Note: This report is not a set of predictions, but rather a report on what I've seen, heard, or read so far this year. In each weight class I'll list a few wrestlers who have shown some success on the mats in the month of December, and highlight some of the key rivalries that may exist within those weight classes. Just because a wrestler's name appears first on the list doesn't necessarily mean he is my "pick" for the top spot in his weight class. Also, as I've stated before, I only report what I know. If I fail to mention a wrestler whom you think is worthy of mentioning, it may be because his or her team's results haven't been reported to this website or to a newspaper that I've seen. Please call any mistakes and/or oversights to my attention.
Ashley Gandee of Ravenswood has only one loss to date, and that was a 6-4 overtime decision to AAA defending state champion Alex Reed of Point Pleasant. He should meet up this weekend (at the Braxton Pizza Hut Tournament) with a couple of tough opponents in Braxton's Bub Yurkovich, whose only loss has been to Calhoun's Chris Morris. Morris' only AA loss has been to Ryan Bumgardner, whose only losses have been to Gandee and Chad Snider of Tyler Consolidated (no losses at 103). Joining Gandee, Yurkovich, and Morris to make the Pizza Hut field a tough one will be Grafton's Cory Auvil. Cameron's Tucker Brown is enjoying a lot of success in his first year of high school wrestling, as he carried an 18-1 record into the new year (the one loss was out-of-state). Possible wrestlers to watch for are Oak Glen's Zach Zubay, Shady Spring's Scott Harvey, and Webster County's James Lane.
Another Cameron freshman, Roger Kupfer, is also storming through the season with an undefeated (20-0) record as of the first week of January. 1998 103-lb Champion Ash Wenmoth of Williamstown boasts a 14-1 record, with the one loss coming to a wrestler from powerful Walsh Jesuit of Ohio. Travis McCartney of Calhoun was undefeated until this past weekend when he suffered his first loss at the hands of AAA wrestler Robbie Williams of Huntington. Wenmoth and McCartney will meet early next month at the LKC tournament, but Kupfer will have to wait until the regional tournament to face Wenmoth. Kupfer and McCartney are not scheduled to face each other in the regular season. Braxton's Dustin Culverhouse has only suffered one loss, a two-point decision to McCartney. Clay-Battelle's Tommy Stiles' only in-state loss has been to Kupfer. Other wrestlers to watch in this class are Oak Glen's Jason Roberts (runner-up to Wenmoth in 1998), Grafton's Travis Boyce, Ritchie's Andrew Hosey, and Wirt County's Joey Sharp.
Two-time state champion Jimmy Johnson of Calhoun got his first taste of defeat this past weekend as he, like his teammate McCartney, lost a close decision to a Huntington wrestler (Ryan Fullen). Johnson has handed Braxton's James Harris his only loss on the year, and the two may stage a re-match at Braxton County this weekend. Weir's Eric Noel has only lost twice this year, and both losses were to AAA wrestlers. Willie Westbrook of Williamstown has only one in-state loss, that being to Wirt County's Nathan Miller, who has lost to McCartney and Joel O'Neil of Cameron. Add to this list of fine wrestlers Chase Coleman from Frankfort, Adam Leach from Grafton, Troy Morello from Greenbrier West, Gaelen Lowers from Oak Glen, and Corey Reed from Berkeley Springs (who is expected back soon), and you've got a strong group of challengers who will see if they can get in the way of Johnson's third state title.
Ravenswood's Scott Bush defeated Ritchie's Jason Hayhurst, a defending state champion, in their first head to head match this year, and hasn't looked back since. Bush has gone undefeated (either 18 or 19 wins without a loss), recently claiming a title in his home gym at the Jackson County Invitational with a win over Greenbrier West's Dennis Blankenship (which I believe was Blankenship's first in-state loss on the year). Hayhurst hasn't done too poorly either, though, as he has won every match since falling to Bush. Weir's Matt Valles has not lost to an in-state opponent, as his only loss to-date has been a one-point decision. South Harrison's Matt Jones is right up there with these guys as his only losses have been to Bush and Hayhurst. Chris Leach of Grafton and Justin Butcher of Braxton have only two losses apiece, and Butcher's have come at 130. The talent doesn't stop there, as Berkeley Springs' Billy McCann, Calhoun's Bobby Ledbetter, Cameron's Tyler Hughes, Frankfort's Sean Junkins, Oak Glen's Justin Graham, Petersburg's Matt Dolly, Shady Spring's Scott Lynch, and Wirt's Derreck Shearer are some other wrestlers off to good starts at this weight.
