PARKERSBURG - Individual state wrestling championships are tough to obtain and no one knows that better than Parkersburg Big Red 152-pounder Trapper Hays.
Heading into Saturday's regional tournament, the two-time All-American and twice Class AAA state runner-up will put his 43-0 record on the line with hopes of finally achieving his dream of being a state champion.
"One of the biggest things with Trapper is he has an extreme desire to win," said PHS head coach Chris Way. "He's our leader right now. He leads us in the way we work in the practice room. He leads us in our attitude. He just leads in everything he does."
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Parkersburg's Trapper Hayes pins Parkersburg South's Dylan Alexander in their 152-pound match as referee Chris Diserio, right, watches for the pin of the shoulders.
That desire increased exponentially after Hays suffered a state finals loss last year as a sophomore. That setback was even more troubling than his 4-3 state finals defeat to current Ripley two-time state champion Jake Martin during his freshman campaign.
"I had a tough kid last year," Hays said of Musselman's Kody Kernan. "I'm never used to wrestling kids who are stronger than me. I think that was the biggest factor in that match last year in the finals.
"I'll admit it. That match I was beat. It was a shock to me that someone could control me. I worked so hard this summer to get stronger, bigger and I'm just going to do the same thing this summer. I hope to wrestle 170 next year."
During the summer, Hays would lift on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each Tuesday and Thursday he would get his work in on the wrestling mat.
"He personifies the Big Reds," added coach Way. "He's kind of picked up where Jared Haught left off last year. That's one of the characteristics Jared brought to our team last year that made us better.
Hays is currently a tri-captain for the Big Reds along with teammates Dylan Richards and Codie Barrows. It's a roll he doesn't take lightly.
"It's nice to be a captain," Hays added. "I like to have kids look up to me and I do have a lot of kids on the team who look up to me.
"I like to be a leader. I hope to wrestle with Jared again someday and go to Virginia Tech. That would be real nice."
The Big Red said going undefeated wasn't a priority at the start of the campaign, but after beginning the year 20-0 the idea started to grow on him. Last year, Haught went 50-0 and capped the first perfect season since Tim Higgins' 1995 title run when he won the 130-pound crown and went 25-0.
Two of Hays' toughest matches this year have come against the junior Martin, but the Big Red won with a takedown in overtime each time. The first was a 2-0 triumph at the Winner's Choice and then a 3-1 victory at the recent Mountain State Athletic Conference championships, where Hays was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler.
When asked if he had any kind of relationship with Martin the Big Red said "I'd say he's a good kid. I don't have anything against him. If you are going to try and take my state title away I'm not going to like you.
"I think he (Martin) beat me my fifth grade year in the (youth) state finals so he's taken two state championships away from me. If I can't be a four-timer, then I'm not going to let him be a four-timer. Getting second in the state, there's nothing like it. It's the worst pain I've ever been through my entire life.
"It (losing to Kernan last year) was probably as bad (as my freshman year). I think about it every night before I go to bed, just me raising my hand after the state finals. I can't imagine what it would be like. I just want to feel that in real life and that's what I want."
Even though Hays fully admits to the fact he let a little doubt creep into his mind at times the past two campaigns, this year has been quite different.
"I know I can do it," Hays said of winning a title. "I used to think of the word loss, but every time I think of even the word lose I ask myself 'what the heck is wrong with you' and I can't stand to think about it. It's just not an option for me.
"I don't care if I'm going against the No. 1 kid in the country. I'm going to go out there and wrestle like I can win. I don't like to say the word. I don't like to think about the word. Just win."