Solak ready to finally get started

Brad Davis/The Register-HeraldGreenbrier East's Landon Hoover, left, pictured in his 138-pound championship win over Greenbrier West's Eli White at last season's Coalfield Conference Invitational, is one of six returning state qualifiers for the Spartans this season.

With the start of practice put off not once but twice, it was anybody's guess where wrestlers' mindsets would be as February finally brought that anticipated day.

To that end, Mark Solak got a pleasant start to his first year as Greenbrier East's head coach.

"The Covid stuff has frustrated adults and coaches more than it has the wrestlers," he said. "They showed up and they're all excited. They are really upbeat, which is inspirational for us coaches. The fact that they can look at it with such fresh minds, thinking, 'It is what it is. Let's just get after it.' So we're kind of learning from them, I think."

Right about now, the season is actually supposed to be winding down, but the start of winter sports was delayed twice because of coronavirus concerns. It's been difficult for the wrestlers, but has also been tough for Solak, who was hired last spring after eight-year head coach Brian Miluk retired in May.

"I'm a creature of habit," Solak said with a laugh. "I like that schedule and for wrestling season to start and end (on time). It's been difficult on me."

Now that things are getting started, the Spartans are approaching things as they always do. The program went to new heights under Miluk, who led the Spartans to their first two regional championships in 2017 and 2018.

Solak, who was a longtime assistant at East, sees no reason why the success can't continue.

"What I like about it is it's the same energy," he said. "The kids work really hard. We ask them to get after it and they are buying into it. With it being a short season, we're going to have to get after it, and they want to."

The Spartans lost four established wrestlers from last year's team, including a pair of Region 3 champions in Alex Zimmerman (160 pounds) and Owen Quinn (170). Also gone are Zach Mullins, the Region 3 runner-up at 132 pounds, and Nick Thomas (182).

Six state qualifiers are back, including 152-pound Region 3 champion Colby Piner. He is a senior, along with 138-pound runner-up Landon Hoover. Sophomore Chase Martin was the runner-up at 106, while junior Emma Kesterson (120) and sophomore Thomas Mullins (195) were both fourth. Micah Fisher was fifth at 126 but got into the state tournament as an injury replacement.

Fisher made state history as the 127-pound state champion at the inaugural West Virginia girls championships last February. Kesterson placed fourth at 118.

The Spartans lost leaders in the likes of Quinn and Mullins, but Solak knows others will step up., including Piner and Hoover.

"They like that hard work. They like that stuff," he said. "Thomas Mullins showed up in shape and ready to go. He's going to win a bunch of matches."

Solak is also excited about junior Bryson Ormsbee, who "has not wrestled for a while." He will likely wrestle in the 160 range.

The Spartans will begin the season March 6 in the Region 3 Duals at Riverside. Joining East and the Warriors will be George Washington and St. Albans. That will determine the region's entrant in the West Virginia Dual Championships set for March 19-20 at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea.

"Then we're going to go almost twice a week for the entire month," Solak said. "We have a couple of long trips. We go to Musselman once and we go to Hurricane once. We go to Liberty, we go to Woodrow, we go to Princeton. We go to Nicholas County. We're going to a lot of places that are semi-close."

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

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