West Virginia Mat Lines
by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 26, 2003
What a difference a year makes.
During regionals weekend last year, Bob Pickens found himself at Cameron High School preparing for his last regional tournament as head wrestling coach at Williamstown High School. This year he was at the mall with a case of spring fever.
I ran into Bob last Friday night as he was lusting after garden tractors at a lawn and garden show at Parkersburg's mall. We were both a little surprised to see each other at the mall instead of at the Region 1 AA/A tournament. After all, it was at St. Marys High School, which is practically in my back yard, and I couldn't imagine Bob not being at the tournament to cheer on his beloved Yellowjackets. But I had to make an emergency stop to get cell phone batteries and Bob was looking for a bigger mower to make his lawn mowing a little quicker so he can spend more time on the golf course this year! He did assure me that he'd see me this weekend. Sounds like retirement's agreeing with you, Bob!
Well, the weekend is fast approaching, and it's hard to believe, but the state wrestling tournament is finally upon us. Once again wrestlers and teams will be out to defend their titles, other teams will try to knock the defenders off the throne, and individual wrestlers will set out to live up to their state rankings or even prove the pollsters wrong and make the state take notice.
At least half of the wvmat.com readers can't understand the concept of a "broken record", but that's what I'm going to sound like here in a minute. For those of you too young to ever have enjoyed your music on vinyl, a cracked or broken record would skip or get stuck at a certain groove and keep repeating the same word or phrase over and over until someone physically moved the needle. Well, the AA/A "record" has been stuck on the phrase "Oak Glen will win the AA/A state tournament this year" for about seven years now, and it doesn't appear as though anyone's ready to move that needle yet. Calhoun County came closer last year to overcoming the Golden Bears than any other team has since reclassification moved Oak Glen to the AA ranks in the 1997 season. But instead of seeing what many wishful thinkers had hoped would be a team on the downhill slide (after finishing behind Brooke at the Brooke Classic and losing a dual to Parkersburg South), the rest of the state has seen a steady improvement in a team that is probably known more for its depth than its individual stars. As former Parkersburg South Coach Paul Jackson said quite often, "Tournaments are won in the consolations rounds", and that's exactly what Oak Glen's been doing all year. They even won one tournament without claiming a single individual champion. And even though the Bears have a few good chances at individual state titles this year, they could easily still win the state tournament even if they don't take home any individual glory, just as Wirt County did in 1968.
The big story in AAA all year has been that of the Parkersburg Big Reds, who began the pre-season ranked number 1 and never relinquished the top spot. The Big Reds looked primed all season to steal the big school crown away from four-time defending Parkersburg South, finishing ahead of the Patriots at the Ironman Invitational in December and crushing them at the city's annual dual in January. Just as it appeared that the Big Reds would cruise through the Region 1 AAA tournament, their southern counterparts had other ideas. South silenced the naysayers and had a great tournament, leading after the first round of action (thanks in part to several Parkersburg byes) and actually closing the gap to one point after Aaron Kelley's third place win at 103 in the final round. However, the Big Reds put any doubts to rest as they finished the day with five champions and 12 state qualifiers. The Patriots, though, have set the stage for an interesting race between the two schools for this year's team title, crowning four champs of their own and actually taking 13 wrestlers to Huntington. On paper, it still appears as though the Big Reds are in the driver's seat, but South rarely has a poor showing at the state tournament, so it could come down to which team profits the most from upsets and bonus points.
While it looks like the team titles are still going to stay in Hancock and Wood Counties, there are sure to be some interesting races for top five finishes in both divisions.
In AAA, Ripley and East Fairmont are enjoying a rise in their programs, and the hard work has paid off as the two teams enjoyed their highest finishes ever in 2002, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively in the state tournament. Last year's third-place team, John Marshall, was hit extremely hard by graduation (they lost a whopping nine senior state qualifiers!). That should clear the way for the Vikings and Bees to battle it out for this year's third-place spot, although I'd have to give the edge to East Fairmont.
