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Freitas, Clarke add to list of Pitman wrestling signees
Pitman wrestling signings
Pitman High wrestlers Lillian Freitas and Achilles Clark pose for a pictured after signing their National Letters of Intent to continue their academic and athletic careers in college during a ceremony on May 23 (Photo contributed).

Lillian Freitas and Achilles Clarke have each made decisions on their wrestling and academic futures last month during a signing ceremony on May 23. They join Lilly Avalos and Alana Ontiveros as Pride wrestlers who have signed national letters of intent this year to compete at the next level. The signings are a long time coming for both student athletes.

For Clarke, he credited the mentorship of Pride assistant coach Cody Vasconcelos for helping reach this point, one that he admittingly never thought was imaginable just a few years back.

“Freshman, sophomore year, I never thought I could go to college for wrestling,” Clarke said. “Junior year, I switched what I was doing by getting my grades better and focusing more on wrestling. It was all because I met Cody Vasconcelos. I met him the summer after my sophomore year and he said, ‘We can do this.’ It was just the work ethic. I never trained like I did and even in the classroom, he had me in the front, and even when he wasn’t there, I was always working.”

During his time at Pitman, Clarke was a Masters finalist this season while also medaling twice in the prestigious Doc Buchanan tournament, all while maintaining a 3.8 GPA and contributing to a Masters Academic banner. He explained that he has explored colleges for the past year, and that his eventual school of choice – Maryville University in Town and County, Missouri – popped up on his radar unexpectedly.

“After the state championship, we went out to Missouri, and we actually weren’t even there for them,” he joked. “Maryville was right next us. We looked at it and I emailed the coach (Mario Morgan) and he told me to come on over, and we had a great time. Before you know it, he had an offer for me and that’s where I ended up,” Clarke explained.

The 220-pounder believes that Maryville does a great job at promoting their sports and athletes, something that appealed to him.

“The way they promote their athletes is really cool,” he said. “When you walk into the room, they have posters of everyone, and they have a hall with all the trophies and awards. It was just a great place and I wanted to be a part of that.”

As far as academics go, Clarke will be pursuing a business degree, as his interest in finance and the stock market has grown exponentially over the years.

As for Freitas, she will pursue her passions at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois. Like Clarke, she feels as if her college of choice can help her achieve her athletic and academic goals, as she will be majoring in child development.

“Competing at the next level really became a dream of mine when I first went to Nationals and saw all the college girls competing,” Freitas said. “A bunch of the girls talked to me, I asked them why they wrestled, and I think wrestling really gave me a chance to earn my education, so I’m grateful for that… I babysit a little girl named Charlotte, and it’s honestly been the favorite job I’ve had. I love doing it and I definitely want to open a preschool or daycare when I’m older.”

Freitas explained that some of her friends are already enrolled at McKendree, and that the coaches reached out to her first. It was ultimately a no-brainer for Freitas, who liked what she saw in the child development and wrestling programs. In terms of wrestling, the Bearcats are the #1 ranked team in Division II women’s college wrestling heading into next season.

Performing at a high level alongside some of the best competition isn’t anything new to Freitas. She was Pitman High School’s first-ever state champion when she claimed the 143-pound throne in 2019 as a freshman. She went back-to-back in 2020 as a 150-pounder. She transferred to another school in order to compete in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when returning to Turlock, she was deemed ineligible to compete by the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section.

Despite not competing for the Pride this year, Freitas watched proudly as the girls squad dominated the competition and left with three CIF State Tournament medalists.

“My first memory when I first came here to Pitman, I was the only girl in the wrestling room, and it was intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited for the challenge and to make a name for myself,” Freitas said. “Now, Pitman wrestling is known more for the girls team, and I’m really proud to be one of those who paved the way…”