UNION CITY -- Clayton Hartwell wanted his name to be on "The Wall."
In the long history of the James Logan High wrestling program, only a few dozen wrestlers have their names on the wall -- reserved for those who have either won a section title or placed in the top eight at the state championships.
Hartwell is there now after a remarkable junior season that saw him win five tournaments at 195 pounds, including the North Coast Section championships, and finish sixth at the state meet in Bakersfield.
For those reasons, Hartwell was selected as Bay Area News Group's East Bay Wrestler of the Year.
"The best guys on the varsity team pushed me to get better, but they didn't really have to say anything," Hartwell said. "I just wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of the best guys in the room."
At the start of Hartwell's sophomore season, it wasn't clear if he would make the varsity team. But Hartwell dedicated himself to the sport, won the MVAL title and eventually took fourth at the NCS championships to qualify for the state meet. At the state championships, an elbow injury prevented him from competing.
That disappointment of not being able to wrestle at the state championships fueled Hartwell to take the next step in his development. He qualified to compete at the 2012 USAW Cadet Freestyle Nationals, where he trained with Olympic-caliber athletes and coaches.
"That experience really helped him improve as a wrestler," James Logan coach Eli Bagaoisan said of Hartwell. "He'd put the mat time in after practice each day. You could see he was getting better."
Hartwell's high school season got off to a solid start. In December, he took second at the Curt Mettler Invitational at Elk Grove High and later took first at the Zinkin Classic at Buchanan High. His expectations were high as he prepared for the prestigious Doc Buchanan Invitational, where he was the No. 2 seed at 195 pounds.
Hartwell made it to the semifinals but suffered a knee injury in the tournament and placed sixth.
Hartwell was disappointed. But once he was healthy again, he went on to win the Overfelt Classic and had a breakout moment when he won the Mission San Jose Invitational, as he defeated Clovis' Matt Weiss, then ranked fourth in the state, in the finals.
"That was definitely the golden match," Hartwell said. "I got down 4-0 and came back and was victorious. After that match, I knew I could win NCS."
Hartwell breezed though the MVAL championships, where the Colts won nine league titles, and captured the section title, as he pinned No. 1 seed Jason Price of McKinleyville in the second period. For about a month, Hartwell was unstoppable.
That momentum carried into the state championships, where he won his first three matches.
He ran into Jeramy Sweany of Vacaville in the quarterfinal and lost via pinfall in the third period, but he recovered from that match to win two more bouts and earn a sixth place medal.
"Since the beginning of my sophomore year, my goal was to be on the wall, and the only way to do that is to win NCS or place at state," Hartwell said. "That's all I wanted."