Since it's taken more than three days to write this article, it may take just as long to read it. I apologize for the length, but there was a lot to be said about this year's state tournament.
Each West Virginia High School State Wrestling Tournament is unique in its own way, and each one is remembered in its own way. This year, an appropriate theme might be "The Year of the Upset", and I'll list some statistics in a moment to show what I mean.
One team that doesn't believe in being upset is Oak Glen. If you saw last week's Mat Lines, you saw how I totally underestimated the power of this team. Once again they dominated the competition, staged some individual upsets of their own, and clinched the team title on Friday evening. Congratulations to Coach Larry Shaw and his staff on their third straight A/AA title. Next year they will attempt to become just the second team in the history of the state tournament to win four team championships in a row (Cameron won the A/AA crown from 1991 to 1994).
I genuinely admire Larry Shaw and the job he has done with his outstanding program, but I was very pleased to see Coach John Peters of Ritchie County receive the Dix Manning Award (named after retired Coach Manning from Shady Spring, about whom you'll read later) as the A/AA Coach of the Year. You see, Ritchie County doesn't have a rich wrestling tradition as do a lot of schools. Just a few short years ago, it was rare to see wrestlers from the Ritchie County area excelling in the sport of wrestling. If I'm not mistaken, the only two state champions to come out of Ritchie County prior to last year were George Crain in 1960 and Rich Cokeley, a three-time state champion from 1984-86. Both wrestled for Harrisville High School prior to the county schools' consolidation into the present-day Ritchie County High. Coach Peters has taken the program and turned it into one of the state's top contenders in the small school division. The Rebels have earned statewide respect by wrestling close matches with Parkersburg High for two consecutive years and finishing second at both the LKC and regional tournaments, but that was nothing compared to finishing second in the state ahead of perennial powers Cameron, Williamstown, and Wirt County.
I think that perhaps when the coaches vote on the Coach of the Year, it's not so much about who has the most successful team, but rather who has made more strides with his team throughout the year and/or during the state tournament. In 1996, Coach Mark Delligatti of Fairmont Senior was named AAA Coach of the Year even though Paul Jackson's Parkersburg South wrestlers had just claimed their second straight title. Under Delligatti's guidance, the Polar Bears had made things tough for South up until the final day of competition and nearly pulled off an amazing upset of the heavily favored Patriots. Delligatti was justifiably acknowledged by his peers and applauded by them all, including Jackson.
Tim McCartney knew he had an uphill battle ahead of him when he accepted the head coaching position at Parkersburg South after the resignation of Paul Jackson (at the end of the 1997 season). Faced with the loss of seven seniors, four of whom were state champions, it looked like McCartney would have to start out his tenure at South in the rebuilding mode, and as expected, took a few lumps along the course of the 1998 season. South lost their first in-state dual match since 1993 to regional foe John Marshall. Then they failed to bring home the coveted fourth state title (which would have tied the state record and would have set a new record for AAA teams) by finishing fourth in the state tournament. While this would be the thrill of a lifetime for some programs, it was a setback for the South wrestling program and a major disappointment to McCartney, since the fourth-place finish marked the first time since 1987 that the team title went to a school outside the city of Parkersburg and the first time since 1964 that the team title went to a school outside Region 1. He vowed just days later at South's wrestling banquet that his team would indeed bring the trophy back home in 1999.
The 1998-99 season started on a bittersweet note for McCartney and his crew and ended the same way. In the season-opening match with Cabell Midland, two South wrestlers brought life to a quieting South crowd by defeating two of the state's top wrestlers. It wasn't enough though, as the Patriots dropped their second straight dual at home (the loss in 1998 to John Marshall was the final home match of the season). Two weeks later, they just squeaked by crosstown rival Parkersburg High with a three-point dual meet victory. Although they enjoyed some success out-of-state, it looked as though the team was losing ground in its home state as South dropped another dual to Huntington in the MSAC tournament and finished fourth as a team there. In addition to all that, South was no longer the media sweetheart that it had been from 1995 to 1997, taking a backseat in the local media to South's flourishing basketball team. It seemed the only ones who believed in the power of the South team were the state's coaches, who for most of the year kept South as the #2 ranked team in the state, and at one point I believe had them tied for the #1 spot.
