RIPLEY - Ripley High wrestling coach Matt Smith has confidence in his team. The 2013-14 version of a program that has consistently been a winner and respected by teams around the state under his guidance is establishing its own identity during early workouts.
“The guys have come in with positive attitudes and are working hard to get better and get where we need to be. I like the way they are going about their business, thus far,” said Smith, a former Mountain State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and state champion in his prep days.
The Vikings finished No.4 overall after the dust settled in last season’s Class AAA State Wrestling Tournament in Huntington.
Of the 10 wrestlers who qualified for states last season for Ripley, the blue and white landed five in the finals for the second year in a row.
2013 graduate and heavyweight Daryl Hicks and sophomore (junior this season) Jake Martin brought home titles, Martin’s came at (138) which will change this season as the standout running back for the football team has bulked up through rigorous time spent in the weight room.
“Our belief is that Jake will compete at 145 or possibly 152 this season,” said Smith.
Martin, last season’s Outstanding Wrestler award winner, holds two state titles and looks to build on that success.
Freddy Roush will be the Vikings heavyweight this season. The lineman on the gridiron had lost down to 220 at one point last season but is closer to 270 as workouts have begun.
“Freddy is looking good early on. He has the potential to do very well,” said Smith.
Preston Martin returns after suffering a knee injury in a state tournament final that required surgery. He sat out football season and looks to be moving like his old self in workouts.
“We have some kids banged up from football and Preston is recovering from major surgery. I think once we get into the swing of the season we will be fine. Preston is looking sharper every day,” said Smith.
Sophomore Lucas Simpkins, last season’s Viking Newcomer of the Year, was a state finalist last season at (126) and will make his presence known again this season. Coach Smith likes what he sees from his young star early on. “He was really put in the work and it will pay dividends for he and our team.”
Antonio Jones looks to make his mark this season at (120).
“Antonio needs to realize how good he is and how good he can be. Once he realizes that, things will open up for him,” said Smith.
Ripley lost Austin Hileman (132) as he will be suiting up for Coach Matt Bender’s Ravenswood team after transferring at the beginning of the school year.
“We have some freshmen who will have to step up for us and I believe they will,” added Smith.
Andres Danilukes returns at (113) and has impressed Smith in early practices and looks to make a name for himself this season on the mats.
Senior Austin Hall returns to the mats after wrestling for Smith in middle school and as a freshman after the coach took over the Viking varsity program. While Hall weighs in at around 200 lbs., it is unclear where he will compete.
“I am glad to see Austin out. He brings a lot to the table in terms of talent and how vocal he is in his leadership. I look for him to surprise some people and do very well after the layoff from the sport,” said Smith.
Hall and Preston Martin serve as the team’s only seniors.
Franklin Howerton and Seth Phalen return as assistant coaches for the Vikings.
With Huntington returning to defend their Class AAA title, Smith has a blue-collar approach to his team’s success. “We can’t worry about other teams. We have to take care of our business and prepare and put in the work. If we do these things, it doesn’t matter what other teams have or what they are doing.”
The team opens December 9 at home versus Hurricane & Riverside before hitting the road to Hoover Ohio for the Canton Holiday Tournament on December 13 and 14.