The buzzing is loud and clear in the Hive as Moorefield Wrestling prepares to sting opponents this season with nine returning grapplers and four promising newcomers ready to earn a trip to the state tournament in Huntington led by last year’s state qualifying juniors Isaac Van Meter and Kevin Wetzel .
The Yellow Jackets have a strong core of dedicated grapplers developing the team into a cohesive unit with dynamic power.
Moorefield Wrestling head coach T.J. Van Meter and assistant coach Larry Schoonover look for their hard-nosed athletes to make an impact throughout the season.
Starting the season off with a statement, the Yellow Jackets swarmed into the Hedgesville Duals this past weekend garnering five team victories which was four more than the previous year and for the first time in program history defeated Class AA rival Petersburg.
The Moorefield Wrestling co-captains for the season are senior Jackson Weese, junior Kevin Wetzel and junior Isaac Van Meter.
Van Meter finished last season as the 170-lb. state and regional runner-up with a record of 62-3 and Wetzel placed third at the regional to qualify for the state tournament with a record of 44-23 in the 138-lb. weight class.
Van Meter and Wetzel know what it takes to earn a match victory with discipline, focus and intensity.
Weese has been a valuable contributor to the team with his knowledge of the sport and has been making strides to keep the team growing every step and will be returning to the mat in the 126-lb, weight class.
Moorefield junior Allan Hardbarger has been developing into a solid wrestler learning techniques to compete in the 195-lb. weight class this year.
Moorefield junior Jake Frederick has been sidelined with an injury, but has been a huge vocal supporter of his teammates at the matches and loss to return to action in the 152-lb. weight class with good calculations on the mat.
At the Hedgesville Duals, sophomore Tyberious Clayton was trailing 7-1 against a Loudoun Valley opponent before making a reversal for a pin with seconds remaining in the match proving his tenacity to never give up. Clayton will be in the 152/160-lbs. range for wrestling this season.
Clayton’s sister Madalynn is currently helping keep the scorebook during the matches and is on the mend from an injury looking to return to the 120/126-lbs. weight class range. Maddy has a positive spirit and has experience on the mat which will benefit the team.
Moorefield sophomore Matthew Delawder was a sixth place medalist in the regionals last year and has shown a strong technical knowledge being able to battle into overtime in matches and will be a threat to reach the state tournament this year.
Moorefield sophomore Dominick Davis has been wrestling for years and has proven to be very aggressive and becoming more confident in making the moves to get closer to a podium spot.
The freshmen class has a mixture of experience and talent looking to give the Yellow Jackets a boost in competition: Ryan Hardbarger, Layne Spitzer, Grayson Miller and Levi Howard.
Hardbarger has shown some brute strength during practice and had a good showing in Hedgesville Duals proving he will be a dynamic wrestler in the 170-lb. range.
The Yellow Jackets will have its first 106-lb. wrestler under Coach Van Meter as Spitzer fills that role with a storied youth wrestling history looking to take the swiftness and skills to the next level with the potential to punch a ticket to the state tournament.
Miller (220-lb.) and Howard (285-lb) are new to the sport of wrestling and have been training well applying the knowledge effectively.
Moorefield will be in mostly tournaments this season with one home match on the schedule against East Hardy on February 4.
The Yellow Jackets will be in the 35th annual Mex Hortz Border Wars Invitational this weekend in Berkeley Springs, Musselman Duals on December 20-21, Baker Brawl, Sherando Tournament, WSAZ Tournament in Huntington and the Viking Smash.
Moorefield is ready to deliver the sting on the mats to reach the podium of success this season and coach Van Meter took time to share is thoughts:
How do you feel about the focus and energy of your team?
This is the first week of practice having everybody here, so that is nice. It presents better partners and match-ups. I like what I see so far. We have a bunch of hard-nosed, tough kids that will do anything you ask of them and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.
What are your goals and expectations for the team?
Overall as a team, I like wrestling because it does have a team component, but it is an individual sport at its core. At the end of the year everybody is looking to see how everybody did down in Huntington. To do well in Huntington, we have to get to Huntington. I am going to qualify as many kids as we can to the state tournament. I think we have the opportunity to qualify more guys for the state tournament this year than we ever have before, at least since I’ve been coaching. That’s a goal of mine and a goal of a lot of these young men and lady. They want to get to Huntington and do well once they get there. The most we have had go there is three in any given season. We have an opportunity of upwards of five to get there this year and that’s our goal.