McCartney, of course, never stopped believing in his team. He is one of the most positive, inspiring people one would ever want to meet, and it would be awfully hard for a kid to get down on himself when he's around Tim McCartney. He and his excellent staff of assistants kept the team going, and although they never had any individuals who were unbeatable, they did have a solid team. They entered the regional tournament with only one top seed, but stormed through the semifinals to take a commanding lead going into the regional finals. Although they didn't have a good final round, they had qualified 13 wrestlers for the state tournament and placed all but two of them in the top three. The state tournament was almost a case of deja vu for the Patriots as they had a great semifinal round, an even greater consolation round the next morning, but a disappointing championship final round as they went 0 for 4 in the state finals. But once again, they had built up enough of a lead over eventual runner-up Parkersburg that when the official slapped the mat in Todd Daggett's semifinal consolation win, the extra two points earned by the pin made it mathematically impossible for anyone to catch the Patriots. As he promised the fans in March of 1998, McCartney would be bringing the team trophy back to the city of Parkersburg, and more importantly, to Parkersburg South.
When comparing the programs of the state's newly crowned championship teams, one could find several similarities. First of all, there are the fans. At this year's state tournament there was never a doubt when a wrestler from Oak Glen or Parkersburg South had just won his match, because the fan sections from the two schools would simply erupt, rocking the Huntington Civic Center. Among the fans of these two teams are two of the state's most supportive and successful booster programs. Through the efforts and support of the wrestling boosters, the teams are able to fund out-of-state trips that are crucial to improving the level of competition the wrestlers face every year. Sure, Oak Glen and Parkersburg South wrestlers may not have sparkling records, and rarely will you see one come to the state tournament undefeated, but these two teams have two of the toughest schedules in the state, and it has paid off for them over the years. When you look at the programs that feed the two schools, you'll find even more similarities. Both Coach Shaw and Coach McCartney take pride in their feeder programs, which again are among the most successful in the state. Oak Glen has one of the strongest youth programs in the northern part of West Virginia. The South Parkersburg area is solid from the little guys on up as the Patriots wrestling club were named national champions, junior high feeders Blennerhassett and Edison finished first and second, respectively, in the county junior high tournament, and the Mineral Wells Pee Wee team finished first in the Wood County Recreation Association Tournament. Conditioning is another key to the success of these two teams. Rarely will you see an Oak Glen or South wrestler run out of gas in the third period or in overtime. Rigorous practices and again, tough matches put these kids in top shape when the end of the season rolls around. In addition to that, several dedicated parents work with the kids all year in weightlifting programs to keep them in condition for the upcoming year.
A big hats-off goes to runners-up Ritchie County and Parkersburg High. As I mentioned before, Ritchie is developing a reputation among their A/AA peers as one of the new state powers. Parkersburg, on the other hand, has undoubtedly had the most successful wrestling program in the state's history. If there was ever an official record book on wrestling, you'd find the words Parkersburg High taking up a lot of the slots. Parkersburg holds several state records, including the total number of individual state championships (116). In fact, the Big Reds have crowned at least one state champion in 44 of the 52 state tournaments. That's simply phenomenal. From an overall wrestling point of view, it's good to see the Big Reds back in the hunt, although I'm sure some of the AAA teams in the state don't agree with me! I've got more ominous news for the other AAA teams - Parkersburg is only losing one wrestler to graduation this year. (More on that and other statistics next week.)
As I stated before, this tournament seemed to have more upsets than any other tournament I can remember. Complete statistics will appear next week, but I just wanted to mention that this year several regional champions were defeated in the first round, several returning state champions (perhaps a record number) did not repeat, several top-ranked wrestlers did not place first in their respective weight classes, and only one wrestler remained undefeated at the end of the tournament.
