Mother Nature must have known I couldn’t make up my mind last weekend, because I was torn between going to the WSAZ Invitational for the third year in a row and attending my first-ever OVAC Tournament. Needless to say, a mere six inches of snow forced me to stay home, so I had to depend on the Sunday papers and good ole’ WVMat for my weekend wrestling fix.
I hated to miss the OVAC, because not to mention watching some top notch wrestling, I’ve always wanted to attend the opening ceremonies and witness the Olympic-style parade of teams. I would love to see something like that at our state tournament. One might argue that since few teams bring their whole team to the state tournament that it might take the focus off those teams who qualify just a few or even one wrestler for the tournament. I disagree, because I think it would make a lone wrestler or even a pair of wrestlers feel more special because he/she/they were still out there representing their school. Some countries have small teams in the Olympics, but it’s still a thrill to see them in the opening ceremonies parade, and to me each and every one is special simply for being there in the first place. The same holds true for the state tournament.
It looks as though the West Virginia boys held their own at this year’s OVAC tournament. West Virginia schools haven’t placed four teams in the overall top ten since 1997. This year Oak Glen missed taking top honors by a hair as they were edged out by defending conference champion East Liverpool 186 to 184. Wheeling Park (5th), Cameron (6th), and John Marshall (8th) also finished in the top ten. And even though they hail from Ohio, 7th-place finisher Buckeye Local is coached by one of our own - Jay Michael, son of North Marion Coach Roy Michael.
It’s also been four years since West Virginia teams have crowned five individual champions. Congratulations to Adam and Derek Kennedy from Wheeling Park, Eric Noel and Philip Bellville from Oak Glen, and Derek George from John Marshall on their respective titles. The Kennedy brothers became the first set of brothers to win titles since 1970, when another pair of Mountaineers, Matt and Mike Doyle, won titles for Wheeling Central. And by the way, unless I’m mistaken, I think Derek Kennedy pinned his way through the entire tournament. Watch out West Virginia AAA 130-pounders!
Eric Noel accomplished an unusual feat on his way to becoming a two-time champion. Winning a second individual title isn’t all that unusual, but Noel won his titles while representing different schools. In 1998 he won the 103-pound title as a Weir Red Rider but then transferred to Oak Glen, where he finished third as a sophomore and second as a junior.
Philip Bellville squeaked past Weir’s Vince Magnone in what could possibly be a preview of both the regional and state finals next month. But of course they’ll have to get past some of the other 189-pounders in the state (Independence’s Josh Moyer and Williamstown’s Ryan Delebreau to name a couple.)
John Marshall’s Derek George defeated top seed and previously unbeaten Kurt Glasser of Shadyside 3-2 to take the 152-pound title. George, one of the state’s most overlooked wrestlers, is a legitimate threat for a state title at either 152 or 145. Although the many fan polls have him ranked at 145, I think he has actually wrestled more matches (as far as what I have recorded) at 152. His only loss so far this year came in the semifinals of the Brooke Classic, where he dropped a 6-5 decision to Shaler’s Mickey Moran. I personally am anticipating a possible matchup between George and Parkersburg South’s Nathan Pickens at the dual between the two schools and again in the Region 1 finals.
As a team, Cameron nearly outscored all of their Single-A opponents combined, wrapping up the team title early Friday night and finishing 85 ½ points ahead of Beallsville.
The success of these individuals and teams will make things interesting in Region 1 in both AAA and AA/A. As usual, Cameron, Oak Glen, and Williamstown will battle it out in the region for team honors in AA/A. In AAA, the northern teams will make things a little tougher for defending regional champ Parkersburg South. The recent success of the junior high teams from Ohio and Marshall counties is evident of the growing success of the Wheeling Park and John Marshall teams. And keep an eye on a very young team from Brooke, whom I believe have five freshmen and four sophomores in their starting lineup. Parkersburg High will again peak at the right time as they always do and surprise some people with wrestlers who turn in great tournament performances. Morgantown also has some young wrestlers who could make some noise, such as Lucas Cappas, Jared Garvin, and Mike DeVault.
