Viking mat squad features 14 wrestlers for 2021-22 season

Mark Martin
Special to Jackson Newspapers
Ripley's Brett Haskins (right) eyeballs an opponent on the mats during last year's West Virginia High School State Wrestling Tournament. Haskins, now a senior, was a state runner-up as a sophomore and is looking for a big finish to his Viking wrestling career. He currently owns a record of 22-5.

Matt Smith is happy to be working with 14 wrestlers this season at Ripley High School.

The former state champion's only wish is that those 14 competitors filled out all the of the weight classes.

Smith’s been fortunate in recent seasons to see his teams have wrestlers in each of the 14 weight divisions that are allowed in West Virginia high school wrestling.

While that isn’t the case in this 2021-22 campaign, Smith, who won an individual title for the Vikings in 2002, is excited with those who are competing for his alma mater.

Gone from last year’s team is Nate Cox, who captured a state championship in Class AAA’s 113-pound division.

“He’s now one of our Midget League coaches,” said Smith.

Others who graduated are Matt Moore, Isaac Parsons, Dakota Parsons, Andrew Manley and Luke Miller, who is now wrestling at West Liberty.

There are three seniors on this year's Viking team.

Brett Haskins, who was a state runner-up as a sophomore, returns for his senior season with high hopes. Haskins is wrestling in the 145-pound class.

“He was sixth as a freshman and then runner-up the next year. He was a match away from placing last year. He was in a tough weight class last year,” said Smith. “He lost a couple of close matches. I think it has made him more durable for this season.

“He finished fifth in the tournament in North Canton (Ohio). He lost a close match in the semifinals and then lost another close match. He’s a guy to keep an eye on this year. He’s matured a lot. I like the way he carries himself. I’m looking forward to seeing how he finishes off his career.”

Brock Matson is holding down the 126-pound weight class for the Vikings. Matson returns to the mat this season after missing most of the 2021 campaign (all of high school wrestling was staged after the first of the year due to COVID-19).

Matson has twice qualified for the State Tournament in his career.

“He has a renewed appreciation for the sport. He stepped away and I think he was burn out a little bit. He was 8th at North Canton. He’s made a lot of progress. He’s wrestling better than he ever has.”  

Eli Koontz rounds out the senior class. He is wrestling at 160.

“He has been a match away the past couple of years from going to the State Tournament,” said Smith. “He’s settled himself down and started wrestling better. He is really getting after it more and is a little smoother. He’s a guy I think can make it to the State Tournament. It’s just a matter of taking care of all the details.”

There are three juniors on this year’s Viking squad.

Hunter Brown returns and will wrestle at 152.

“He’s the same weight he was last year,” Smith said. “He was ranked (in the Top 5) last year but lost his first two matches of the State Tournament.

“He enjoyed some highs and lows so to speak. He’s matured. He’s showing glimpses of being a dominating guy. He’s gotten better. He finished 7th at North Canton. The sky is the limit for him.”

Elias Gara is out for the first time and is manning the heavyweight division.

“He’s come a long way in a short period of time. He’s doing it without any experience. He’s continuing to put things together. We will see where he gets to as the season progresses,” said Smith.

Jake Ferland will compete at 132.

“He’s been a backup for us. He’s had injuries and illnesses. He’s got some time in,” Smith said. “He’s making progress.”

Three wrestlers make up the sophomore class.

Jeremiah Casto is at 145.

“He’s one of our hardest workers. He’s a big help to everyone. It’s going to make him successful. He’s just trying to work his way into the lineup,” said Smith.

Luke Matson, Brock's younger brother, is the Viking 138-pounder.

“To me, he’s a completely different wrestler than last year,” Smith said. “His confidence is much better in believing what he can do. I think he can be in the mix to go to the State Tournament and look to place. I think he’s got that potential.”

Kain Price will be at 113.

“He wrestled at 106 last year and he made a ton of progress,” Smith said. “He’s still not the biggest 113-pounder around, but he’s shown a lot of growth in matches. He’s a lot better off than he thinks he is. He can surprise some people.”

This latest Viking edition has five freshmen.

Cayden Bissell will wrestle at 103.

“I bet if he weighs 92 pounds I’d be shocked. He’s very scrappy. He goes out and moves and gets after it. He’s a little bit light, but his scrappiness will pay off. I’m looking forward to having him the next few years.”

Garrett Brown, Hunter’s younger brother, is a backup at 138.

“He has shown a ton of progress,” Smith said. “He’s a completely different guy. He’s older and has started to grow into his own a little bit. He is a guy that will help us out.”

Noah Hall comes from middle school to fill the 195-pound spot.

“He started wrestling as an eighth grader,” Smith said. “He’s showing a lot of progress early on. He’s not the most physically overpowering guy. I’m looking forward to him having a good full season.”

Cooper Durst fills the void at 170.

“He’s shown a lot of growth and potential. He was 8th at North Canton. To place there as a freshman says something, especially in that weight class. He’s learning how to grind through matches. He’s started to open up and go to other stuff (out on the mat). He’s a guy who just keeps wrestling and moving and it has paid off for him.”

Ethan Kay is coming off an undefeated 8th grade season and is the Viking 132-pounder.

“He’s very tough. He’s been wrestling pretty well. He’s going to be a guy who can get to the State Tournament and place.”

Ripley has a competitive schedule once again this season.

In addition to the North Canton Tournament, the Vikings have met the likes of Parkersburg South and St. Albans (1-2 in Class AAA), Sissonville, Wirt County, Huntington, Spring Valley, Woodrow Wilson, John Marshall and Cameron.

“We’ve wrestled some pretty stiff competition this season,” said Smith, who assisted this year by Jared Hughes and Ethan Koontz. “If you don’t see good competition during the regular season, you’re not sure where you are going to be come the State Tournament. You can go undefeated against lesser competition and then go 0-2 at the State Tournament. I feel that’s a waste. I want our kids to be tested when that time of year rolls around.”