The three days of the tournament are full of excitement and anticipation, but nothing can compare to the feeling in the air just prior to Saturday's final round. The tension builds as the wrestlers line up at one end of the Civic Center, waiting for the Parade of Champions, wondering whose dreams will be fulfilled and whose hopes will be dashed. To me, it's an almost magical feeling, and the the chill that goes down your spine when the lights dim and the theme from "Rocky" begins is a feeling that I could never tire of. Ok, ok, I know this is a female thing, but something else I really enjoy about Saturday night's final round is seeing all of the coaches dressed up. They all look so classy, not to mention quite handsome. Guys, you clean up really well!
It probably seemed odd to Dix Manning to be a spectator this year, since for the past 40 years he has been matside during the state tournament, even coaching his final state champion, Mike Thompson, to a state title last year. Among the accomplishments of his 40-year coahing career are five state championships, 25 individual state champions, one three-time state champion, two Coach of the Year awards, and coaching a father and son (Bill and Jeff Lester) to individual state titles. How fitting that he was chosen to lead this year's Parade of Champions.
The night's smallest AAA champion certainly was no small deal when it came to scoring points. Parkersburg 103-pounder Matt Stevens scored more points than any other wrestler in the tournament with three pins and a technical fall. He and teammate Matt George became the 115th and 116th Big Reds to claim individual titles. Both are looking to become three-time state champions, as Stevens is a sophomore and George won his second title as a junior.
Ravenswood's Ashley Gandee had not lost a single AA match all year, and kept it that way as he too started a quest for three straight state titles with his win at 103.
Nitro's Chris Johnson brought a little bit of happiness to his coach Steve White, who had just suffered the deaths of his father on January 26, and then his mother one month later, which happened to be the first day of the state tournament. White was forced to miss Johnson's semifinal win Friday night, and didn't get to return to the tournament until after the funeral services Saturday afternoon. Although he wanted and needed to be with his family, he felt he couldn't let his star grappler down and he showed up to coach Johnson to a 2-1 victory over Parkersburg's Clayton Samples. Our condolences go out to Coach White and his family and also to the family of Frankfort's Coach Mick Lantz, who also lost his mother during the weekend.
If you don't know Ash Wenmoth, you don't know what you're missing. In the words of his coaches, Ash has never met a stranger. He can talk to you forever but you'll never be bored. He's also one of the most confident wrestlers with whom I've ever talked, but I don't find him arrogant at all. His confidence paid off again this year as he claimed his second straight title with a major decision over Cameron freshman Roger Kupfer. Wenmoth's record had only one blemish on it this year, and that was a loss at the Midwest Classic in December. He mentioned that he'd like to go undefeated in his senior season, but that would mean taking first place at the Midwest Classic - something that I think is entirely within reach.
Wenmoth got the pleasure of watching teammate Will Westbrook take home the gold in the very next match, as Westbrook avenged an overtime loss to regional champion Eric Noel of Weir with a second-period escape that was good enough for the 1-0 win. One person who wasn't there to see Will win was his brother Waylon, who is living in England. But thanks to the good ole' World Wide Web, Waylon was able to follow his brother's progress throughout the entire weekend. It's kind of amazing when you think that our tournament is now reaching the world. That wouldn't be possible without the efforts of Dr. Tim Miller, who does an absolutely astounding job with this website. I make my living in the world of computers, so I know what goes into maintaining such a site. I know I've said it before, but thanks Doc, for all your hard work on the site.
Of course Doc couldn't get the results to the website if it weren't for the dedicated staff of tournament workers. The head table was very efficient this year, from the clear and accurate announcing to the timely posting of results. Congratulations to Coach Archer and his group for another well-run tournament. It gets better every year.
