The Wildcats are sending three grapplers to state this time around after qualifying one a season ago. At 120 pounds, Sam Preston will return to the state stage as a second-time qualifier and will be joined by fellow sophomore Tristan Ware (132) and senior Josh Ivey (113).
“This whole year has so many great memories and each memory has been a stepping stone to any program’s ultimate goal of winning a state championship. To send out three boys, two of them are sophomores, we sent two other underclassmen to sectionals last week. Just to be able to build this program over just the past couple of years I have been at the helm has been exciting and an ultimate pleasure,” VR coach Kyle Seeley said.
Ivey, a four-year wrestler at VR, has been working toward this point his whole career. The 113-pound wrestler just missed out on state a year ago after qualifying for sectionals. Now he will get his chance on the big stage.
“It’s a real accomplishment to me because I’ve been working so hard the last four years trying to get to this stage. Seeing how far I’ve come from freshman year not winning at all to starting to come out with a winning record the past two years,” Ivey said.
In some ways Ivey’s progression has mirrored the path of the program as a whole.
“The satisfaction of watching these boys grow up, the maturity level that they have become. I’ve had Josh for four years and he has come a long way. For him to get to this point has been extremely exciting. I’m super proud of him and I know that he’s going to go out there and work hard,” Seeley said.
Preston will be making his second trip to the state meet after qualifying at 106 pounds last year in Class AAAA. That experience, even though he is still a sophomore, will be key going into this weekend.
“The level there, going back to the state tournament, is going to bring a little bit more ease, I think, for him. It is in a different venue and the surroundings are going to be a little different, but ultimately understanding that this is the state tournament again. I think he’s going to set his goals a little higher this year and want to place,” Seeley said. “I expect Sam to come out and be a little more calm and more at ease.”
Preston said he’s looking forward to the challenge of making a better showing this time around.
“You’re kind of jittery when you first get in there, but when you finish your first match you get the hang of it and actually know what you’re doing,” Preston said.
For Ware, another sophomore, it has been a standout season in his first for the VR varsity program.
“Tristan comes from a great program. He’s come here and he’s fit in really well [with the rest of the team]. Many of these boys he went to grade school with. Last year [with another team] he missed out on this opportunity by a state alternate. For him to make it and do as well as he did this past weekend by placing third, I think it’s been tremendous for him and the overall program. Again, he’s just a sophomore. We’ve got two more years,” Seeley said.
Not only are the VR wrestlers getting noticed by some other teams in the state as a rising program, but it is also getting noticed in the hallways.
“You put in the hard work and that’s where you want to be and that’s where you should expect to be. I always think positive and reach that goal,” Ware said. “I feel like a big part of the program. I feel like not a whole lot of people in the school think wrestling is a big deal, but going to state you see people at school and they’re always asking about you and if you plan on winning. That feels good that some people are starting to care.”
The goal is to win, as it should be for every one of the 16 wrestlers in each bracket. But just like it’s been all season, the Wildcats want to bring home some hardware of any kind. Three have qualified for state, now the VR coach wants three to place at the state meet.
“Ultimately, we want to win. We want to win the whole thing. To me, that’s every young man’s goal that makes it to the state tournament,” Seeley said. “Each one of these boys should set a goal to place and, realistically, each one of them can place. It’s going to be a tough road. They’re going to have to wrestle six minutes hard and they’re going to be tight matches. It’s not going to be freebies. They’re going to have to earn every minute of it.”
It’s been quite a journey for this year’s Wildcats and they hope it lasts all the way to the end on Saturday.
“We started in this place in October and we will finish it up [this] afternoon and go see what happens on Thursday,” Seeley said. “I’m excited. Especially getting three out compared to just one last year.”