CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Coach Matt Smith and the Ripley wrestling team, the Class AAA Region 3 championship will help the Vikings prepare for next week's State Tournament.
The Vikings, ranked No. 4 in the WVMat.com poll, have claimed the Region 3 title six consecutive seasons and look to be well on their way to a seventh against a field which includes Beckley, Capital, George Washington, Greenbrier East, Oak Hill, Princeton, Riverside, No. 9 Shady Spring and South Charleston.
Matches begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with Ripley hosting the one-day event.
"The big thing is to place as high as we can in our region to set ourselves up for the State Tournament," said Smith, who is in his third season guiding the Vikings. "Doing well at region doesn't mean you're going to place or win the State Tournament, but it does set you up in brackets as an easier way to get there."
The Jackson County program is led by senior Daryl Hicks, who is ranked No. 1 at 285 pounds with a 27-2 record. Hicks is a two-time place-winner at the State Tournament, finishing runner-up last season and fourth in 2010. He was a qualifier in 2011. All were in the heavyweight division.
"Daryl has come a long way. The biggest thing from my time coaching him in middle school to now is his confidence and how good he is and how good he can be," said Smith, who spent three seasons as coach at Ripley Middle School before moving to the high school. "It's amazing the things he's been able to accomplish from where he started.
"Before, he wrestled like a typical heavyweight, but he went into this season with a new mindset and has had a lot of success because of it."
Jake Martin is ranked No. 2 at 138 pounds with a 25-5 record. He was a state champion at 120 pounds last season.
"He gets after it all the time," the Ripley coach said of the sophomore. "Jake is always looking to get better and you can see a big difference in the way he wrestles now. He's really into the details compared to a lot of the guys.
"He's about as competitive of a kid there is. He doesn't like to get taken down in practice, much less in a match."
Vikings senior Nate Starkey, ranked No. 4 at 170 pounds with a 23-4 mark, is a two-time qualifier at 152 pounds in 2012 and 140 in 2011.
"Nate is a guy when he was in middle school he was a starter, but wasn't one of the best," Smith said. "But in the last four or five years he has become on the verge of breaking through. He has dedicated a lot of time and effort."