Sporting the largest "swarm" of Bees ever to invade Huntington, East Fairmont is in good position to do quite well. Never has Coach Geary had more than one individual champion at a time, and now he has a good possibility of tripling that number as three of his wrestlers are favored to make it to the finals. Two of the wrestlers are Geary's twin sons Ben and Brandon and the other is 171-pounder Blane Mayle, who just recently broke the East Fairmont school takedown record and the all-time Marion County win record with 165 wins. Congratulations Blane!
Expect Huntington to be in the hunt as well (no pun intended), as they have a good solid team this year coupled with a consistent history of performing well in their hometown. And while we're on the subject of Huntington, much congratulations go out to head coach Bill Archer, who celebrated his 400th career dual meet victory just a couple of weeks ago. Way to go Coach!
Brooke has remained near the top of the polls all year and with a good tournament could finish in the top five, but some bad luck in the regional tournament might have taken them out of contention for third. But I'm not going to count the Bruins (this year's OVAC runners-up) out of this just yet. Brooke fans are sporting shirts that read "Brooke's New Era", and it is indeed a new era for wrestling in Brooke County, normally known as a hotbed of football and cheerleading. Not enjoying this much mat success since the state championship season of 1980, the Bruins have a very bright wrestling future ahead of them, losing just two seniors this year (Braden Shaw is a junior, not a senior), and having the luxury of a successful feeder program to build upon in the coming years.
I have to pause for a minute to thank my friend Barbara McFarland for keeping me up to date on Brooke wrestling this year. After talking back and forth via e-mail, we finally caught up with each other at this year's OVAC tournament. I finally got to meet her son Jonathon at the regional, along with 119-pounder Matt Smith. McFarland had the tough task of meeting up with Shane Grogg in the regional finals, but look for him to place high this weekend also. And I have to mention Matt Smith. After losing a 15-5 major decision to South's Chad Porter in the first round, he bounced back in the consolations with a late rally to take a 3-2 decision over Wheeling Park's Brian Humphrey and then took Porter into overtime in the 3rd place final before falling 7-5. Best of luck to both of you guys this weekend!
As for the rest of AAA, on paper it looks like Nitro, North Marion, Jefferson, and Buckhannon-Upshur could complete the top ten (in any order), as every one of these teams could have wrestlers in the finals Saturday night. Also, one never knows who the sleeper teams will be each year, so keep an eye out because anything can and will happen.
And now as we turn our thoughts to AA/A, things get a little more interesting. My "rough draft" brackets leave Calhoun, Cameron, Shady Spring, and Williamstown in a dead heat for the remaining spots in the small school top five. (Note how I listed them in alphabetical order for political correctness!) : Of course I may be totally underestimating the strength of the remaining teams I have in the top ten - Braxton County, Greenbrier West, Independence, Point Pleasant, and St. Marys, so we can't forget about them.
Calhoun County is looking to repeat - or better yet improve upon - their runner-up performance from last year's state tournament. Unfortunately, they bring two less wrestlers (9) to Huntington than they did last year, and with Oak Glen bringing 13, the hill might be a little steeper to climb this year.
The battle between Cameron and Williamstown (who finished second and third, respectively to Oak Glen at the regional) should be a good one. Cameron enjoys the numbers advantage over Williamstown (11 to 7) and will place most of their contingent in the top six, but Williamstown has a slight advantage when it comes to possible finalists. As is the case with the two Parkersburg schools, bonus points and matches wrestled on Friday are going to be key for each of these teams.
It's good to see Shady Spring back in the thick of things. The Tigers of Coach Larry Snuffer are looking to enjoying their best state tournament since the 1995 season when they finished third in the state.
