MORGANTOWN — In high school, Zeke Moisey once wrestled in a match where his right shoulder popped out of its socket three times.
After using two injury timeouts to slip it back in place on the first two occasions, Moisey was informed by the referee that he would have to forfeit the match if he was forced to use a third injury timeout.
That was not an option.
So, when it happened the third time, Moisey got up and started to run away from his opponent, while leaning over and hoping his muscles would somehow suck the shoulder back into its joint.
“I ended up beating the kid,” Moisey said. “He wrestles for North Carolina State now.”
So, yeah, it’s sort of an understatement to say Zeke Moisey understands pain.
The 125-pound WVU wrestler understands every damn inch of it.
That also includes recovering from pain, which Moisey has done extremely well during a wrestling career that has included three shoulder surgeries and one on his left elbow — “I’m probably going to have a little arthritis to deal with when I’m older,” he said with a smile.
The elbow injury kept Moisey out of the 2016 NCAA wrestling championships and forced him to take a medical redshirt and sit out last season.
“I know what it takes to get back from an injury,” Moisey said matter-of-factly. “I know how important physical therapy is in the process.”
Moisey — along with teammates Matthew Schmitt (133) and Jacob A. Smith (197) — is back at the NCAA tournament, which begins at noon on March 15, at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
Moisey, who was the national runner-up at 125 pounds as a freshman, after upsetting his way through the bracket as an unseeded wrestler, is the No. 13 seed in his weight class.
Both Schmitt and Smith are unseeded and face two of the top seeds in their weight classes in today’s first round.
Schmitt (21-12) will face No. 1 seed Seth Gross (24-1) of South Dakota State. Gross already owns two wins over Schmitt this season.
Smith, a Charleston native making his third consecutive trip to the NCAAs, takes on No. 2 seed Ben Darmstadt (30-1) of Cornell.
Moisey (22-9) faces Virginia Tech’s Kyle Norstrem (11-14) in the first round.
The two met earlier in the season, with Moisey winning, 10-3.
“For me, it was never a question of Zeke getting back,” WVU head coach Sammie Henson said. “He’s such a great competitor. He’s got a great personality. He’s a winner. I would never bet against him.
”It was a long road back for him. He’s still dealing with it some. I know how much work he’s put in, so as a coach it’s sort of gratifying to see him becoming the Zeke that everyone knows.”
Moisey, too, said his faith in the rehab and healing process and confidence in himself would eventually get him back on track.
But, it was far from a process of sitting out a year, healing, and then walking out on the mat and resuming his role as one of the top wrestlers in the country.
That’s what Moisey would have loved, but it didn’t work out that way.
“It’s a grind,” Henson said. “He came in with the right attitude, but it took him some time. We had our battles, because I was going to challenge him. He has high expectations for himself, but my expectations for him might even be higher.”
“He had rust on his mind, rust on his legs and rust on his body. It was not an easy road, but he’s a great kid and a winner. That’s why he’s back.”
Henson said he continued to stress a “big picture” outlook to Moisey all season. Moisey admitted that he wasn’t always interested.
“You never want to hear it all the time,” he said. “It’s humbling sometimes, but he’s the best coach in the country. It was great for me to be able to put my trust into what he was saying.”
The big picture now, Moisey hopes, is another shot at the national title that he was one victory away from in 2015.
“It’s almost the exact same thing,” Moisey said. “My freshman year, I had my ups and downs. I lost to some people I shouldn’t have.
“I feel like my best wrestling comes in March. Maybe I wasn’t ready to wrestle [Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley] the first weekend of the season, but I was ready to wrestle him at Big 12s. I’m confident in my training and where I’m at.”