Who are your captains and what do they bring to the team with their leadership?
Jackson [Weese] and Isaac [Van Meter] are our returning captains. Jack is a great leader, a polite and well-mannered young man. You couldn’t ask for a nicer kid. He is very respectful and is a great role model for the younger kids, especially for the freshmen on how to conduct yourself on and off the mat. Isaac is a competitor. He has already racked up close to 130 wins in his career and has only lost about six matches in his high school career. There’s not much more needed to say about that. He’s a great example of what hard work and determination is. He can laugh and joke around with the guys, then when he needs to flip the switch and become a fierce competitor he can do that. He walks that fine line of having a good time and when it is time to get serious, he gets serious and competes and does his best. Kevin [Wetzel] is a little bit a mixture of both of them. He can be as fiery as anybody competition-wise, but he’s also an incredibly hard worker. Not only with the wrestling, but when it comes time to move those wrestling mats and haul them to a different location he is always there to jump in and help. He is the first one to jump on the mat and clean and mop. As a coach that is what you notice, the first one to be here and the last one to leave and we appreciate that.
What are the weight classes and attributes for your wrestlers?
We are figuring that out as the season rolls through, hopefully that will filter out and it is tough for me to describe completely. The only two guys I know for sure where they are going to be is Layne [Spitzer] at 106-lb. and Levi Howard at heavyweight. Everyone else is in a state of flux. Basically what that means is I have four or five guys within ten pounds of each other which is kind of a nightmare situation coaching-wise, because you want to get those guys spread out. I have guys working on that and where they are at the beginning of the year is probably not where they are going to be at the end of the year. We like for those coming down gradually to a weight class and that’s going to take shape as the season unfolds.
How important is having experience such as the state tournament under a wrestler’s belt?
It’s a good example for our younger wrestlers. Two of our captains competing at the state tournament last year had very different paths in how they got there. Isaac has been wrestling since he was four or five years old and has been wrestling at a high level for a long time and still comes in everyday working hard and competing hard in practice and matches. I believe Kevin came into wrestling in the eighth grade, had one year of youth wrestling under his belt before high school. As an eighth grader, he had a .500 record and did well as a first-year kid, but had no experience. In his freshman year, he kind of picked up where he left off so he knew all the basics when it came to practice everyday. As he practiced, he really started to blossom and qualified for the state tournament as a freshman. He took another step in that direction as a sophomore qualifying again and had a better record and placed higher at regionals. He is gradually taking each stepping stone and the margins of victory the higher you get are thin. Isaac reached second place and hopefully this year he can take that next step up and win it this year. Kevin went from being a .500 youth wrestler and getting that experience to working hard to get to the state tournament. Each of them had different goals and both of them obviously want to get back to the state tournament. Isaac wants to be on top of the podium and Kevin is looking to get on the podium and both are capable of doing that. If I was a new wrestler coming in, I would look up to those two guys and see what they did. As a new wrestler, I am looking at Kevin and saying I can get to the state tournament this year or next year. Layne Spitzer is a freshman with youth experience and he can be competitive right away.
What about your new wrestlers and the mentality they bring to the program?
Levi Howard will be our heavyweight. He’s never wrestled before and picks things up quickly and is a really hard worker. I am excited about Howard, he’s attentive and wants to learn. I am excited for him to learn some footwork to translate to the football field next season. He is filling the role of Big Joe Palm, who is doing well at Glenville State and I am glad to hear that he is doing well.
Grayson Miller might do some heavyweight, but he is around 220 right now. Grayson is aggressive for his size and pretty athletic. He has done real well and wrestled in his first live practice tonight and pulled out the win which was nice to see. He is a hard worker and I am excited to see where he goes.
Layne Spitzer. Layne, all 100 pounds of him, will be our 106-lb. and I’ve never had a 106. In my fifth year coaching and this is my first 106-lb. wrestler and I am so glad to fill that spot. Layne is incredibly skilled. He did not wrestler last year, but he had wrestled from four years old up to seventh grade and took a year off. We talked about it and how he was getting a little burned out and I told him he would enjoy high school wrestling and take a year off, eat and gain some weight. He moves fast and might be the most athletic guy on the team. He can do standing back flips from one end of the gym to the other. I am excited to see him compete for us and I think he will be a hammer for us right away.
