Strong start gives junior confidence on the mat

The first thing Concord wrestling coach Michael Carty noticed about Matt Herring was the hips.

Scouting his middle school feeder program a few years ago, Carty said he thought Herring could be a prep champion somewhere down the road.

It was Herring's athleticism and his ability to distribute his weight through his mid-section - key for any successful wrestler - that impressed him most.

"He has unbelievable natural athletic gifts," said Carty. "You want every one of your wrestlers to have the hips this guy has. It's not something you can teach. You gain athletic hips like he has only if you have years and years of mat experience. ... He knows when to be forceful with them or when the hips need to be in a defensive posture."

Now a junior for the Spiders, Herring's potential from three years ago has translated into many victories on the mat and has put him in position to be the school's all-time wins leader by the time he graduates.

How he started this season is what has drawn praise and attention to Herring. Competing at 126 pounds, a weight heavier than his natural class, Herring won 18 of his first 19 matches, 14 of them by pin.

Herring's first 11 victories were by fall, helping him earn a top 10 position in the 3A state rankings early in the season. The pins were sandwiched around his first loss of the season, a decision in the finals of a tournament at North Davidson High in late November.

"I was surprising myself," said Herring about the start of the season. "I was on a roll. It was like I was a different person. ... I was getting excited because I was pinning people left and right."

The pin of a three-time state qualifier, Olympic High's Jaryn Williams, on Dec. 3 is an example of the type of quality victory that has peppered Herring's career. Those victories make Carty believe Herring could place at this year's 3A state tournament.

"He needs that affirmation to show he can hang with the best," said Carty. "I've pulled him aside and said 'You're not only good enough to hang with the best guys, you're good enough to be one of the best guys this year."

Herring closed December by dropping three straight matches as he tried to lower his weight to 120 pounds. Carty said two of Herring's losses were at a mid-December tournament at Eastern Alamance in which Herring was battling the flu.

The junior's bevy of early season victories has pushed his career total to 78 - short of Nathanael Torrence's school record of 139. Torrence was a state champion last year and has inspired Herring to strive for the same goal.

Herring turned in a 20-20 record as a freshman and doubled his win total last season.

He credits his improvement to learning new moves at Appalachian State's summer wrestling camp.

Herring turned his sophomore year around after a 1-7 start. A highlight from his season included a pin of a 4A state champion from South Carolina at a tournament at Charlotte Catholic in which Herring took second place.

Another key victory came at home against Jay M. Robinson's Hamilton Jones, whose distinguished career includes a third-place finish at the 2010 state championships. Jones avenged his loss by taking a decision over Herring at regionals.

Wrestling through a back injury that limited his abilities late in the season, Herring took off from wrestling for more than a month.

He returned to the Appalachian State camp this summer and was one of Concord's team leaders at off-season workouts.

Herring has never qualified for a state championship but he said he feels this could be the season to make the leap.