MOUNT VERNON — The 2008-09 wrestling season has been a good one for Mount Vernon seniors Matt Belcher, Mason Smith, Charlie Hill and Brent Kramp. The four have combined for 178 wins and made Mount Vernon history.
The end of the season is a little bittersweet, however, as only two — Belcher and Kramp — are guaranteed to compete at the Division I State Wrestling Championships at The Schottenstein Center. Smith and Hill qualified as alternates, meaning someone would have to withdraw for their careers to continue.
The foursome have been through the thick and thin together, wrestling each other for the last six to seven years. As they’ve gone through their final week of practice, there have been many emotional ups and downs, but through it all, they have stayed the course even though only two of them are guaranteed a spot when competition begins today.
“We’ve told them, ‘We are going to play our cards out. We are going to assume we are going until we know we are not,’” said Mount Vernon coach John Brown. “That’s how we’ve approached this week. We assume all of them are in, until we find out that they are not.”
What makes this all the more tough is the seasons that each of them have had. Belcher is 43-6 this season and qualified third from the Central District at 119 pounds. Smith went 46-7 this year at 125 pounds; Hill, a state qualifier last season, is 44-8 at 130 pounds; and Kramp sports a 45-10 mark at 135 pounds.
“We are a very strong senior class,” said Smith. “We’ve been together since the seventh grade and we’ve worked hard the last four years. We’ve all worked for this.”
Throughout their careers, they have each performed at a high level, and when all is said and done, they will leave their lasting impression on the Mount Vernon program.
“These four young men have been outstanding for four years, and have done anything that has been asked of them,” said Brown. “If we said, ‘Go on (Junior Olympic) trips; it is going to help you.’ They went on the trips. They’ve done anything they could to get better. It is nice to see it pay off for them.
“Charlie, Matt and Mason all three broke 100 career wins this year,” Brown added. “Charlie is close to 120 now. Mason has tied the single season record of 46 wins that Michael Lybarger set, and Brent is a match away. It puts them on a higher level because we haven’t a ton of people come through and get 100 wins. To have all three in the same year is amazing.”
Having strong drill partners has helped make each wrestler as good as they are. It is the daily workout they have gotten that has helped them achieve the results they have.
“It really helps me in practice, and picks me up knowing they are there,” Belcher said. “It definitely helps having them as my drill partners. Without them, I don’t think I would have gone as far as I have this year. ... We’ve been together since middle school, so we are pretty close.”
“(Having a drill partner like Charlie) is huge; that’s why I am here,” Kramp said. “We all push each other every day in practice. Unfortunately, (Mason and Charlie) lost the wrong match to lose. ... We are all good friends. We’ve been together since we started wrestling in middle school. ... We really all taught each other. I’m sure I’ve learned a lot from them.”
Even Brown can see how much Kramp has grown by having Hill and Smith as his drill partners.
“There have been days where I know Brent has been very frustrated dealing with Charlie and Mason because they scramble. He gets nothing free,” said Brown. “I’ve told him all year it is going to make him better, and that’s part of why he is at the state tournament. He has had that challenge every time he turned around. The same for Matt. When you look at who they wrestle every day and who they have for the past four years, that’s what made them better.”
Both Belcher and Kramp have put in a lot of time and effort to get where they are. Each can pinpoint a specific reason for their success.
“The biggest difference for me was wrestling over the summer,” said Kramp. “I did freestyle and Junior Olympics over the summer, and that made the biggest difference. It really helped me get better.”
“Getting my confidence level up has been the toughest thing,” said Belcher. “After the last two weekends of wrestling, my confidence has grown so much. I think that will help me.
“I think I was capable of being a district champion, and that gives me confidence as I prepare for the state tournament,” Belcher added. “It really doesn’t matter what seed you are at that level. You’ve got to go wrestle whoever is in front of you. It is going to be tough no matter what.”
Brown noticed a difference in Belcher early on this season. It wasn’t until January, however, that he saw him take it to the next level.
“About mid-season, I just saw him turn it on and he started beating everyone,” said Brown. “His confidence has been the key to him. Watching him at district, he went out and believed he could win. That’s the difference from finishing fifth or sixth and going to state.”
Qualifying for the state meet is a dream of all high school wrestlers. Now that the opportunity has approached itself for Kramp and Belcher, they simply want to make the most of it.
“This has always been a goal; even when I was a freshman and wasn’t on varsity, I had the goal of making it to state,” said Kramp. “I think I got a fine draw. I feel really good about my chances. ... I just want to go wrestle and do my best. My expectations are to wrestle my best and maybe upset some people along the way.”
“This has pretty much sunk in,” said Belcher. “I’m just getting ready to wrestle. ... I really don’t have any expectations. I just want to go out and wrestle my hardest and see what happens. Hopefully, something good comes out of it.”
If Hill and Smith don’t see the mats inside of the Schottenstein Center, they will surely be disappointed. This week of practice has brought many highs and lows for each of them already.
“This has been an interesting week,” said Hill. “I’m trying to keep my mind focused in case I do get in, and also helping out the other guys that did get in. ... It is a tough feeling (knowing that I may not wrestle), but I am glad (Belcher and Kramp) made it out.”
“This has been a horrible week; it is a major disappointment for me,” said Smith. “It is frustrating to be wrestling this week, knowing that I probably will not be ever wrestling again. It has been rough, but it is good for me to be here to help Matt and Brent prepare as well as they can.”
No matter if they get the opportunity to wrestle at the state tournament or not, both Hill’s and Smith’s futures remain bright. Smith plans on attending West Virginia University next year, and majoring in Petroleum Engineering. His plans at the moment don’t include sports at the next level. Hill plans on wrestling in college, though he is still undecided on where.
“This has been a good experience,” Hill said. “We’ve became good friends, and it is nice to have drill partners that push us. ... The people I drill with and the atmosphere in the program has helped make me the wrestler I am.”
“I want us to be remembered for giving it everything we had,” said Smith. “We fought as hard as we could; a determined group; a good group on and off the mat. I would like to see us in that light. ... This has been a real experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Coach Brown has been a great coach, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons, both wrestling and life lessons.”
One other Jacket will be waiting word today to see if his season continues. Junior Dane Cullen finished as the 215-pound alternate at the Division I District Tournament on Saturday. He won his fifth-place match, but Cody Smith of Wayne forfeited in the third-place match, meaning there could be an opportunity if Smith can’t go.
“This has been really tough because I don’t know what to expect,” said Cullen. “It makes me happy (to be the alternate), but at the same time, it doesn’t because I feel like I should be there. Hopefully, next year, I’ll definitely be there.”