Hedgesville's Anthony Regalbuto spoke a few weeks ago about living up to the pressure that had been put on him by being labeled as one of the state's best wrestlers. Entering the tournament with only one loss, he didn't have any close matches until he staged a regional rematch in the finals with North Marion's Brian Floyd. Once again, the Hedgesville junior prevailed in the match, and this time it was just a little bit closer than the 11-4 outcome at the regional, as Regalbuto held Floyd scoreless and won by a 5-0 decision.
Jason Hayhurst had just two things on his mind at the start of Saturday night's finals: his second straight championship, and a chance to seek revenge. Hayhurst entered the season as a possible candidate for having an undefeated season, but during the first tournament of the year, he was defeated by Ravenswood's Scott Bush. On the final night of the tournament, the two wrestlers faced each other again, but Hayhurst was not to be denied this year as he handed Bush a 3-2 decision, which ironically was the same score by which Bush won early in the year.
Jared Walters also got his year started off on a sour note but ended it on a sweet one. Coming into the season as one of the state's top returning wrestlers, he was defeated in his first outing by Parkersburg South's Mike Bosley and found himself ranked behind the Patriot all year. But when Jefferson's Ian McBride handed Bosley a 5-4 defeat in the semifinals, the albatross had been lifted from around Walters' neck. He won his final match in convincing style with a second-period pin of McBride, making him just the second wrestler from Cabell Midland to ever win a state title (Jason Ward won titles in 1996 and 1998). Walters' teammate Josh Coffey wanted a piece of the championship pie too as he became the third Knight to grab a state title when he edged out Parkersburg's Rob Ball 2-0 for the 215-lb title.
Ritchie County's Justin Wince became one of eight wrestlers who got in the way of the state's returning state champions as he stopped Oak Glen's Logan Glass in his quest to become a three-time state champion with a hard-fought 5-3 overtime decision.
Oak Glen's Ed Weible found a tough opponent in St. Marys freshman Terry Childers in their 135-lb final. Childers held Weible to two scorless periods before the Oak Glen senior got a reversal in the third. Childers countered with an escape but it wasn't enough as Weible managed the one-point win. Childers caught my eye earlier in the year when he nearly defeated Wirt's Mark Lowe at the Ritchie County Duals. This is a young wrestler to watch for in the years to come.
The AAA 135-lb final was a "Battle of the Brians" (well, a Brian and a Bryan) as Wheeling Park's Brian Flanegin took on Hedgesville's Bryan Moats. The score stayed close throughout the whole match and Moats was ahead going into the third period until Flanegin got the go-ahead escape and takedown to make the final score 7-5.
Matt Callahan (Woodrow Wilson) and Jimmie Moles (Herbert Hoover) were part of an impressive Region 4 contingent as they staged a regional rematch in the 140-lb final. Once again, Callahan emerged as the victor and ended Woodrow Wilson's 12-year stretch without a state champion. Region 4 tied Region 1 with four champions this year, as compared to three each for Region 2 and Region 3.
It's quite a feat for a wrestler to win four straight championships, but Wirt County's Mike Miller became just the sixth wrestler in the tournament's history to do so. Upon winning his title match he treated the crowd to a cartwheel-backflip combination and the crowd responded with two standing ovations - one at the end of his match and one when he stood atop the awards stand for the fourth time. It was no surprise when the time came to announce the A/AA Outstanding Wrestler Award as Miller added the award to his list of accolades.
The 140-lb class proved to be the home of the Outstanding Wrestlers as Fairmont Senior's Nicholas Hedrick won his second straight title and became the only wrestler in the state to finish the season without a loss. The amiable Polar Bear senior's closest match all weekend was his final match with North Marion's John Ramsey, which ended in a 9-2 decision. Something I observed about Hedrick that made me proud of him is that when the place-winners in his class were being announced, he applauded every one of them rather than simply standing there atop the stand, basking in his own glory. Wrestlers like Nicholas Hedrick give West Virginia wrestling a good name. I'm honored that I got the chance to meet him.