According to the information I received last week, there are at least two undefeated wrestlers in this weight class. The first is Ritchie's Justin Wince, who has won all nine of his matches so far, and Big Creek's Scotty Hale, who was 8-0 as of last week. A number of wrestlers will be out to hand these guys their first losses, as returning champion Logan Glass of Oak Glen, Matt Valles of Weir and Mark Lowe of Wirt only have one loss apiece (although I could be wrong about Lowe). Although I don't have complete information on them, Cameron's Caleb Lucey, Clay County's Mike Minger, Winfield's Nick Prather, and Shady Spring's Matt Perdue (currently out with an injury) should make things interesting as well.
Oak Glen's Ed Weible has managed to win 15 of his 16 matches, despite wrestling Oak Glen's ever-tough schedule. He faces some tough regional opponents in Williamstown's Justin Wenmoth, who has no in-state losses, and St. Marys' Terry Childers. Wenmoth and Childers will meet up with their LKC counterparts, Todd Snider of Ritchie (6-2) and Josh Cross of Wirt in a few weeks at their conference tournament. Wenmoth has already handed Cross a 9-0 defeat, which may have been his first in-state loss of the year. Big Creek's Paul Prater, Greenbrier West's Aaron Ransom, Independence's Tim Toney, and Richwood's Levi Bragg should be ones to watch also.
It's been six years since West Virginia has crowned a four-time state champion, and Mike Miller wants to end that drought by becoming only the sixth wrestler in the 52-year history of the tournament to accomplish the feat. As far as I know, his only loss this year was a 3-1 decision that came at the hands of a top-ranked Maryland wrestler in the Max Horz Invitational. Meadow Bridge's Bobby Martin has racked up an impressive record of his own, going 18-1 as of last week. Ritchie County's Rhett Koslosky's only loss has been to an Ohio wrestler. Grafton's Jody Cunningham, Greenbrier West's Brian McClung, and Oak Glen's Andy Wharton are all off to good starts. South Harrison's Justin Wright was also off to a pretty good start, but is out with an injury and may have to sit out the rest of the season. Other wrestlers to look for are Big Creek's Josh Williams, Cameron's Jeff Hughes, Fayetteville's Allen Poff, Frankfort's Phillip Kesner, Shady Spring's Sam Lilly, and Webster County's John McElwain.
As far as I know, three wrestlers in this weight class (returning state champion Nat Smith of Ritchie County, Drew Toth of South Harrison, and Jason Seville of Berkeley Springs) have only one loss apiece. Seville's loss has come against a wrestler from Maryland, Smith's loss came to Tyler's Jason Snider at 152, and Toth's loss came to Smith. Jason Litten of Frankfort could fall in that category too, as I have only read about one loss, and that was out-of-state. Dave Green of Bishop Donahue has not lost to any of his current 145-lb opponents as he sports an 8-2 record. Rob Lamb of Oak Glen missed last year's state tournament due to an injury if I'm not mistaken, but he's bounced back with an 11-3 record for the Golden Bears so far this year. Other wrestlers to take note of are Ravenswood's Jon Dauch, St. Marys' Terry Kimball, Shady Spring's Shannon Wiseman, Webster County's Cory Tharp, and Winfield's Justin White.
Eric McCartney is storming through the 152-lb weight class this year as he boasts a 22-0 record so far. Although McCartney is off to a fantastic start, there are several others in this class who are doing very well in their own respect. Jason Waugh of Berkeley Springs' only loss has come against Chip Kimble of Frankfort, who may not have any in-state defeats yet. Braxton's Brian Justice only has two losses, one of which was to McCartney. South Harrison's Jayson Byrd is undefeated, but started the season late and hasn't got a whole lot of matches in yet. Tyler's Jason Snider only has two losses. I know one of them is out-of-state, but I'm not sure about the other. Snider will face some tough regional opponents in Oak Glen's Matt Holdsworth, Weir's Vince Magnone, and Williamstown's Zac Johnson, who is fighting an injury again this year. Fayetteville's J. R. Farnsworth could be one to watch, although I haven't seen a lot on him.
South Harrison's Andrew Richards has gotten his season started on the right foot, compiling an 8-0 record so far. One of those wins has come against 1998 152-lb state champion Chad Purpura of Bishop Donahue, which has been Purpura's only loss to date. The two will probably not face each other any more in the regular season. However, these aren't the only two tough wrestlers in this weight class. Berkeley Springs' Tommy Widmeyer has not lost a match while wrestling at 160, and Braxton's Tony Hardway has only had one loss (to Frankfort's Chip Kimble, who is at 152). Clay-Battelle's Mike King has only one in-state loss, and that was to Berkeley Springs' Ben Godman, who is at 171. Three wrestlers only have a couple of losses on their records, and they are Greenbrier West's Russell Sims, Oak Glen's Jason Jones, and Weir's Brent Zuccolotto. Meadow Bridge's Jeremy Lester, Williamstown's Howard Melrose, and Wirt County's Danny Drennen shouldn't be counted out.
