I want to share an amusing comment from Sunday's Parkersburg News. As most of you have read, both Parkersburg South and Parkersburg High recently took their respective turns at being lumped up by Grundy, Virginia, a nationally ranked team. The good news is that Grundy is graduating six state champions this year. Coach Joe Handlan of Parkersburg said he might try to make it down for their graduation just to make sure they get everyone through!
The action will be turned up a notch this weekend as the majority of the state's teams are involved in conference tournaments. Plenty of wrestling excitement will be on tap as the Big 10 (at Robert C. Byrd), the Coalfield Conference (at Fayetteville), the Little Kanawha Conference (at St. Marys), the Mountain State Athletic Conference (at Capital), the Potomac Valley Conference (at Berkeley Springs), and the North Central Athletic Conference (at Fairmont) tournaments get under way.
There should be no mystery at the NCAC as to who the top two teams will be. North Marion and Fairmont Senior trade the title around from year to year, and it looks like North Marion will come out on top again this year. I believe the Big 10 is a duals tournament featuring both AAA and AA teams from the Region 2 area. Preston has left the Big 10 conference, and Grafton should be the team to beat. Independence won the Coalfield Conference title last year (another conference with a mix of both AAA and AA schools) and should repeat as champion again this year, that is if everyone can get out from under all of the snow that's been dumped on that part of the state. Among the teams at this year's PVC tournament are Berkeley Springs, Keyser, and Petersburg.
I'm going to try to make both the LKC and the MSAC tournaments. As always, the LKC finals should be a real nail-biter, and although Wirt County should be the early favorite now that Roane County has moved to the MSAC, Ritchie County and Calhoun County should provide strong challenges. As if the 112-lb class wasn't tough enough already, things have gotten even more interesting now that Adam Schindler of Ravenswood has moved down from 119. David Drennen of Wirt County will be making his return to the mats this weekend, more than likely at 160, and will be seeking his fourth straight LKC title. And I think everyone will agree that it will be great to see Justin Underwood back in action. What a remarkable recovery this young man has made since his car accident a few months ago. Here's wishing you all the best Justin.
Wirt County has gone through a turbulent month, but it appears that they are in position to be a dominant force at the state tournament. A word of praise goes out to Joe Burton for keeping the program going and for remaining neutral in a very difficult situation.
Moving back to the subject of the MSAC, I have mixed feelings about the duals format. While it's a good chance to see how each team measures up against one another, it still doesn't give a good preview of what could happen in the upcoming tournaments. The point I'm trying to make is that state tournament predictions shouldn't be based on the outcome of this tournament, because certain teams that may not be consistently dominating in dual matches could perform quite well in traditional tournaments. Some good examples are Huntington High, Parkersburg High, and Roane County. Huntington recently lost a dual to Fairmont Senior by a considerable margin, yet they won the WSAZ with only two individual champions and a third place finisher, which demonstrates real team depth. The same can be said of Parkersburg High and Roane County. A few big dogs and a balance of respectable wrestlers may not be enough to win every dual match, but it usually guarantees a good showing in a tournament. Cabell Midland is hindered by recent injuries, but will still be a force. Parkersburg South will be seeing most of their opponents for the first time Saturday, so the rest of the state will see how South measures up. While not the powerhouse they were in 1997, the Patriots are steadily improving and should once again be considered one of the teams to beat in Huntington.
Speaking of the state tournament, I always make my own personal list of the wrestlers I think will become individual champions in each division. Out of respect to all wrestlers, I won't make any public predictions, but I will say that I think in AAA the power is shifting from Region 1 to Region 2. I wouldn't be surprised to see half of the state's individual champions hailing from the North Central and Eastern parts of the state. The southern teams are getting stronger every year as well, and Region 1 is losing the strangle hold it's had on the state tournament for the past several years. For these reasons, the state title could be taken away from Region 1 for the first time in 34 years.
In A/AA, there are several programs across the state that are improving, but the LKC and OVAC are still way ahead of the rest of the state when it comes to champions year after year. I would say that nearly three-fourths of the A/AA individual champions this year could come from LKC and OVAC schools, with the majority of them being Region 3 schools.
Please remember that these are just hunches and that I've tried to give a broad forecast rather than a specific one. No one can predict what will happen in the next three weeks, and certainly no one can predict what will happen at the state tournament. Nothing is a lock this year, so it could shape up to be one of the best state tournaments ever for both divisions.
Best of luck to everyone this weekend, and congratulations to those of you who kept your grades up. I think Chris Basford's recent forum post speaks for a lot of wrestlers who have had to learn the hard way that education needs to be the top priority.
Coming soon: The final AAA and AA pre-regional weight class reports.
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Updated February 4, 1998