Wirt County matmen put game faces on

Wirt County head wrestling coach Kenny Dye’s Tigers crowned three regional champions last weekend in seniors Jon Cain and Hagan Root along with junior Jake Linville.

That trio and eight other orange and black grapplers head to Huntington today with dreams of ending Saturday night as Class AA/A state team champions.

I spent a little time Wednesday at the Tigers’ final practice of the season. Although the state coaches might have Wirt County ranked third, they plan on bringing back some hardware to Elizabeth.

“Everybody is stepping it up and coming together and that’s how we won the LKC,” said the 132-pound Root, who is 0-2 this year against potential quarterfinal opponent Colton Ward of Independence. “We could’ve won the regional (lost by 3.5 points to Clay), but what are you going to do – one match.

“It makes you want to work harder to get that state title. It’s your last week and for us seniors we want to bring home a state title. It would be the best thing in the world.”

Cain, who is out to defend his 120-pound state title, needed overtime to secure an 8-6 regional win against Roane County’s Cam Moore.

“I’m definitely closer to 100 percent,” said Cain, who missed practice time last week. “Cam is pretty good. I mean as a freshman, he’s someone to look out for in the next couple of years, but I had the flu and had no strength. It just beat my body up pretty well.

“I’ve just been getting healthy and drinking a lot of fluids. I’m trying to get healthy and I’m just going out there and taking it to everybody. We’ve got to have kids wrestle above their ability and they have to win every match they can.”

Although the trio are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes, standing atop the podium won’t be easy.

If things go as planned, the 138-pound Linville could see former Independence grappler and current Liberty (Raleigh) sophomore Cody Clifton in the semifinals. Clifton has lost twice this year to Linville by a single point.

“He’s a tough kid,” said Linville, who admitted making weight this year has been rough on him and he hopes to see Calhoun County freshman Cole Ritchie in the finals. “From pee-wee until now, I think this year’s team is the best team I’ve ever wrestled on.

“Getting that LKC crown was a big part of Kenny. I wanted to do that for him more than anything. Just seeing the look on his face when we won, it was priceless.”

For Cain and Root, the last practice was definitely bittersweet.

“I mean, I’m going to miss wrestling, but I’m not going to miss the practices. I can tell you that much,” Root added.

As for Cain, he said it was “exciting” and “overwhelming. I’m kind of happy. I’m going to miss it, though, I will.

“Just looking back on all the days in here, working your tail off, it’s just overwhelming.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com