Matt Ashley made an interesting comment at this year's LKC tournament as he and I were chatting with Cameron coach Jim Potts (who actually drove from Steubenville, Ohio to Elizabeth for the tournament!). Matt said imagine the team you could have if you could combine Shady Spring's lightweights with Greenbrier West's heavyweights. I've got to agree - that would be a force to be reckoned with!
And while we're on the subject of Greenbrier West, the Cavaliers of Coach Jeremy Tincher successfully defended their regional crown and qualified their entire team (they only have 13 wrestlers) for the state tournament. This might be one team that's not getting credit where credit is due, so they have the chance to prove us all wrong in just a few days. If I've underestimated the team I, however, will not make the offer to cut my hair as Coach Tincher did when his team won their region Saturday. For those of you who missed the article, Coach Tincher, who until this past Saturday was known for his long curly locks, had told his team last year that if they won the region they could cut his hair. Well, they won the region but somehow he managed to escape the haircut. He wasn't as fortunate this year, as the team didn't let him get away this time. Gee, does that mean if they ever win the state tournament he'd shave his head? I've got to admit, I'll miss the hair. Oh well Coach, you have nine months before wrestling season next year!
Braxton County is another team that successfully defended their regional title Saturday. In fact, Coach Sterling Beane's troops have won their region for the past five years! The Eagles scored their highest number of points ever in a regional tournament with only 13 wrestlers competing. Eleven of those thirteen (five of which emerged as regional champions) will make the trip to Huntington. If this team wrestles as well at the state and they did in the region, they could top their fifth-place showing from 1989.
Independence and St. Marys might not have the numbers and depth that Oak Glen has, but a top-ten finish is almost certain for both teams. And something these two teams should enjoy that other teams may not is multiple wrestlers in the finals. I got to see these teams in action at the Williamstown Rumble, and I know I was watching some future state champions that weekend. Best of luck to both teams.
And if you're wondering why I haven't mention Point Pleasant yet, I've saved them until now because I want to mention the major shakeup in the AA/A class this year due to reclassification. Joining the AA/A ranks this year were Herbert Hoover, Lewis County, Logan, Philip Barbour, Point Pleasant, and Roane County. Herbert Hoover, Roane County, and Point Pleasant all figure to score a lot of points this weekend, and at first glance it looks like Point has the best chance of cracking the top ten. It's been a little hard to figure out where to place these teams (and even the wrestlers) this year after being used to knowing how they stacked up against AAA opponents. It will be interesting to see how things will work out with these new teams being thrown into the mix.
While Point and Hoover have veteran teams, Roane County has a very young team with only two seniors. Coach Garry Bender was very pleased with the performance of his young squad this year, posting a winning record in dual matches and finishing third in the region. Watch for good things from this team in the years ahead.
And speaking of young wrestlers, I'm going to make a point of watching for Logan's Cornelius Godfrey. Godfrey is the lone wrestler from his school and he is merely a freshman. Although it seems a little intimidating for such a young wrestler to come to Huntington without his teammates, Godfrey sports a 21-6 record (not bad for a freshman), so if you don't see him on the podium this year, perhaps you'll look back in three years and remember the lone freshman wrestler from Logan.
We have some new kids on the block this year due to the resurrection of the Bridgeport wrestling program and the inaugural season for Westside High School. Thanks to Mike Mason, one of West Virginia's all-time greats, the Indians were able to fill an entire squad this year and qualify five for the state tournament, all of whom are underclassmen. Not bad for the first year back. Way to go Mike!
And kudos to another Mike - Michael Cline, who will put his name in the history books as the first wrestler to compete in the state tournament from Westside.
Well, I've rambled on long enough, so it's time now to sit back and enjoy the action the next three days will bring. As always, I want to wish everyone the best of luck and I want to remind everyone to keep sportsmanship at an all-time high and injuries at an all-time low. Oh yeah, better watch that weight too!
And one more thing - if you see Bob Pickens this weekend, tell him golf can wait just a little while longer 'cause right now it's state tournament time!
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