RIPLEY - A quick glance at the Ripley High School wrestling roster could make the casual fan of the mats cringe a little with the absence of a combined seven championships between the graduated Adam Bicak and David Hicks. Then, Jarrod Simpkins, who transferred out, was a state champion as a sophomore.
A closer look reveals a team that could be even better overall than the team that finished as the AAA runner up in West Virginia to Parkersburg South last season. The team will represent in all 14-weight classes this season, an issue last season that did cost them because they had nobody taking the mat at 106.
Ripley has a wrestling tradition as rich and filling as Maw-Maw's cheesecake. The blue and white have notched their fourth straight top three state tournament finish and sixth straight Region-3 team championship. The Vikings boast a pair of three time champions (Mitch Smith, David Hicks) and a four-time winner in Adam Bicak.
The Vikings return a state champion in super sophomore Jake Martin (43-4 last season), who just put away the cleats a month ago serving as the Viking quarterback.
Ripley also returns five seniors with experience and desire to take their team to the top.
Nate Starkey (170), Daryl Hicks (285), Martin Kuhl (182), Greg Medina (195) and Alex Espino (160) return for their final year as grapplers for the blue and white.
At the West Virginia State Tournament seniors Hicks (38-10) finished second, Medina (28-20) took sixth overall and Starkey, surprisingly missed the big show by one match.
"I think from top to bottom we are going to be extremely tough. We have a lot of guys who have put in the time to improve and we like our team and where we are right now," said head coach Matt Smith.
Smith was named Mountain State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for the 2011-12 season.
The team lost senior Jarrod Simpkins (42-6), who finished third at (113) last season. Simpkins transferred to Huntington High while his brother Lucas (126), a promising freshman with a long history of success in middle school, remains a Viking.
"We hated to lose Jarrod. He was such a big part of our team," said Smith. "He is in a very good program in Huntington and he will have a tremendous year for them."
Juniors Preston Martin (152) was state runner up last season at (132) and Austin Hileman (132) finished sixth. Both wrestlers return to build on their impressive prep resumes. Both wrestlers, along with Daryl Hicks, are coming off of fine seasons anchoring the Viking defense of football coach Jimmy Frashier.
Nate Starkey and Greg Medina have impressed Smith with their dedication in the off-season.
"Those guys have traveled and competed in open tournaments and have wrestled quite a bit and come back stronger through weightlifting. I realize and understand that guys like Hicks (Daryl) did hit the weights but play multiple sports and have other commitments in our off-season. Alex Espino has worked very hard for his senior year after not wrestling as a junior. He has looked very good so far."
Page 2 of 2 - The team has a female on the roster in freshman Brianna Mills who will be wrestling at (106) but probably weighs closer to 95 pounds.
Coach Smith has high expectations for his team. He sets high standards for his wrestlers but is known to be one of the hardest working and dedicated skippers in the Ripley coaching community. His summer wrestling camp has grown with each passing year as he garners respect in the state of West Virginia coaching ranks.
Pre-season rankings are due to be released this week. It would be a tremendous surprise if the Vikings are not ranked in the pre-season top five (AAA).
Other Wrestlers competing on the mats are Shane Johnson, Garrett Phillips, Blake Tanner, Anthony Perdew, Chase Ratliff, Levi Bryant, Antonio Jones, Freddy Roush, Andrejs Daniluks and Nathan Westfall.
While Parkersburg South has been the team that has been chased in recent years with four straight AAA titles, there seems to be more parody on the mats now as teams like Huntington, Ripley, Parkersburg and Wheeling Park among others flex their muscles with returning talent and will be serious contenders in 2012-13.
The Vikings are up for the challenge and look forward to their season opener on Saturday at Parkersburg South that also includes Cabell Midland and Buckhannon.
"Kicking the season off with South is a big early test for us. We are excited to get this season going," said Smith.