt to maybe expose him,” said Brower, “and when I stacked him up with his head under and I felt like he was flat, I was like, yep, that’s it.”
Sure enough it was, pushing Clackamas to the team lead with 152.5 points and needing only a Western Wyoming loss in the 174 finals to cap a storybook ending with a 5 ½-point winning margin.
“It was really satisfying,” said Brower. “It’s been a long push considering last year I didn’t wrestle and I was coming off a long break and then dealing the whole year with COVID, there was a lot of adversity to overcome so it felt good to get that title, for sure.”
That adversity extended to having a wrestling season at all, which was in doubt until February.
“For a large part of this (school) year, we weren’t 100% certain that the Oregon Health Authority and the governor were going to let us compete,” said Rhoden. “From September through December, all we did was lift weights and run. We might as well have been a track team. We didn’t put hands on each other and couldn’t do any of that inside the state and on the college campus.”
Through all the discussions, it was Brower that kept running through Rhoden’s mind as he made pleas to anyone who would listen.
“The guy that was always in my mind the entire year was Zeth,” said the coach. “I have a pretty good connection with Zeth, he’s my (5-year-old son Cody’s) favorite guy. He was in the forefront of my mind, that he’s going to graduate and he needs an opportunity to showcase his talent and wrestle on that stage.
“It was always him when I was talking to our president or our Dean, that guys like Zeth need an opportunity. So for him to come full circle in those long conversations that I had trying to convince our executive team that this was an important thing ... for him to be the one that closes it out was just real fitting to be able to have that for him.”
With a national championship in hand, Brower now turns his attention toward his next step after earning his community college degree. He will have three years of eligibility remaining, making Brower a hot commodity for a host of Division I suitors.
“Honestly it’s been really chaotic right now because with COVID my window is shortened to five months to figure out where I want to go to school and move before the next season starts up,” he said. “I want to go somewhere new and somewhere I enjoy. I’ve been doing this sport for over half of my life, I definitely want to get as much as I can out of it and enjoy these last couple years with it.”
Until that next journey, he’ll always have one spectacular night to look back on as the culmination of a lot of hard work behind the scenes at Clackamas.
“Not everyone sees all the little things that you have to go through but there’s just a lot,” he said. “It’s the same with everyone on this team, we overcame so much with the adversity this year. The hoops that we had to jump through — sometimes I still don’t even know how we did it — it’s all just amazing. I’m thankful to God for the position I’ve been in.”
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