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Skyline’s Bass sets high expectations

By Brian Eller – beller@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — Joe Bass used to be on the other side.

The side that’s young, raw, inexperienced, needing to be taught how to break away from the bottom position or drive his hips into an opponent. Bass used to be the student, just trying to make a name for himself inside Skyline’s wrestling room, eager to learn, but prone to make mistakes.

He was just 14 years old, competing at 112 pounds. A year older, Bass moved up to 125, already taking the skills and advice he’d absorbed during practice and throughout the season and transferring it to the mat.

This season, however, Bass is no longer just the student. Midway through his junior campaign for the Hawks, Bass sits atop the Region II rankings at the 140-pound weight bracket, an unforgiving, relentless class that includes Millbrook’s standout Jacob Crawford. Still, Bass pushes through, having compiled a 22-5 record, including first-place finishes in the Dudley Martin and Willie Walters meets. But while Bass still has plenty to go to reach the expectations he’s set, the junior finds himself in a new position.

For Skyline, this season has been anything but by-the-book. With a roster heavy with young athletes and raw talent, the team wins have fizzled from a year ago, while a handful of wrestlers have already left the team entirely. It’s a situation coach Matt Keel simply designates as a “speed bump.” Some roster spots may be empty, but the wrestlers who remain are just as dedicated.

“The kids who want to be here, who want to come to practice every day and wrestle are here,” Keel said. “It’s that simple. We told these guys at the beginning of the year, ‘This is not going to be easy. If you don’t show up for a practice, you’re not going to wrestle at the next meet.’ But actually, what it’s done is it’s given me and the other coaches a chance to really get in there and work with the guys who are still here and want to be here.”

And for Bass, a guy who, without question, belongs on the mat, his days of learning and studying have meshed with time spent teaching and molding his younger teammates.

“It’s a lot different than the past few years,” Bass said. “A lot of the guys are young and they’re looking up to us older guys to set an example. We have to show them how to do things and how to get better.”

If they’re looking to Bass, they’ve certainly picked a qualified teacher to emulate. At 140 pounds, Bass is thick and powerful, yet trim enough to show flashes of agility, the prototypical wrestler’s form. And it was early on in Bass’ career when he proved he could become one of the top wrestlers in the state.

As a freshman, Bass narrowly missed the state tournament, falling to the eventual champion in the regional meet, then losing to the eventual third-place finisher in Region II. Last year, Bass lost to Fauquier’s Ryan Hunsberger in the regional tournament. Hunsberger won the region en route to a four-match winning streak for the state championship, a streak in which Hunsberger failed to surrender a single point.

It would be easy for anyone who must face that caliber of competition each year to second guess their skills on the mat. It’d be even easier to point to those matches and make excuses as to why they lost. But not Bass. He’s not worried about what happened in the past. For him, this season is another chance to break through to the state tournament.

“I’m more focused on the details,” Bass said, “thinking about what I have to do to get better and just wrestling as much as I can in order to do that.”

During the offseason, that meant taking part in meets like the Super 31 and the Disney Duals, and time at a Virginia Tech clinic, where Bass said he strived to be better on the bottom.

“Just getting better at that position, working on trying to get out of the holds quicker and get to a neutral spot,” Bass said. “Neutral’s probably my strongest spot.”

Keel agrees, for now anyway.

“He’s definitely improved and is still getting better,” Keel said. “He’s always seemed to be put in such a tough weight bracket, and he still has room to improve, but he’s been a bright spot for us this year and I expect and I know he expects to be in the mix at regionals, and hopefully place at states.”