By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
Saturday’s state wrestling tournament marked the end of one dream and the beginning of another for several wrestlers on East Fairmont’s team.
For Hayden Stewart, the dream was cut short, never quite making it to the euphoric REM cycle. But for his teammate, and close friend, Dalton Michael, the dream was just getting started.
Stewart, a senior wrestler at the 152-pound weight class, had always imagined himself on the platform of wrestling’s biggest stage in the state of West Virginia. And after two and a half days of wrestling, he was headed there.
With a 0-0 tied entering the second period with Noah Adams of Independence, Stewart knew he needed to make something happen. In the period’s final seconds, he went for a takedown, looking to move ahead 3-0 to go into the final period. He struck, riding his opponent out of bounds. But something happened. Something didn’t feel right.
“I got in on a shot as he was kind of falling out of bounds to get a take down,” he recalled just one day after the match, “and I went down, but as I’m coming up I noticed that my hand just feels unorthodox.”
Stewart would be forced to take an injury timeout, giving the trainer just two minutes to get his injury taped up and send him back onto the mat. As he explained, if he wasn’t back on the mat in time, the match was over. The injury, one that would be later diagnosed as a dislocated middle finger and a fracture in his hand, would eventually cost him the match.
“The trainer tried to pop it back in five or seven times,” the senior said. “I was going to go back out there because it was my last shot. No matter if I had a broken leg, I was going to go back out there.”
In as good a spirit as anyone who had just been forced to hand over something that he had coveted for so long, Stewart joked that he wished he would’ve had some blood on him so they would’ve had three more minutes to contain the injury.
“Coach (John Geary) said if he had a knife he would’ve cut me,” Stewart said, joking.”
With his teammate, Michael, winning a state championship match just before Stewart’s unfortunate circumstance, the air was just lifted out of the Bees’ team for the time being.
“We went from the highest point to the lowest point when he got hurt,” Michael said of watching the match.
With sadness in his voice, Stewart admitted, “It seemed the state championship just wasn’t meant to be.”
But every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Michael’s win, he said, came from a direct result of his coaches’ confidence in him, coupled with his teammates’ willingness to work with him — mainly Stewart’s.
“He matured me as a high school wrestler. He brought me out of the freshman stage of wrestling and got me ready,” Michael said of Stewart. “He was always there when I had a tough match and was always on the mat watching. The whole team was, too, but I paid attention to him more because he was there all of the time.
“We went through the everyday grind and we did everything hard together. We wanted to finish together because we started together.”
Michael’s goal is to be East Fairmont’s first wrestler to win three state championships.
After growing up watching wrestlers such as Mason Bailey, Drew Jenkins and Eric Morris, Michael knew that’s what he wanted to do.
“I don’t know if I wanted to be better than those guys, but I wanted to be on the same level and playing field as they were when they were in high school,” he admitted.
After losing his first match last year at the state tournament as a freshman, Michael battled back to take fifth place. This season, he had bigger things in mind.
“Last year I got beat in my first match so the first match was big for me this year. The biggest thing was taking it one match at a time,” he explained. “In order to win, I had to beat the first guy. Then the second guy. Then the third guy. And the fourth guy.”
Along the way, Michael beat the seventh-ranked wrestler in the quarterfinals and the number-one wrestler in the state semi-finals before dominating North Marion’s Austin Stanley, 11-0, in the finals.
And Stewart was there cheering him on the whole way.
“Dalton’s been like my little brother,” Stewart, whose actual brother Cam wrestles for East, too, said. “I was probably more excited about him winning than anyone else.”
Together, along with Brody Nesslerotte’s fourth-place finish, East Fairmont finished with three top-five finishes.
Nesslerotte, Geary said, started out in a tough spot after losing his first match, but he battled back to give the Bees a solid weekend.
With the win for Michael, the first step to his journey is out of the way.
Following his coach’s advice, Michael is well on his way, as his coach told him, “You can’t win three without the first one.”
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.