Liberty Raleigh's Steve Kinley is the defending 171-lb state champion, and so far his only loss this year was decided on a slam call earlier in the year. It has been speculated that he could face the AAA 171-lb state champion, Mike Thompson of Shady Spring, but so far Thompson has stayed at 189. Ben Godman of Berkeley Springs has not lost to an in-state opponent this year. Other wrestlers who could make things interesting at this weight are Greenbrier West's Bob Ailstock, Iaeger's Daniel Blevins, Meadow Bridge's Neil Hanshew, Petersburg's Ryan Dingess, Ravenswood's Jeremy Nester, Ritchie County's Clifford Underwood, and South Harrison's Billy Miller.
Cameron's Brandon Kupfer returns to defend his state title at the same weight class where he won it all a year ago. With several individual tournament titles under his belt already, I'm not sure if he's even lost a match yet. If Mike Thompson of Shady Spring stays at 189, this could be one matchup that fans from both divisions would want to watch. Thompson, who is 6-0 but injured at the moment, faces tough opponents in both the 171-lb and 189-lb classes, as both Kinley and Kupfer are determined to retain their titles. But for those of you not familiar with Thompson, he made a name for himself last year as he pinned Jefferson's top-rated Ryan Zombro in the AAA 171-lb finals. But this is by no means a two-man class as Richard Stotler of Berkeley Springs (12-1) has not lost to an in-state opponent yet, and Addam Lewis of Liberty Raleigh (7-1) has only a 1-0 loss to Thompson staining his record. South Harrison's Jeremy Wright was off to a perfect start before being sidelined with Mono, but should return to action by the Petersburg Smash tournament. Arnold Houser of St. Marys has only one loss in 11 matches, and that was to Williamstown's Ryan Delebreau. Braxton's Bobby Hart has only one loss, and that was early in the season at 171. Other wrestlers who could make an impact are Clay County's Bo Miller, Grafton's Ben Taylor, and Wirt County's Kris Villers.
The two undefeated wrestlers in this weight class, Robert Busick of Weir and Dan Lahman of Petersburg, could find themselves remaining that way until the state tournament, as the two are not scheduled to face each other during the regular season. Busick, who was the 189-lb runner-up in 1998, started the season late due to being on Weir's state championship football team, but breezed through the Wheeling Park Duals without a loss to start his season at 10-0. Busick could face another tough Panhandle wrestler in Bishop Donahue's Brendan Welsh when the OVAC tournament rolls around in a couple of weeks. Welsh is 10-1 on the year, with his only loss coming to an Ohio wrestler. In the same neck of the woods is Oak Glen's Greg Six, who is off to a 12-3 start. Ritchie County's Justice Smith has only two losses, one to Welsh and the other to Magnolia's Richie Hobson. Traveling farther south, one will find that Big Creek's Wesley Payne, Shady Spring's Andrew Kincaid, and Winfield's Joe Baxter could turn some heads.
Ravenswood's Luke Salmons won the AA heavyweight title last year, and is well on his way to defending that title as he has at least 13 or 14 wins now without a loss. He knows it's expected that he'll meet up again for a re-match with his 1998 runner-up, Alex McClung from Oak Glen, who is off to his own powerful start at 15-0. Both wrestlers are starting off the year confident that they can claim this year's title, but they need to be careful not to look past the other talented wrestlers in the field. Ritchie County's Thomas Naylor hasn't tasted defeat yet either, as his record is 9-0. Braxton County's Justin Ritter has only suffered one loss, a one-point decision to Calhoun's Jeremy Laughlin. Laughlin's three losses (against 16 wins) have come against Clay County's Jamie McDonough (twice) and Naylor. Buddy Hawkins of Williamstown has not lost to a West Virginia opponent.
Acknowledgements (a couple of them belated AAA acknowledgements): Joe Altobello, Eric Ammons, Cory Auvil, Wayne Bennett, Rusty Burwell, Nick Busick, Jeff Givens, Ed Fields, Joel Harris, Jason Hayhurst, Arnold Houser, Jason Jackson, Matt Jones, Nathan Kinsley, Mike McCartney, Tim Miller, Emil Nardone, Michael Nogay, Bob Pickens, Larry Richie, Jason Seville, Larry Shaw, Tom Shuman, Jeremy Wright, The Beckley Register-Herald, The Grant County Press, The Jackson Herald, The Martinsburg Journal, The Parkersburg News, The Parkersburg Sentinel, The Tyler Star-News, The Wheeling News-Register, The Wirt County Journal.
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Updated January 12, 1999