By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Traveling to tournaments these days doesn’t require a bus — chartered or otherwise — for Liberty’s obliterated wrestling team. A compact car might do the trick.
One coach driving, another controlling the GPS from the passenger seat. Three wrestlers in the back. A trunk to hold all their gear.
A situation that was bad at the start of the season hasn’t gotten better. In fact, it’s grown worse. Liberty began with eight wrestlers but is now down to just three.
From injuries and poor grades to apathy and insurmountable frustration, Liberty’s program is a shell of its former self, resembling nothing like the team that just six years ago was a regional champion.
“We have everything in the world going on,” veteran head coach Randy Daniel said. “It’s been a tough row to hoe. I was afraid it might end up getting like this. We’re just trying to hold it together.”
The perpetual snake bites actually started last season. There was illness. There were academic issues. You name it, Daniel went through it. By the time regionals rolled around, the Raiders were left with just five wrestlers.
Of course, all five qualified for the state tournament, helping Liberty to an unlikely third-place regional finish. Four of those five went on to place at states.
One of them was Tristen Harvey, the Region 3 champion at 120 pounds who finished sixth in Huntington. He’s one of the three who remain standing, joining brothers Austin and Hunter Fraley in a defiant stand to see the season through to the end.
Harvey admits it has not been easy. Practices are challenging and probably can seem unproductive because of the limitations, and the determined three go into every tournament knowing there is no chance of a team championship.
Asked if there have been times he felt like quitting, Harvey said, “Sometimes. But I felt like this is my senior year and I have to stick it out.”
The whole situation aside, Harvey seems to be going out well. He’s currently ranked fourth in the state at 120, where he won the Beckley Newspapers Invitational and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.
If things were destined to get this bad, Daniel at least is fortunate to have a good group of wrestlers fighting the fight. In addition to Harvey, the Fraleys come from an athletic family.
They all have Daniel’s admiration for persevering.
“I have sensed the frustration in them,” he said. “They’re afraid we may have to fold things up before it’s all said and done. They are doing their best to try to keep tough and try to finish strong.
“We’re just trying to put forth our best quality even though we don’t have quantity.”
The chance to stand on the highest podium on the first Saturday in March in Huntington is enough motivation to keep Harvey going.
“I just want to be a state champion my senior year,” he said. “Just the love for the sport.”
Daniel can’t help wondering, is there something he could have differently?
“If anyone is to blame, it’s me. It’s my fault,” Daniel said. “Maybe I could have done a better job recruiting (athletes at Liberty to fill in) or motivating (wrestlers before they left).”
Harvey points a finger at no one, least of all his coach. Daniel is doing whatever he can to salvage a nightmare season for the final three.
“He’s one of my idols now,” Harvey said. “He’s doing this just for the team. It’s my senior year and he wants to see me succeed.”
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Liberty is scheduled to join Independence, Greenbrier West and Fayetteville at the Braxton County Invitational today and Saturday.
Other area teams in action this weekend include Shady Spring at the Winners Choice Tournament in Fairmont and Greenbrier East at the Big Blue Tournament in Christiansburg, Va.
— E-mail: gfauber
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