Wert: Back out of the (exercise bike) saddle again
CHRISTIANSBURG – In four years of high school wrestling, this one been a toughie for J.R. Wert.
He was only 13 bouts into the season when he sustained a hernia in the semifinals of the Walsh Ironman in Ohio, back in December. He lost the match, came back and tried to gut out the bout for fifth place and ended up finishing sixth. He never told anybody he was hurt, assuming that had he done so, the tournament would have been over for him.
As it turned out, he was lucky the season wasn’t over for him. Hernias are iffy and recovery times vary. Six weeks he was sidelined, which was the best case scenario.
“I’m back and ready to go now,” the Christiansburg senior said.
Is he ever. In his first live action since December, the 132-pounder pinned his way through the River Ridge District tournament Saturday. Now it’s on to Group AA Region IV Friday and Saturday in the Blue Demons gym. He says he feels good for the most part.
“I’m probably at 85 percent,” he said.
The truth is, 85 percent of Wert is better than 100 percent of most guys even with just a handful of bouts to his credit this campaign. Wert, a three-time state champion, is one of three Blue Demons who will have a chance at a rare four-peat along with 138-pounder Joey Dance and 182-pounder Zach Epperly. Wert’s first title came in Georgia at 106 then followed by VHSL crowns at 113 and 120.
Until this year, last year was the most challenging of his career followed by his sophomore season. As a freshman in Georgia, the challenge was not so much.
“I pretty much walked through down there,” he said.
Adjusting to more challenging competition in Christiansburg as a 10th grader was followed by a rugged season last year when he was cutting weight to get back to 113. When lineup adjustments went through for the postseason, he moved up to 120.
“I was feeling strong and glad to be there,” he said.
He romped through the postseason and whipped the well-regarded Chase McDaniel of Cave Spring with a state final major decision. It was Wert’s 44th victory of the year. To his district-region-state slam he added a fifth at Walsh and a third at the Beast of the East tourney in Delaware.
There’s been some ups and downs this year aside from the injury. Back in December, he lost a wrestle-off with teammate Coy Ozias for 120. Dance was wrestling at 126 at the time so Wert went up to classes to 132. Then came the injury.
“He was smart about his recovery,” Christiansburg coach Daryl Weber said. “We warned him that once he started feeling good not to go overboard right away but to wait and get cleared by the doctor first.
“When he came back to practice, he really worked hard to get back in shape. He stayed after practice getting hi shape back. He really looked good at the district tournament.”
One thing Wert has not had to worry about was what he’ll be looking forward to next year. Before the season was underway, he announced he was committing to Rider University. Virginia Tech and Edinboro were also involved. Rider was the right fit, he said. He’s fired up about the future.
So he’s going into the last two tournaments of his high school career with a clear mind and sharp focus. The pressure’s on, of course. Winning a rare fourth state title is the ultimate goal, but helping Christiansburg win an unprecedented 12th-straight state team title is also squarely in the target area.
He handled himself well throughout. Even so, It was tough watching guys wrestle from the seat of a matside exercise bike.
“Yeah, it was painful,” he said. “But sometimes you do what you have to do. But I’m back for the important part of the season for my team.”
He’s going to be tough to beat. He knows that, his coach knows that, his opponents-to-be know that.
So if things work out as they figure to, you could say Wert had a tough year – as in tough on the guys he’s wrestled.
By Ray Cox
The Roanoke Times | 381-1672
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