To those outside the Charlotte Catholic High School wrestling program, it might have appeared that everything was normal for Cougars star Chase Hayes this season. And that certainly was understandable.
The 145-pound Hayes accomplished all the feats he had last year: He won the ME-GA 7 3A/4A conference title, claimed the 3A Western Regional championship, and even surpassed his 45-win total from the previous season by posting a 50-3 record.
But here’s a scary thought: Hayes’ season could’ve been even better.
Hayes recently revealed that he wrestled this season with a knee injury – a twice-torn meniscus – that limited some of the more aggressive aspects of his wrestling style.
Nonetheless, the Charlotte Catholic junior tore through most of his competition, entering the state tournament with a single defeat on his dossier. And although he lost two of his three matches at the state meet, Hayes’ overall dominance helped him become Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2011-12 South Charlotte Wrestler of the Year.
This marks the second consecutive season that Hayes has won the award, but this year’s honor might have felt more rewarding because of what he endured with his knee injury.
“I was proud of myself for this season,” Hayes said. “The only thing I didn’t really do was win states, and I think my torn meniscus had a lot to do with that. But (my knee) just gave out (during) the second match (at the state meet), and I just couldn’t finish (at my best).
But I feel good about the season I had, as a whole. I think I did pretty well.”
Hayes said he believes that he initially tore his meniscus last summer.
“But it never really was a big deal, because the first time I tore it, it wasn’t that painful,” he said. “But the second time I tore it, it was during a practice and it just popped. I said, ‘Oh, this could be a problem.’ My dad’s an orthopedic surgeon, and we got an MRI and saw it was torn.
“I hadn’t been able to shoot on my knee very well the entire summer anyway, so I kept wrestling during the season. I just wanted to see how well I could do, considering my injury. It changed my strategy a lot. There just were certain things I couldn’t do, and it was pretty painful. The part when it was the worst is when it would click and I couldn’t really get it back in its place, and I had to kick it out before a match. There were time when I could barely bend my knee.”
Not that it affected his results on the mat. Hayes’ sole regular-season loss came to East Gaston’s Cody Moore in December. However, he avenged that defeat by out-dueling Moore in the conference finals, and then he went on to claim his second consecutive regional title. He was the only south Charlotte wrestler to win a regional crown.
“I’m really proud of myself for winning the regional championship and continuing to fight through my injury,” Hayes said. “It’s something I’ll always be proud of.”