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With Smith out, Nitro wrestling team relying on depth

NITRO, W.Va. -- If Nitro is to emerge from a competitive field of local wrestling teams, a high volume of grapplers should do nothing but help the cause.

The Wildcats fielded a wrestler in all weight classes except the 113-pound division and first-year head coach Kevin Skeens is putting all of the extra bodies to good use.

"We're still pretty young," Skeens said. "We've got two seniors on the team and a total of 25 kids, so we have plenty of extras. It's a little bigger than what it used to be, and it makes it good in practice because these kids can wrestle-off each week for a varsity spot."

That policy stretches even to returning sophomore David Smith, who qualified for the state meet as a heavyweight before falling to the eventual runner-up.

Smith, who started as an offensive and defensive tackle for the Wildcats football team, caught pneumonia and came into the season a bit overweight, making him ineligible as the first day of the St. Albans Red Dragon Duals were being held on Friday evening.

However, Skeens expects Smith to return next week, although nothing is guaranteed when he gets back.

"Smith is coming back as a heavyweight," Skeens said. "After football season he had to shed a few pounds. He becomes eligible next week for Point Pleasant, so he'll be wrestling off against one of our senior heavyweight wrestlers, Brian Lester, so it should be good come Wednesday night."

Provided Smith can earn his spot back on a weekly basis, he figures to be among the favorites in the division, especially on the local level.

But despite his success last season, Smith said there was still plenty he wanted to improve on.

"I was really happy about it," Smith said of his performance last season. "It was a big accomplishment for me, especially as a freshman, so I'm looking to placing this year. It motivated me to move forward and be even better. I wanted to improve my overall strength and quickness and get some more technique."

While neither Skeens nor Smith was quite sure just how much he has improved considering his lack of action thus far this year, being back in St. Albans sure seemed to reestablish a competitive drive that reached its peak back in football season.

The Wildcats' football team ended an 18-game losing streak at the detriment of the Red Dragons back on Sept. 14, and that feeling was something Smith was more than happy to bring up again on Friday.

"[Football] was a great experience," Smith said. "For me, the St. Albans game was just different than any other game so far that I've played. Just to end the losing streak on that game, on that night was just really special."

If the wrestling program continues to grow, the young Wildcats have a chance to put together something special themselves this season and in the future, and that is the priority of Skeens and company right now.

"Honestly, feeder programs and getting the midget leagues strong," Skeens said, alluding to factors that would help the program. "The middle school had 52 kids that came out but they're not there right now, they're down to less than 20. A lot of kids come out and find out it's a tough sport and they don't like taking the whoopings on the mat. But I tell my kids they've got to learn to lose before they learn to win."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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