UP Grapplers Eye Lofty Goals
Head coach Matt Ragsdale and the Union Pines wrestlers are hard at work in preparation for their 2009-10 campaign, which is fast approaching.
"We are very excited to get this season rolling," said Ragsdale. "We are extremely anxious to face concrete competition, which is the only way for us to analyze our offseason work. After the state tournament last season back in February, we have continued to work toward the team goal."
According to Ragsdale, that goal is clear for the Vikings -- to win a dual team state championship.
Last season, Union Pines finished with a record of 20-10 in dual team competition, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Havelock High, which was the ninth-ranked team in the state. After winning six straight Cape Fear Valley Conference matches in convincing fashion, the Vikes lost to Southern Lee in the final league contest to finish in second place in the final conference standings.
During the season the Viking grapplers took home one tournament crown, winning the Union Pines Duals with a total of 256 points. Union Pines also had runner-up finishes in the conference tournament and Southern Lee Duals.
Ragsdale feels that this year's Viking team will be the best ever fielded in Union Pines wrestling history.
"This will definitely be our strongest team," he said. "Our club program, the Copperheads, is starting to produce wrestlers with three to four years experience in our program. Our offseason travel and schedule will also allow a couple of wrestlers at the high school level to quickly gain experience and have success."
Over the past three years, Union Pines has improved at a steady pace with the Vikes setting and then surpassing new school records in total individual, regional and state qualifiers in each of those seasons.
Last year, Union Pines had five wrestlers qualify for the state tournament, breaking the record of four it set in 2008.
All but one of those Vikings returns to action this year as Trey Weliver, who graduated with third- and fourth-place state finishes to his credit, is now wrestling at the University of Indianapolis. However, Union Pines will still dress five state qualifiers as junior Chris Rubinowski, a two-time state qualifier and transfer, joins juniors Daniel Deardorff, Brandon Berry, Randy Stevens and senior Kaleb Rierson, all of whom wrestled at the state finals last season.
"I fully expect all of those guys to play a huge role in our team success," said Ragsdale. "Our younger wrestlers will feed off the desire to win from these battle tested and dedicated athletes.
"We also have several newcomers who should make an immediate impact. Freshmen Ryan Hull, Blake Muse and Adrian Soto-Perez will see a good deal of mat time."
Along with being the strongest team Ragsdale has coached at UP, this year's Vikings will also be the deepest.
"This year we will start the season with 26 wrestlers on the roster, which is another record for Union Pines. This may seem like a lot of depth, but many of those guys are in the same weight class. Our strengths will include work ethic and technique."
Ragsdale attributes the growth of Union Pines wrestling, which has now emerged as a legitimate upper tier program, to several factors.
"It all started with a clear mission," he said. "Then that mission was aided by administrative and parental support, while being reinforced with positive attitudes, qualified coaching and quality student-athletes.
"Each year we make small strides, and that comes from our mission statement and team philosophy. Our progression has been a result of our student-athletes having the desire and opportunity to compete in a positive environment, while working toward a goal that simple. This program could not have continued success without the infrastructure that is in place."
Ragsdale said assistant coaches Brian Gray and Chris Vondruska have become the heart and soul of the program.
"Along with me, both of those guys are on campus teaching at Union Pines in the trenches with the kids on a daily basis, which is important," he said.
Union Pines begins its season Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. when it hosts Southwest Randolph at Bob Ward Gymnasium. The Vikes will host their first scrimmage of the season Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
Note: All matches at home unless otherwise noted. All match times are 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
NOV -- 20 SW Randolph; 21 Moore County Duals, 9 a.m.; 24 at Pinecrest, 6 p.m.; 28 Western Harnett Tournament, (at WH), 9 a.m. DEC -- 5 West Johnston Tournament, (at WJ), 9 a.m.; 9 *Overhills; 12 Western Harnett Duals, (at WH), 9 a.m.; 16 *Gray's Creek; 22-23 Tiger Holiday Classic, (road trip, various match times); 30 Southern Scuffle, (road) 9 a.m.; JAN -- 2 South View Dual, (at SV), 9 a.m.; 6 *at Western Harnett; 9 Union Pines Duals, 9 a.m.; 13 *at Westover; 15-16 at Sarah Wilkes Tournament (various match times); 20 *Southern Lee; 23 UP Tournament, 9 a.m.; FEB -- 3 at *Douglas Byrd, 6 CFV Conference Tournament (at UP), 9 a.m.
*Cape Fear Valley conference meets
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