Oak Glen's Rob Lamb had to sit out the 1998 state tournament with an injury, so he was determined to stay as healthy as possible for his senior season as he had his sights on winning a state title. The going wouldn't be easy though, as he faced undefeated Eric McCartney of Calhoun County in the A/AA 145-lb finals. Lamb managed to prevail with a 4-3 win, handing McCartney a heartbreaking first loss on the year.
Two of the coolest brothers ever to win state titles in the same year have to be the Wehrle brothers, Chad and Matt. Sporting matching tattoos and bleached hairdos, the brothers wanted to go out and win the state championships as a pair, not as individuals. Both wrestlers faced opponents from Parkersburg South, but they didn't let it faze them as they both took care of business by winning decisions over their Patriot opponents. While a lot of wrestlers would be tempted to taunt the vocal South crowd or gloat over the wins, these young men had nice things to say about their opponents AND the South fans. What a nice example of winning with grace.
When one thinks of state wrestling powers, Tyler Consolidated probably won't be the first school to come to mind, but Coach Larry Richie has been working hard to build a respectable program and to get his team as much exposure as possible. Part of the plan was to enroll the school in the rugged OVAC conference, and schedule some tough matches along the way. The effort paid off as Jason Snider became not only the first finalist for the Silver Knights, but the first-ever state champion as well.
All year long East Fairmont's Matt Miller patiently waited for his chance. He listened to the talk about Jason Ward and Josh Dearth. He went about his business without a complaint as he continued to dominate his opponents the whole season as the rest of the state found themselves unable to look beyond the Ward-Dearth rematch to see Miller's accomplishments. He finished the regular season with only one loss (to an Ohio wrestler), went on to claim the region 2 crown, and continued to wait. Then the pairings were announced. Miller found himself in the lower bracket of his weight class while his top two opponents were in the upper bracket. He ignored the talk about how Ward and Dearth should be the ones to meet in the finals, even though the claim was unfounded, since neither wrestler had faced Miller all year. Again, he went about his business (a pin, a tech fall, and a decision), made it through the semifinals, and waited. At the end of the semifinals the stage was set. He would be facing Parkersburg South's Josh Dearth for the 160-lb championship. Miller took the early lead in the match and, at one point, led 4-1. Dearth managed to fight back and tie the score, when Miller got the go-ahead escape with 10 seconds left in the match to win his first state title as a sophomore. Miller is only the second wrestler from East Fairmont to take home a title (Heavyweight Rich Pheasant won in 1994). The East wrestlers, like Miller himself, have always wrestled in the shadow of the big names like Fairmont Senior and North Marion. Perhaps Miller's triumph will set the stage for a rise in the program at East Fairmont.
In 1998, Oak Glen's Jason Jones had to watch the state finals from the stands as he fell in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Chris Basford of Grafton. Jones watched as Bishop Donahue's Chad Purpura (the wrestler whom he'd beaten in the regional finals that year) went on to win the weight class. The two found themselves in the same weight class again this year, but Jones was determined not to let history repeat itself as he defeated Purpura 5-2 to end his senior year as a state champion.
Joe Nichols caught my attention when he won the OVAC tournament this past January, because if you know anything about the OVAC tournament, you know how tough the competition is. Nichols had little trouble with his opponents during the state tournament as he recorded three pins and a major decision (one of only two pins in the finals) en route to his state title. Nichols and his teammates (led by third-place finishers Dan Stanley and Don Alexander, and fourth-place finisher Jason Gillispie) boosted the Bruins to 7th place in the final team standings - their best finish since winning the state championship in 1980.
Liberty-Raleigh's Stephen Kinley and Addam Lewis have been a formidable pair for the Raiders all year, with only four losses between them (Kinley's loss came on a slam call). They won back-to-back state titles at 171 and 189, respectively as they downed their opponents by decisions in their final matches of their high school careers.
