By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
After two straight years of finishing as the state runner-up in Class AA/A, Independence went into this season knowing it could make a run at finally closing the deal. Plenty of experienced wrestlers were back, and the Patriots would be further bolstered by the return of Cody Clifton, a state runner-up last season while wrestling for Liberty.
Coach Cliff Warden, ever mindful of the Patriots’ feeder programs at the middle school and youth levels, also knew he had some talent moving into the high school ranks. But even he might be a little surprised by the level of success of freshmen Noah Adams and Jacob Hart.
Both are ranked second in their respective weight classes, Adams at 152 and Hart at 126. And both are coming off championships at the Coalfield Conference Invitational.
“As much work as they have put in,” Warden said, “we expected big dividends. But people look at us and don’t expect (freshmen) to be able to do that. Usually, ninth-graders who really excel are at 106, 113, some of the smaller weights.”
Consider Adams and Hart exceptions to the rule.
Adams (44-5) already had his work cut out for him long before the first day of practice. He wrestled at 128 pounds as an eighth-grader, putting him in a position where it was going to be a challenge for him to crack the high school team’s starting lineup. The 152-pound class was his only option.
“The reason he did that was because he knew we had Colton Ward (a returning state runner-up who has been ranked first all year at 138) and Cody Clifton (No. 1 at 145),” Warden said. “Dustin Justice was there, too, but he ended up going to 160. So he knew it would be hard to beat them out for a spot.”
Knowing exactly what had to be done, Adams went on a quest to gain some weight. He said he ate “pretty much anything I could eat.”
“It was kind of hard adjusting to the strength,” Adams said. “Me and my dad (Kevin) lifted (weights) all summer, trying to get to weight and maintain it.”
So far, so good.
As for Hart, he may have been a marked man since Day 1, but that’s OK by him.
“If anything, there is pressure on him just because of his last name,” Warden said.
In Independence wrestling circles, the surname Hart might as well be Ruth or Montana. Jacob’s dad, David, won the 145-pound state championship in 1992, and his uncle, Jeremy, was a state champion, All-American and Dutton Award winner as the state’s best wrestler in 1996.
David is now coach of the Young Guns youth team and Jeremy is head coach at Independence Middle.
“It kind of puts a little bit of pressure on me,” Jacob said, “but really I just want to be better than they were.”
Hart (44-5) would love to outdo his predecessors by the time it’s all said and done. But he also realizes how fortunate he is to have such knowledge at his disposal.
“They both wrestled their whole lives,” Hart said. “They know a lot about the sport. Not just the wrestling, but my diet and weight training. They both know a lot and that really helps.”
The ability of Adams and Hart to mesh with the upperclassmen has been huge as the Patriots have held the No. 1 ranking most of the season.
“They have both wrestled their whole life,” Warden said.
“It’s a big step up from middle school,” Adams said. “It’s kind of exciting but nervous at the same time. ... It helps to have the seniors to practice with in the mat room. It helps with technique, and they have more experience in high school wrestling because they have been around it longer.”
Hart agrees that he, Adams and other freshmen can only benefit from the more experienced talent in the room.
“It is definitely a tough environment in wrestling practice, but I think that is what has mostly made us able to be as successful as we have been,” Hart said. “They lead the team, really. They keep us together and make sure we are working hard.”
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