Another Region 1 team, University, came to Parkersburg South along with St. Albans last week to check out the Patriots. I was quite impressed with the performance of 103-pounder David Campbell, who manhandled Justin Conley throughout the match, coming very close to getting the pin three times. Give credit to Conley, though, for fighting off the pin attempts and holding Campbell to a major decision.
Of course the big disappointment that night was the forfeit win for South’s Shane Grogg at 112. Kyle Turnbull, son of WVU Coach Craig Turnbull, had fallen ill before the match and had to forfeit both matches against South and St. Albans. Many were anticipating a tough battle between the two young wrestlers, but will now have to wait for a regional matchup in February.
I’ve said it several times before, but the success all of the aforementioned teams (as well as other successful teams across the state) depends heavily on their feeder programs. One look at the results from last week’s Wood County Junior High County Championships will tell you why Parkersburg South is so dominant year-in and year-out. Of the thirty wrestlers in the county finals, over half (17) hailed from southside junior highs Blennerhassett and Edison. As a matter of fact, the team title has stayed in South Parkersburg during the entire lifetime of these young wrestlers, since the last time the team title went to a team north of the Little Kanawha River (the school district boundary) was in 1985 when Jackson took top honors. To put that into perspective, most students in the freshman class of 2001 were born a year later in 1986!
Edison grabbed a narrow victory over regular-season and recently-crowned WSAZ champion Blennerhassett when Curt Radcliff, brother of 2000 state champion Clint Radcliff, claimed his title in the last few seconds of his final match.
Edison Coach Randy Beatty, himself a former Wood County champion, gave much of the credit for his team’s success to his assistant coaches Luke Smith, Chad Walters, and Pat Sleeth, all former South wrestlers. In fact, I’m sure several head coaches would sing the praises of the young men who are former wrestlers now devoting their time to coaching. Coach Steve Porter of Blennerhassett is joined by fellow former South wrestlers Jeremy Cochran and Gary Porter; Hamilton Coach Rich Walters is joined by former Big Reds Zach Leverett and Tom Farrah; and VanDevender Coach Jay Lindamood is assisted by Joel Newberry, also a former Big Red. Ritchie County and Wirt County (along with Belpre, Ohio) are also in the “Wood County” league and are coached by Bryan Ray and former Wirt County State Champion Jason Miller, respectively.
To shift gears a little, I must admit it was a little strange not being in Huntington for the WSAZ Tournament this year (which is where I would have been regardless of the weather if my niece Lauryn had her way). The host Huntington Highlanders stormed through the tournament, placing 11 wrestlers (including four individual champions) and outdistancing first-year competitor Riverside, Ohio by nearly forty points. Having had a very successful year in both dual meets and tournaments (grabbing the team titles at Myrtle Beach and Nitro), you can guarantee that Coach Bill Archer and son Rob will have their team ready when the rest of the state invades their hometown at the end of the month.
Calhoun County is another team who has enjoyed both dual meet and tournament success this year. I could be wrong, but I think the Red Devils’ only dual meet losses this year have come to LKC rival Williamstown. But Mike Stump’s grapplers have taken home the gold at both the Braxton Invitational and their own Calhoun Invitational, along with an impressive 5th-place finish at the Nitro Invitational, so they’re ready to give the Yellowjackets a run for their money at this weekend’s LKC tournament.
Williamstown has made a name for itself both in and out of West Virginia this year, enjoying equal success in duals and tournaments throught the season. They wrestled their way to first-place finishes at both the Ritchie Duals and at Grove City, Ohio, where 152-pounder Matt Seckman was named Most Outstanding Wrestler. Seckman also finished second in Level 1 in the prestigious Midwest Classic, putting him in the same company as three-time state champion Ash Wenmoth, who also finished second in Level 1 at the Classic.
I haven’t had a chance to see much AA/A action, but I’ll try to keep my eye on several other teams that I haven’t mentioned already, such as Independence, Braxton, Clay, and Wirt County.
Since I haven’t written for such a long time, there are several odds and ends that I’d like to mention briefly.
Well, that’s enough for this time. To those of you who are injured, take care of yourselves and we hope to see you in the regionals. To those of you who are healthy, take care of yourselves also and be sure to keep yourselves healthy! The next few weeks will go by fast, so enjoy every minute of it. I know I will!
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