One of the big debates on the website this year was "Who's Best at 215 - Lahman or Busick?". Fans of course voiced their own opinions as to who was the best, but Weir's Robert Busick and Petersburg's Dan Lahman never got a chance to settle the debate until they met in the championship finals. Lahman got penalized for stalling and after several minutes of fighting for the escape, Busick tied the match, but Lahman prevailed in overtime with a score of 2-1. It was the second year in a row that Busick had to settle for the runner-up position, but he's still a junior and has one more shot at a title next year. Lahman followed in his brother Nick's footsteps as he became Petersburg's newest state champion.
Greenbrier East Head Coach Morse Reese got a welcome birthday present when his heavyweight star Joe Heath claimed an individual title. What made the win even more special was that Heath is the first champion in Greenbrier East's history and will have a chance to become a two-time state champion next year.
Oak Glen's Alex McClung waited an entire year to seek revenge for his 1998 runner-up finish to Ravenswood's Luke Salmons. The two met in the finals last year, with Salmons winning a close 3-2 decision. Vowing all season long that he would be the champion this year, McClung kept his word by winning the last match of the tournament in overtime to hand Salmons his first loss of the year.
Fairmont Senior's Jeff Courtney certainly captured the hearts of AAA fans as he wrestled his heart out en route to a fourth-place finish in the 160-lb weight class. The Polar Bear freshman found himself paired against two-time state champion Jason Ward of Cabell Midland not once, but twice during the course of the tournament. The first match ended in an 11-5 decision, but Courtney gave it his all in his consolation final bout with Ward and came within two points of taking the Midland senior into overtime. In case you haven't heard, another thing that makes Courtney so endearing to fans from all over the state is that fact that he has overcome his deafness to be an excellent wrestler. However, he wasn't the only deaf wrestler in the tournament. Capital's Jeremy Lane entered the tournament as the Region 3 champion and came within one match of placing among the top six in the 140-lb class.
Several wrestlers hit the 100-win mark either at the state tournament or during the last weeks of the season. Matt Queen's final match of his high school career was also his 100th win. University's Kenny Griffin got his 100th win during the state tournament. If my notes are right, Oak Glen's Ed Weible and Williamstown's Justin Wenmoth got their 100th wins at the state tournament too. Other names to add to the 100-win list are Matt Callahan (Woodrow Wilson), Brian Flanegin (Wheeling Park), John Ramsey (North Marion), and Ash Wenmoth (Williamstown).
AAA Region 1 wrestlers must have been a little miffed at all the speculation on this website that their region has become weaker. They decided to dispel the rumor by placing the most wrestlers in the AAA division (29) and tying Region 4 for the most state champions (four).
As expected, some of the wrestlers with losing records didn't win a match at the state tournament, but when it comes to this tournament, you can't always rely on records to predict the outcome of a match. Eight wrestlers (from all regions) with losing records scored points for their team, including Magnolia's Richie Hobson, who defeated Ritchie County's Justice Smith (the region 3 champion) in Thursday's opening round.
Smith showed his mettle by wrestling his way back through the consolation round to a third-place finish. Smith and his teammate Thomas Naylor did a little number on Coach John Peters in the consolation finals as each wrestler barreled into Peters upon winning his match. Sporting a bandage across the bridge of his nose after Saturday's consolation finals, Peters joked that the sight of Naylor coming at you full speed is a pretty scary thing to behold!
Well, the final state tournament of the 20th century is now history and it's time to look forward to a new year. In a few days I'll have some statistics on this year's tournament along with some insight into the 2000 wrestling season. South Coach Tim McCartney was already looking ahead on Saturday night after his team had just been crowned the new state champions. After their team prayer, McCartney announced to his wrestlers that they only had 246 days until wrestling practice begins for next year! So on that note, let the countdown to 2000 begin!
Return to the Mat Lines index
Return to the WV-Mat front page
Updated March 3, 1999