2016 Wrestling Coach of the Year: Wadas leads Wildcats through year of milestones
FRONT ROYAL – In terms of actual mat time, Matt Wadas’ wrestling experience is fairly limited.
The son of a high school wrestling coach, Wadas picked up the sport at an early age and competed through middle school. But his high school career was cut short by a string of injuries, first a fractured hand during his sophomore season, and then a broken arm that required a cast to run from his forearm to his biceps. By the time he’d fully recovered his senior year, Wadas was too far behind to make an impact at the varsity level.
“It was a tough way to go out, but it also inspired me to get involved,” said Wadas, who recently wrapped up his 10th season as the head wrestling coach at Warren County High School.
Following in the footsteps of his father Frank, a coach at Tunkhannock High School in Pennsylvania for 36 years who will be inducted into the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a contributor in April, Wadas knew his career path.
Just a couple months after graduating from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania 15 years ago, Wadas got a teaching job at Warren County High School. At the encouragement of former Wildcats wrestling coach Charlie Dodge, Wadas began his coaching career as an assistant coach under Steve Burton with the Warren County Middle School wrestling team.
Soon after, Wadas joined the WCHS varsity program under Rodger Seemiller, continuing to build what had become a vast expanse of wrestling knowledge for Wadas.
“Seemiller, when he saw the end of the road coming he wanted to know that he had somebody to take over so he kind of groomed me, before I even noticed he was grooming me I think,” Wadas said.
In 2006, Wadas was promoted to head coach of the Wildcats’ varsity wrestling team. Ten years later, Wadas, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016 Wrestling Coach of the Year, guided Warren County to one of the best seasons in the program’s history.
Under Wadas this past season the Wildcats sent seven individuals to the Group 3A state tournament, the most in the program’s history, and finished fifth as a team, Warren County’s best state placement ever. Three Wildcats – Hunter Jost (106 pounds), Zach Beckner (126) and Nathan Johnson (285) – all reached their respective state championship finals, another program first, and Beckner became the program’s only two-time Virginia High School League state champion.
Warren County’s 22-1 mark in duals was the program’s first one-loss season since the 2002-2003 campaign and the team’s best record since 2001, and the Wildcats’ Bull Run District tournament championship was the first such title since they won the Northwestern District in 2005.
The Wildcats accomplished all that with a roster that contained only three seniors – Beckner, Jacob Schneider and Zach Smith – and was peppered with unknowns up and down the 14-man lineup.
“It seems kind of like a little bit of a whirlwind, you know what I mean?” Wadas said.
The highlights of the 2015-16 season are too many to count for Wadas but he said the “wow” moment of the season came in the Region 3A East tournament, when 12 of the Wildcats’ 14 wrestlers advanced to either the semifinals or consolation semis. Warren County would go on to place third as a team.
Wadas wasn’t willing to say the Wildcats overachieved this winter, but it was close.
“I definitely think the kids surprised us a little bit,” he said. “We always try to set high goals but you always try to be realistic with high school kids. When we sat down at the region tournament we looked at the brackets and we said hey, we think we can get five, six through and maybe, if we get a great day, seven. And you get seven. So it wasn’t like I thought it was impossible and the kids got it, but I definitely think we had the dream scenario. You don’t get those every year, so that was fantastic.”
While those perfect storm cases are rare, those odds are certainly bolstered by Warren County’s middle school feeder program. Burton remains the middle school wrestling coach and Adam Orndorff, a WCHS teacher, is his assistant – two coaches who know Wadas’ own coaching style and who can prep aspiring high school wrestlers for a successful career at a young age. It helps, Wadas added, that all four WCHS physical education teachers – Orndorff, Seemiller, Mike Minch and Chad Billy – have wrestling backgrounds and can help recruit more athletes.
Wadas credited the middle school program – which also feeds Skyline High School’s wrestling team – with enabling him to fill out a full 14-man roster every year since he took over the varsity team.
“I can say without a doubt one reason that we’re successful is because of that feeder program,” said Wadas,
Between the talent being groomed at the middle school level and the returning varsity experience coming back for the Wildcats next season, Warren County certainly appears ready to sustain this year’s success.
“The future looks bright,” Wadas said. “The biggest thing is not getting kids to weigh the same next year.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org