MORGANTOWN — Housed in a facility that is nestled on top of a hill overlooking part of downtown Morgantown, the Mountaineer Middle School wrestling program is making a name for itself.
Dubbed “The Factory,” head coach Rick Hillberry’s program has compiled a 38-8 dual-meet record so far this year and is ranked No. 16 in the state.
“We have a young team,” Hillberry said. “Most of the kids that we get in sixth grade or even eighth grade are first-year kids that have never wrestled before. So I have three months to train these guys. In three months, I feel like I can make a wrestler out of just about anybody.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, the team placed 17th at the WSAZ Tournament, in Huntington. The 90-team field consisted of schools from all over the state and even some from Ohio and Kentucky.
Hillberry said the WSAZ is the highest-rated tournament in West Virginia, “a very tough tournament. We’ve placed kids in the past, but never anything of this magnitude this year. We had our first champion and a couple kids take fourth place and couple others take fifth.”
To wrap up its season, the team will participate in the conference tournament, Feb. 2-3, at the old armory in Fairmont.
Since it was founded, in 2010, Mountaineer’s program has served as a feeder program to University High School, currently the No. 2 ranked Class AAA wrestling team in the state. Some of the Hawks’ current stars started off their wrestling careers at Mountaineer Middle, including Josh Sanders, Owen Zeiders and Braeden Pauley.
A significant part of MMS’s success this year can be attributed to two young wrestlers: Mason Pauley and Dakota Hagedorn.
Mason Pauley, Braeden’s younger brother and an eighth-grade wrestler, is the most decorated wrestler in MMS history. He won the conference title in the 78-pound weight class last year and is the first wrestler in the program’s young history to reach 100 career wins.
Growing up in Morgantown, Pauley started wrestling in kindergarten at a pee-wee club.
“My dad just signed me up and I just kept going from there,” he said. “I found it fun and so I just continued. I enjoy the challenge and the fact that not a lot of people do it, so it kind of separates me from the rest.”
This weekend, Pauley will attempt to become the first two-time conference champion in program history. This time, he’ll be wrestling in the 102-pound weight class.
“His older brother wrestled here and was very good,” Hillberry said. “Mason has a different attitude about the sport. He works hard in practice.”
Like Pauley, seventh-grader Hagedorn also began wrestling at a young age. He started off attending one of the Mountaineer Wrestling Club’s camps and enjoyed it so much that he started regularly attending the club.
Hagedorn is in a position to possibly break many of the program’s records by the time he leaves for high school. He has an 87-10 record, including 52-0 this year, in the 135-pound weight class. He also was the program’s first champion at the WSAZ Tournament.
“He’s a special kid,” Hillberry said. “These guys work hard. He received the highest honor you can receive in junior high wrestling by winning the WSAZ Tournament this year.”
Both Pauley and Hagedorn plan to continue to wrestle once they get to UHS.
“We work hard here, so that definitely sets all of us apart, not just me, from everybody else,” Hagedorn said.