West Virginia coaching staff and athlete leadership bringing the Mountaineers to higher levels

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Feb. 07, 2018, 3:41 p.m. (ET)

Photo: Sammie Henson (middle) with his team after a win. Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics.

In May 2014, West Virginia University announced 1998 World champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson as the program’s eighth head coach.

Henson arrived at WVU with impressive coaching credentials, coming from Missouri, where he helped produce a No. 2 recruiting class as a head assistant coach. He also served stints as an assistant at Oklahoma (2009-11), Cal Poly (2007-09), Nebraska (2006-07), Army (2002-03) and Penn State (2000-02).

Throughout his coaching career, he has helped four wrestlers to NCAA titles and several others to All-American finishes.

Now in his fourth year at the helm, Henson has brought the Mountaineers to a new level as the team is competitive in the Big 12 and on the national scene. He credits WVU’s growth to his coaching staff and others who are behind-the-scenes.

“I think it’s a group effort, and it starts with our administration believing in us and giving us an opportunity to be consistent with our coaching staff and our support staff,” Henson said. “Those things are important because looking at Minnesota back in the day and other strong programs, I believe that consistency in your coaching staff is key. When everybody is on the same page, it’s easier to buy in and understand what we’re trying to accomplish. We’ve been here four years now and this is our fourth year with this coaching staff. That’s done a lot to help raise up this team.”

In his first season, Henson pulled 125-pounder Zeke Moisey’s redshirt. Moisey went on to shock the nation, making a run to the NCAA finals, knocking off four seeded wrestlers in the process. His finals appearance was the first by an unseeded wrestler since 2003.

Moisey, a now a redshirt junior, has played a vital role inside the WVU wrestling as a wrestler and leader.

“Zeke is a special kid. He’s definitely a competitor,” Henson said. “It doesn’t matter who it is or what it is. If it’s competition, he goes after it 100 percent. He’s the face of this program. He’s the leader. Zeke has finished second in the country, so that was a big moment in his life. He’s not defined by that moment, though. He needs to have numerous moments like that. He is really passionate about West Virginia wrestling and this administration. He bought in and he knows his leadership role means a lot to our program.”

After taking a redshirt season in 2016-17, Moisey is back on the mat and proving he is still a strong competitor with 16 wins under his belt this season. In order to repeat his NCAA runner-up finish and improve on it, Moisey said he knows he has trust the coaching staff, something he explains is easy to do.

“I just need to believe in Henson’s training,” Moisey said. “He’s a World champion and Olympic silver medalist. How much better can you get than that? If he tells me I need to be doing something, I need to be doing it. If I believe 100 percent, I’m going to get back to where I was.”

As a teammate, Moisey is passionate about the squad’s success and has been known to rally the troops, according to Henson.

Last weekend, Moisey helped lead the Mountaineers to Big 12 wins over Air Force and Northern Colorado.

Against Air Force, the Mountaineers trailed at the break with Moisey winning the only bout for WVU besides a forfeit at 133 pounds.

Henson cited Moisey as the voice that pumped up the team and led them into the second half of the dual with a fighting spirit. The Mountaineers went on to win 19-18 on a third-criteria tiebreaker.

The next day in a dual at Northern Colorado, Moisey rolled to the team out to a 5-0 start with a shutout technical fall. West Virginia won the dual 24-16 to improve to 5-5 overall in dual meets and 4-3 in conference competition.

With a tough dual schedule, WVU has shown perseverance and moments of greatness, knocking off three ranked teams, then-No. 25 Pittsburgh, then-No. 19 Oklahoma and then-No. 25 North Dakota State.

“For training purposes and believing, it definitely helps because you’re preaching to trust the system and keep pressing forward,” Henson said. “It shows that it’s working. In those wins, the team saw that they’re doing the right things and that good things do happen when you strive for consistency. That definitely helps our mindset and mental approach.”

The Mountaineers have three duals left this season before beginning postseason. One of those duals pits WVU against Big 12 opponent and No. 12 South Dakota State on Feb. 11.

“We have a lot of young guys, and I think they just need to have faith in Henson,” Moisey said. “We’re going to peak at the right time. He knows what he’s doing, and we’re going to have our best wrestling when it counts. I think we’re heading in the right direction. Now we have the right set of people around us. We’re right there with these top-20 teams. Like I said, we’re going to be at our best when it matters.”

In 2013, WVU athletics joined the Big 12, which at the time only had four other programs: Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mizzou left the next year, and since then, the conference has grown to 11 programs, four of which are ranked in the top-25.

“I’m really happy we’re in the Big 12. It’s exciting to be a part of this growing conference and what’s going on it. There are a lot of great coaches in the Big 12, and it’s going to pay dividends down the road. West Virginia is proud to be a part of it,” Henson said.

As his squad starts to shape up and gain more confidence, Henson is hopeful about the future of the program.

“I think we’re on the right path. Actually, I know we’re on the right path,” Henson said. “Maturity will come, we’ll be a little bit older and we’ll get some new recruits in. Those are some building blocks for consistency. When you get a little older, you get a little wiser and that’s when you have success.”