FAIRMONT — The legend himself may be gone, but the program itself is as strong as ever.
For the bulk of the past four years, the mammoth power and rarefied air of the now-graduated Zach Frazier has consumed all identity and scope of Fairmont Senior wrestling as a whole from the outside. The ado over Frazier — a kid whose dominance was paralleled only by his humility — was certainly warranted, because during his FSHS career, he won four straight individual heavyweight Class AA/A state championships, and, when considering his football career with the Polar Bears, constructed a case as perhaps the most accomplished athlete in Fairmont Senior High’s athletic history.
“He’s the most decorated wrestler and athlete we’ve ever had, so it’s sad to see him go,” said Fairmont Senior second-year head wrestling coach Vincent Delligatti. “It felt very good every match we had knowing, ‘You might beat us all the way through 220, but at 285, we’re gonna get you.’ That felt good.”
The graduation of Frazier, who is now mowing down defensive lineman at WVU, may have diminished the aura and reduced the spotlight surrounding the Polar Bears from the outside. But inside the FSHS program, the standards of performance and paths toward winning big are as clear as they’ve been in over a decade.
“Since we lost Zach Frazier, we’re kind of under the radar right now,” said FSHS senior wrestler Zach Anderson, “so we just have to come out and show everybody that we’re still up there even without him.”
With Frazier at the forefront of last year’s team en route to becoming just the 20th wrestler ever to win four individual state titles, the Polar Bears, as a team, finished third overall in Class AA/A at the state meet with 95.5 points, the program’s best state tournament finish in decades. And while Frazier is now gone, Fairmont Senior still has a stockpile of accomplished wrestlers in their own right ready to emerge as the next collective face of the program.
“I have high expectations for this team, just like last year’s team. It’s going to be a team that’s just as good as last year’s,” said Delligatti, whose Polar Bears placed five wrestlers at last year’s state tournament. “Our ultimate goal as a team is still to win a team title, but you have to have everybody individually work hard.”
Coming out as state champs is an ambitious aspiration for Delligatti this season, but, at the same time, it’s not at all unfathomable. That’s a testament to the overall talent, depth and belief within the Polar Bears’ program even without Frazier and fellow 2020 graduates Tanner Hoskinson and Tyler Harrison.
“We have a heavily experienced team and a lot of these kids already know themselves as wrestlers, so we’re just trying to drill and get in shape,” Delligatti said. “We’re throwing a lot of stuff at them right now, but they’re eating it up. We’re looking good.”
Among the team’s returning group, the Polar Bears have two 2020 state tournament place finishers and three more 2020 state qualifiers. Junior Mikey Jones, who was the state runner-up at 132 pounds a year ago, and sophomore Kolbie Hamilton, who finished fourth in the 120-pound class last year, are the returning place finishers, while the now-senior trio of Anderson, Nicky Scott, and Iain Campbell also all qualified for the state tournament last season.
“I’m just glad we have the opportunity to have this season and I’m glad the seniors have the opportunity to have this season,” said Delligatti, who will have four seniors on this year’s roster as well as Angelo Manzo, all of whom he’s coached since they were in the sixth grade. “A lot of them have a lot to prove this year. The majority of those guys — Anderson, Campbell and Nick Scott — they all made it to states last year but didn’t place, and Angelo Manzo is another kid who barely didn’t make the mark. All four of those kids could easily place and maybe even win a state title this year.”
Anderson plans to compete in the 182-pound class this season, he said, while Scott will likely slot into the 170-pound class he was in last season. Campbell, meanwhile, projects to slide up into the heavyweight class this year, where he’ll attempt to continue on Fairmont Senior’s “big guys” lineage, Delligatti said. The Polar Bears’ last six individual state titles have been in either the 220 or heavyweight classes, with Frazier winning the heavyweight title from 2017-2020, and Delligatti and Brent Barber winning the 220 and heavyweight titles, respectively, in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of state champions in our program, and some of them became state champions their senior year, meaning they didn’t do much (placing at states) until their senior year,” Delligatti said. “A lot of these seniors think that could be them, so the goals are set there. Hopefully, with some luck, we’ll be alright.”
That senior quartet of Anderson, Scott, Campbell and Manzo, along with the sensational duo of Jones and Hamilton, already gives Fairmont Senior six very realistic state qualifiers and potential state place finishers. And according to Anderson, the Polar Bears are also set-up fairly well in the remaining weight classes, with the exception of the lightweight slots at 106 and 113.
“Just the whole lineup honestly is pretty solid this year,” Anderson said.
The outlook for the Polar Bears appear tidy at face value, and they’ll get a bit of leeway in filling those lightweight spots — as will the rest of the state — with the WVSSAC previously announcing they’re extending all weight classes by an additional three pounds to accommodate for the sudden start to the season in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If a wrestler weighs in at say 108 pounds, they’d still be eligible for the 105-pound class, if they weigh in at 116, they’d be eligible for 113, and so on.
“Wrestling conditioning is a lot harder than a lot of other sports, and then there’s also a bunch of people who have to lose a bunch of weight so fast because of how late the season came in,” said Anderson, who said he himself has managed to stay in pretty good shape throughout the pandemic. “So the main thing we’ve been working on is getting in shape and conditioning, because that’s most important so you’re not dragging in the third period.
“We just have to work so much harder now that we’ve missed a month, but it feels good (to be back), because here a month ago we didn’t even think we were going to have a season.”