Ryan Hardbarger. Ryan or Bull as we call him. Ryan has been very effective over the last few years wrestling in and out with the youth program. He and his older brother Allen wrestled in the youth program in the early elementary school level and went away from the sport before returning in middle school. He has placed in the youth state tournament in third place for seventh grade and was runner-up as an eighth grader. He is one of those guys who has had success and knows what he is doing. He has the nickname Bull and that is kind of his wrestling style straight ahead and a hard-nosed kid for a freshman. He’ll probable wrestle at 170-lb. or so. We look for him to progress and take advantage of his practice partners like Isaac and Ty, who are skilled to shorten the high school jump. I think he will be successful right away.
Dominick Davis, like Kevin, came to us late in wrestling starting in the eighth grade and continues to get better. He’s a hard-nosed kid and likes to joke around, but he is a good kid and I like him a lot. He is one of those kids who is like a dog on a bone, once he gets a leg he won’t let go. He’ll eat a cross-face and is a very determined kid.
Tyberious Clayton. We look for Ty Clayton to have a very big year for us. He’s one of those kids not quite at the weight he wants to be at yet and is working himself down to 152-lb. by regionals and will start around 160-lb. Ty has wrestled for a long time and is very skilled. He has put a lot of time in the weight room and I can tell Coach Altobello and those guys have put time in with these guys. He is looking really strong and feels strong. I think he is one of the guys we can get to Huntington and put him on the podium.
Maddy Clayton. Maddy is probably going to fill the 120-126-lb. spot, but right now she is on the shelf with a shoulder injury. We appreciate Maddy a bunch. During the duals tournaments she is out there trying to help us get team points. In the individual tournaments she keeps the book for us and she is here at practice everyday. She is as much a member of the team as anybody else. She ran the clock tonight during our scrimmage. I would like to see her compete in the girls invitational and I think she would hold her own.
Matthew Delawder. Matthew is one of those kids who came to wrestling in seventh or eighth grades. It afforded him as a freshman knowing the basics. He did pretty well and we took him to the state tournament as an alternate. He was fifth place at regionals last year and lost a tight match which would have given him that fourth place spot to allow him to compete in Huntington. I look forward to him taking that next step. He is in the upper weight class range, so he has a choice of wrestling partners with various skill levels. The time and effort we are putting in with him should translate into having him go to Huntington this year.
Isaac, we already talked about him. Kevin, we talked about him.
Jake Frederick. Jake is a fiery competitor and he will come in that 160/170-lb. range. He had a nasty high ankle sprain he suffered during gym class playing basketball of all things a wrestler should be doing. Prayers he can come back and compete with us as soon as he gets healthy. He had some youth wrestling experience and came back to it as he got older. It’s like riding a bicycle, if they have three or four years as a youth and come back to it later on they will remember the basics. We really want to get Jake back in our lineup.
Allen Hardbarger. I can’t say enough nice things about Allen. He’s a great kid and a hard worker, he shows up everyday and will do anything you ask him to do. When the kids come off the mat you can see who worked the hardest by how much they sweated through their shirt and Allen has always worked up a sweat. He is really committed and made himself a really good wrestler. We are shifting the weight classes around and he is at 180-lb. right now and we have Isaac and his younger brother around there too. I have a log jam between 160 to 180-lbs. right now.
Jackson Weese. I talked about him.
Why is there a plethora of tournaments on the schedule?
When I started coaching here, I talked with our athletic director Dennis Hill about doing as many tournaments as we can. These tournaments give you the most bang for your buck, but it is a double-edged sword since you have more matches and more chance for injuries. You want to be healthy when it comes down to regionals. When looking back at my experience at what other teams have done and individuals have done to be on the podium in Huntington, those guys have 50-plus matches and the only way to get that done is by wrestling in multiple tournaments and that’s what we have done. I am appreciative of Coach Hill and the administration for allowing us to compete in these tournaments and for the boosters for helping us be there. These tournaments speak to the methodology of working out to be on the podium.
How important is the mood at practice?
This is the first week we have been back on the mats and I try to make it as fun as possible for them to be fresh for the tournaments. We had a little scrimmage among ourselves and they had fun competing. We played dodgeball at the beginning of practice and the kids were really excited about that and it kept them moving. They were running around the gym in laps flinging the balls around and they enjoyed that. They were running for five minutes, but there was fun and laughter too. There is pride there, but they are just kids having fun.
Team Motto: The first one that comes to mind is “Just Win, Baby” by Al Davis and the Raiders. Captain Kevin Wetzel espoused those words at practice, so we will go with that motto in honor of Al Davis.