2017 Wrestling Coach of the Year: Wildcats continue to thrive as a unit under Wadas

Matt Wadas

FRONT ROYAL – The Virginia High School League Region 3A East wrestling tournament held in early February was a fitting summation of Warren County High School’s 2016-17 campaign, three months worth of a season packed neatly into two days.

The Wildcats left New Kent High School without a single regional champion, and yet they captured the team title – their first since 2003 – by a comfortable 39 points. Such was Warren County’s season. The team had no superstars but achieved success after success under the guidance of head coach Matt Wadas.

“I think that regional title is something that I’ll be proud of for a long time,” Wadas said last week. “The fact that we had so many accomplishments the last couple years with (former Wildcat Zach Beckner, a two-time state champ) being an individual, and this year just the kids were a little unselfish. They bought in.

“When a coach gets people to buy into what they’re doing it’s one of the best feelings.”

Wadas, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Wrestling Coach of the Year for the second year in a row, preached a team-centric message to his Wildcats all season long.

There was the focus on not letting the highs get too high or the lows get too low, and the Wildcats developed a four-point system, wrestling back after a loss and seizing bonus points for the team when the chance arose being chief among the areas of emphasis.

Warren County’s wrestlers listened.

The Wildcats won all seven major tournaments they competed in during the regular season, a first under Wadas. They went 27-1 in duals, the lone loss coming to Brentsville in a quad in Strasburg in January that the head coach said appeared to “fire up” his squad. The biggest challenge, Wadas said, was keeping his team focused as the successes began to mount while the regular season dwindled to a close.

In the postseason the Wildcats won the Bull Run District tournament for the second straight year, claimed their second Conference 28 tournament title in three years and their first regional tournament in nearly 15 years. Warren County qualified 13 wrestlers for the VHSL Group 3A state tournament in Salem, a Wildcat record, tied the program record with a fifth-place finish in the state and placed seven individuals among the state’s top six.

“I think this is probably one of the best teams that I’ve ever had. … I’ve had some great teams over the years but we didn’t have a lot of – as the postseason shows, we didn’t have a regional champ, we didn’t have a state champ, so winning these tournaments was a team effort,” said Wadas, who just wrapped up his 11th season with Warren County.

“When you start putting team goals over yourself, that’s an accomplishment that I’m pretty proud of, that the kids started doing that.”

Warren County kicked off the postseason in impressive fashion, as 12 Wildcats reached the championship finals in both the Bull Run District and Conference 28 tournaments, where the team finished with seven and six champions, respectively.

Wadas’ fondest memory of the season, however, came in the regional tournament. Prior to the start of the consolation semifinal round, Warren County’s coaches met with the team to discuss the scenario that awaited them. The Wildcats had four wrestlers in the championship finals but Wadas knew none of them would be favored to win. The key to claiming the team championship, he told his team, rested on the Wildcats’ performance in the upcoming consolation semis.

“We told the kids that a region title would be won this round and we went 9-for-9 with seven pins that round,” Wadas recalled. “I’ve never had (in my) coaching career a round like that.”

At the top of the Wildcats’ unified roster was the senior quartet of Kevin Cruz, Jack Kilgallen, Seth Jacobs and Michael White. On the other end there were the freshmen, Dylan Becker and Isaiah Frame, who each qualified for the state tournament in their first varsity seasons. In between Hunter Jost, Bobby Hunger, Nic Herring, Connor Jost, Colton Hoynoski, Wyatt Gill, D.J. Almarode and Nathan Johnson offered a blend of youth and experience.

Wadas named Hunger, a sophomore who emerged as a Conference 28 champion this season, as the team’s overachiever but added that any number of Wildcats could rightfully claim that title.

“I think you can subtract his name and put a couple others but that formula of working hard,” Wadas said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve been preaching. Wrestling is what you work is what you get, and I think that was a big story for us.”

Wadas, who said he would nominate Chad Billy for an assistant coach of the year award if such a thing existed, is set up for continued success again next season. Ten starters are expected to return, nearly all with a trip to the state tournament to their credit.

“I’m proud of what we’ve built here,” Wadas said. “I think this was started by Charlie Dodge, continued by Rodger Seemiller and I hope I’m adding to the table. I hope someday, hopefully years and years down the road, but when I give it away I hope it’s still producing at the same level. I’m proud that I could keep that standard going. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to keep that many kind of working pieces going. And we have our struggles but I think that’s exciting.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com