By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
From now on, maybe Cody Clifton should pay absolutely zero attention to who’s who in West Virginia high school wrestling. As good as he already is, he seems to be even better when there is no name and no face.
Clifton, a sophomore at Liberty High School, pulled off more than even he expected when he won his weight division at the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Columbus, Ohio, last month. Clifton defeated five wrestlers to take the 135-pound championship in the Cadet division.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Clifton, who lost to best friend and former teammate Chris Clark of Independence in the 138-pound title match at the state tournament in February. “All the kids in my weight class were from states that are pretty big in wrestling, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. I just knew they were going to be good.”
The event is billed as the largest one-day wrestling tournament in the world. When it comes to wrestling all day, Clifton has been there and done that. But never against a collective group of wrestlers of the caliber he faced in Columbus.
Just don’t ask him their names.
“I do better out of season, when there is less pressure on me,” Clifton said. “I was excited. I wasn’t worried about anything.”
No one likely expected Clifton to win, which is no slight to his ability. The tournament attracts the best wrestlers from 12 different states, but Clifton was undeterred.
“When you don’t know their names,” Clifton said, “they’re not in your head and can’t scare you. Just go all out. Nothing to lose.”
Even with that philosophy, Clifton himself was amazed not just by winning, but by the apparent ease by which they came.
He won his first two matches 6-0 and his third 4-0. Clifton won 6-1 in the semifinals, but the lone point was scored when he let his opponent up for an escape point.
In the title match, Clifton defeated Andrew Shomers of Ransomville, N.Y., 4-0.
“I didn’t think I would do all that,” he said.
“(When it was over), I thought, ‘Wow! I really did win it. It was big.”
Clifton is believed to be the first Raleigh Countian to win at the tournament, which started in 2003.
“I just wanted to see what I could do in a big quality tournament,” Clifton said. “I wanted to test myself.”
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