By Jeff Keeling
Admirals Wrestling Club Coach Martin Frye has an easy explanation for the Johnson City club’s stellar performance at last weekend’s state AAU championships in Franklin.
“Their work ethic,” Frye said of his current and former charges (some now wrestle at Liberty Bell Middle School), who brought home three state championships – including two from eighth graders Tyler Seeley (95 pounds) and Joseph Frye (135), both of whom will wrestle for Science Hill High School next year. Ethan Hylton, a sixth-grader from Washington County who wrestled in the junior division at 95 pounds, won the other state championship.
“I’ve gotten to know them well over the years,” Frye said of the older wrestlers. “These guys were determined. The Liberty Bell guys have been joining us at practice just to get some extra mat time, and their work ethic in the room has really ramped up.
“They’re not afraid to push each other, and it really showed. They were definitely better-conditioned (than many opponents), and even if we got down it was never a time to panic. It was just ‘keep doing what you know how to do because you know the match isn’t over.’”
Frye and Liberty Bell Head Coach Jeff Price headed up the coaching staffs as 12 Johnson City-area wrestlers competed under the Admirals aegis at Franklin. Nick Lane and Will Mooney, who will join Seeley and Frye as Science Hill freshmen next year, were runners up at 145 and 152 pounds, respectively at a tournament that drew nearly 1,000 wrestlers from across Tennessee.
Also in the middle school division, Bryce Anstoetter was fifth at 145, while in the junior division Devon Medina was sixth at 105 pounds. The team also got wins from Peyton Bodo, Nolan Blevins, Boaz Lipscomb, Calum Ryan and Hayden Bodo, though those wrestlers finished out of medal contention in large brackets, Frye said.
Seeley worked his way to a title with a rather daunting start, facing Clarksville’s Christian Isbell in the round of 16 despite the pair being among the highest-ranking wrestlers in the state. Isbell had beaten Seeley the previous time they’d met, Coach Price said.
“(Isbell) kind of got in our face and set the tone the first time they wrestled,” Price said. “The main thing we wanted Tyler to do was get the first licks in, and he did.”
In fact, Seeley took Isbell down and onto his back for a near fall, and after an Isbell escape, repeated the feat, this time pinning him before the first round even ended.
After cruising to wins in the quarterfinal and semifinal matches, Seeley won a tough finals match over Cody Chittum of Cleveland, 11-8. “It was back and forth – a lot of momentum changes,” Price said.
Frye, who attends St. Mary’s School but will go to Science Hill next year, pinned his way through at 135. In the final, he faced a familiar opponent in Seymour’s Joshua Hoffman, whom Frye had beaten in the regional finals two weeks earlier. He pinned Hoffman in the first round.
Hylton went 4-0 as well to win his championship. He scored three consecutive pins before facing off against Kyle Cooley from Cleveland’s Higher Calling club. Hylton won that match 4-2.
Price had high praise for the developmental program Frye has built with the Admirals, where children can begin wrestling as young as kindergarten and 42 kids were team members this year. Frye started the program nine years ago, and its alumni include Hunter Bagley, a Science Hill senior who won the state championship at 220 pounds Feb. 20.
“He’s just totally dedicated to what he’s doing,” Price said of Frye. “He’s teaching the kinds of techniques kids need to learn and it makes a huge difference to get experienced wrestlers at middle school.
“Now that we’ve kind of got things rolling, I’ll get four or five kids from him next year that I’m not having to start from scratch teaching.”
And from there, two years later Price expects to be sending sizable crops of state contenders up to the high school each year.
“What we’re trying to do is have at least five kids every year that wrestled in middle school and can come up and be ready to go (on varsity).”
That group will include Frye, Seeley, Adams and Mooney next year. Seeley, Price said, has what it takes to be one of the three best wrestlers he’s coached in about 25 years.
“He’s got some things you just can’t teach. He beat two really good kids yesterday. That confirms a lot of things that I was thinking.”