FRONT ROYAL – Skyline’s wrestling program underwent a coaching change over the summer, as Kyle Symons was hired to replace former longtime coach Matt Keel in June. At least two Hawks, junior Brandon Ahlemann and sophomore Tyler Davis, have praised the transition as one that went smoothly and should reap rewards for the program.
Davis, last year’s Class 3 state runner-up at 106 pounds, said on Monday that Symons is a good addition to the team and that he anticipates “a lot of success” on the way for the Hawks under their new mentor. Ahlemann said something similar, noting that Skyline’s wrestlers “flowed right into” the new regime when Symons stepped in for Keel in June.
“He brings a lot more intensity to the room,” Ahlemann said of Symons, a former assistant coach at Millbrook and Musselman (West Virginia) making his debut as a high school head coach. “I think it’s just what we needed. A lot of guys are kind of picking up right where we left off from last year. It looks like we never really stopped. Our drilling and our live (wrestling) is the best I think I’ve seen since I’ve been in the room.”
Skyline, which opens with its home Elite Opener tournament today, is coming off one of the most successful seasons in its 11-year history. The Hawks set program records for dual wins (25) and state tournament qualifiers (11) during the 2017-18 season and finished with four all-state performers on a roster that was filled with freshmen and sophomores.
Three of those medal winners — Davis, Ahlemann (third at 113 pounds) and junior Morgan Robinson (fifth at 126 pounds) — return this season, as do four other state qualifiers from last season. Davis and Ahlemann each won Region 3B titles last February, and Ahlemann and Robinson are two-time state place winners.
Jacob Grady, who went 42-17 at 182 pounds last season, is Skyline’s only senior and highlights a group – which includes juniors Wyatt Spiker (132 pounds), Anthony Domino (152) and Ethan Gue (195) – that qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 2018.
“We’re a very young program still at this point, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a lot of success now,” Symons said. “I think we have the talent and the depth to be able to do it with, but that’s all gonna come in the way that they compete in the room, and in practice right now they’re competing very well. … As long as we can get them where they’re competing on the mat the way they’re competing in the room, we’re gonna be just fine.”
It’s the atmosphere in the practice room – the level of intensity, in particular – that both Ahlemann and Davis said has been the biggest difference under their new head coach. Symons noted that in addition to that rise in intensity, the new coaching staff wanted to introduce a new culture and a new style of practice, areas that he said the Hawks have been receptive to.
“Everybody’s expected of more,” Davis said. “Everybody’s expected to do what they’re told when they’re told and how they’re told to do it. There’s no goofing off at all. Everybody’s working hard in the room like we’re supposed to.”
With several state-title contenders on the roster, Ahlemann said the Hawks as a team will approach the season tournament by tournament, focusing on winning the matches they’re supposed to win and hanging with the teams that outsiders don’t expect them to hang with. Ahlemann added that he hopes Skyline can snap its four-match losing streak to cross-town rival Warren County in head-to-head duals – “we have the guys to do that,” he said – and place higher than its seventh-place finish in the state tournament last season.
Symons prefers not to limit the Hawks’ goals and said the team is aiming for team titles at the region and state level.
“We communicate every day with these guys about what their individual goals are, and ultimately if our individual goals are met, we’re gonna reach where we wanna be team-wise,” Symons said. “Its just a matter of the depth and the growth.”