The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 13, 2013

Liberty’s Daniel standing tall in face of adversity

Four area AAA teams at Jason Eades Memorial

It wasn’t all that long ago that Liberty wrestling was on the rise. The Raiders won a region championship in 2007, and Nick Hylton and Mike Carpenter won individual state titles in 2008 — the last champs the area would see until six were crowned last February.

Over the last couple of seasons, however, things have not gone as well. The number of wrestlers competing in the youth league and middle school has dwindled, which in turn has started to affect the high school team.

With a roster of six, Liberty can’t even fill half of the 14 weight classes. Some decided not to wrestle this season, for various reasons, and 145-pound state runner-up Cody Clifton transferred back to Independence.

Through it all, there has been one constant — coach Randy Daniel.

The veteran coach has been with the Raiders for 16 years, starting in 1987. Daniel helped build the program into a perennial contender in Region 3 and a team that could make noise at the state tournament.

But now, Daniel struggles just to put a team on the mat. Today starts the annual Webster County Hardwood Duals, a tournament that always attracts Liberty, among several others. Because of the lack of numbers — Liberty will be down to four this weekend — the Raiders will skip today’s duals portion, but will go Saturday for the double-elimination brackets.

“I guess you’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Daniel said. “but I would like to see things get better.”

The six on Liberty’s roster are seniors Tristen Harvey (last Saturday’s winner at 120 pounds in the Beckley Newspapers Invitational), Austin Fraley (138) and Tyler Mason (160), sophomores Hunter Fraley (152) and Deontae Acord (138) and freshman Chase Mastrippolito (195).

“It will be an uphill battle every time,” Daniel said. “We only have a couple of experienced wrestlers, and I don’t want to take anything away from them.”

Daniel actually considered retiring in recent years, even getting as far as turning in the paperwork earlier this year.

“But nobody wanted to coach,” he said. “I didn’t want to see them drop the program, so I signed back up.”

As well as things were recently going, Daniel never saw it all coming to this. He remains confident things could soon be back on the upswing as the numbers of participants in the feeder programs — a real problem of late — seem to be improving.

“When I got to the end of my tenure, I certainly did not plan on things being like this,” he said. “It’s going to be an uphill battle the whole time.”

Joining Liberty and host Webster will be Richwood, Midland Trail, Fayetteville, Bluefield, Greenbrier West’s JV team, Braxton County and Lewis County.

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The Jason Eades Memorial Duals will be held today and Saturday at Point Pleasant. The tournament started in 2000 as the Point Pleasant Pool Tournament before being renamed in 2006 in memory of former Point wrestler Jason Eades, who was killed in an automobile accident.

Twenty-one teams will be divided evenly into three pools for the first day. Teams will then be placed again Saturday based on how well they finished in pool play.

It’s largely a Class AAA field, with four local big schools in: Woodrow Wilson, Shady Spring, Oak Hill and Greenbrier East.

The host Big Blacks won three straight Class AA/A state championships from 2010-12, and have had at least one individual champion every year since 2005.

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Independence will be competing in the Max Horz Invitational in Berkeley Springs today and Saturday. The Patriots finished second in last year’s tournament.

Indy wrestled five duals at a tournament in Lake Norman, N.C., last weekend and won two matches, 35-24 over Union Pines, N.C., and 49-22 over Croatan, N.C.

The Pats also tied host Lake Norman 32-32, but a tiebreaker gave the win to the hosts.

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While Greenbrier West’s JV team will be in Webster County, the varsity team will wait one more week to begin defense of its state championship. The Cavaliers will be at home two straight Saturdays, starting Dec. 21 with the Cavalier Clash, followed by the Lindsey Raines Memorial Duals on Dec. 28.

Both tournaments start at 10 a.m.

West is behind because many of its wrestlers were on the football team, which played in the Class A state championship game Dec. 7.

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