MORGANTOWN — Last year was a stellar season for the University High wrestling team.
Eight Hawks made the podium at the state meet, three of them earned a berth in the championship match of their respective weight classes, and, as a whole, UHS finished third, its best result since the program’s only team title, in 1956.
Halfway through this season, the Hawks seem to be proving the adage that “success breeds success.” University has recorded one impressive showing after another and appears ready to make waves once again come state tournament time.
“We’re where we should be right now,” UHS head coach Ken Maisel said. “Our lightweights are doing very well. Three out of the first four weights, our guys are undefeated.”
That trio of Jace Stockett, Jacob Simpson and Jake Staud has been pivotal to the early season success of the fourth-ranked Hawks, especially with the loss of a key contributor due to injury.
“Matthew Simpson, he’s out right now with a broken arm,” Maisel said. “We’re hoping to have him back for regionals, if not before. He was a state runner-up last year. That’s the nice thing, we’ve been doing what we’re doing without one of our best wrestlers in the lineup.
“Jace was good last year. He just couldn’t crack the lineup because we had a state runner-up at his weight. Now that he’s in the lineup, we’re really not surprised with what we’ve seen.”
Stockett and Staud put together big performances at third-ranked Parkersburg, on Wednesday. The pair of sophomores went 2-0 against Ripley and the host Big Reds, propelling UHS to a 2-0 team record at the meet. University edged Parkersburg, 36-30, and defeated Ripley, 48-29.
The meet, against two top-five finishers at last year’s state meet, marked a noticeable uptick in the difficulty of the Hawks’ already challenging schedule.
“This is a big month. We’re into what we call ‘the grind’ now,” Maisel said. “Our schedule is set up this way on purpose. The goal is to perform at the end of February, and the schedule is made that way. If we have a few losses along the way, that’s OK if they help us prepare for the end of February.”
The Winner’s Choice and Ohio Valley Athletic Conference tournaments, along with meets against Huntington, Wheeling Park, East Fairmont and Point Pleasant — all ranked in the top five in Class AAA or AA — will provide numerous challenges for the Hawks ahead of the postseason.
That experience should provide much-needed reps for a few younger competitors who will be counted on a great deal come February.
“We’re very young in the upper weights,” Maisel said. “182 up to heavyweight, we have two sophomores and two juniors, and the two juniors have very little wrestling experience. We need to get some points from those guys as the year goes on, for sure.”
The Hawks will rely on two others in the lineup to help secure another strong showing in the postseason. Owen Zeiders and Braeden Pauley both made the podium at state a year ago, with Zeiders recording his 100th career win en route to a fourth-place finish in the 145-pound class.
The season continues Jan. 6, when UHS hosts Preston, Brooke and Buckhannon-Upshur. UHS then will visit archrival Morgantown on Jan. 10, for a meet against MHS and John Marshall.