UP Wrestlers Set Their Sights on State Title
At the start of every season, Union Pines head wrestling coach, Matt Ragsdale sets a goal for his team. This year that goal is to win the 3A State Dual Team Wrestling Championship.
Ragsdale admitted this season is the first time the Vikes have actually made their goal to win a state title.
"When you make a goal it has to be realistic," Ragsdale said, "but you also have to set it really, really high."
Last year, the team's goal was to make it to the fourth round in the state dual tournament. Although Union Pines was eliminated in the third round it had its most successful season in school history. The 2007-2008 Vikes were co-champions of the Cape Fear Valley Conference (CFV) regular season before winning the conference tournament. The team also set a school record for wins in the state tournament, total points in the state tournament and number of individual qualifiers in the state competition.
Vike senior Trey Weliver finished fourth in the state tournament last year in the 125-pound division while compiling a record of 52-11 as a junior. Sophomore Brandon Berry (112 lb) and junior Kaleb Rierson (215 lb) also qualified for the state competition and won matches.
Along with Berry, Daniel Deardorff and Conrad Fernandez comprise a talented and tested Viking sophomore class. Last year Deardorff went 37-20 and 5-2 in the CFV in the 103-pound division, while Fernandez was 20-13 and 4-2 wrestling at 119.
"This year's team is the strongest and deepest we have ever had at Union Pines by far," said Ragsdale. "Last season's crop of freshmen was strong and those guys have definitely been working hard, but we have an even stronger freshman class coming in this year."
Some Vike wrestlers who started in last season's lineup have not yet secured a spot in the rotation for the year.
"We have never had that type of situation here before," said Ragsdale. "There have been several wrestle-offs for positions, which breeds better wrestling as each kid is striving to improve so they can get on that mat during matches. This really shows how we are progressing as a program."
Another reason Ragsdale feels that this year's edition of the Union Pines Viking wrestling team is a special one, is the key addition of assistant coaches Brian Gray and Chris Vondruska. Gray is a former New York high school state champion and all-American. He also wrestled for four years at James Madison University. Vondruska was a three-time NCAA national qualifier and All-American at Ohio State University, where he also served an assistant coach after he graduated.
"They make a tremendous difference in our wrestling room during practices and workouts," said Ragsdale of his assistants. "It is refreshing for the kids to have coaches who have achieved such high success in the sport. We are very fortunate to have two people of their (Gray and Vondruska) caliber serve as instructors and role models for our wrestlers."
Saturday at Union Pines, the Vikes hosted the Moore County Duals, an all day event featuring twelve schools including the likes of Durham Riverside, a traditional 4A powerhouse and winner of four state championships, along with 4A schools Jack Britt and Cape Fear. For results of the event, visit thepilot.com or check out Wednesday's print edition.
F.W. Manning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at (910) 639-5481
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