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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
AA/A State Tournament Wrapup for March 5, 2004

In AA/A, Oak Glen put the wraps on their eighth consecutive title, which was no surprise to anyone. Congratulations to Coach Larry Shaw (AA/A Coach of the Year) for taking a team that was supposed to be in a rebuilding year and proving the critics (or wishful thinkers) wrong once again. The Golden Bears won the giant OVAC tournament by nearly 40 points while only crowning one individual champion, dominated the regional tournament and wrapped up the state tournament title early on Saturday to outdistance regional and state runner-up Cameron by 81 ½ points.

Oak Glen looks to be on course to set the state record for consecutive titles in a sport. (The current record is 10, held by the Parkersburg Boys’ Tennis team). The irony is that the only thing that might put a halt to Oak Glen’s winning streak would be a high school consolidation in Hancock County that would combine Oak Glen and Weir High Schools. I talked to a non-wrestling friend from Weirton back in January who is all for it, but I’m not sure how the rest of the Hancock Countians feel. I personally feel that it would be great for wrestling in West Virginia.

Oak Glen has one of the most supportive cheering sections every year at the state tournament, but I noticed a few other teams’ fans who were making quite a bit of noise in the stands too. While Oak Glen fans have taken over one side of the seating at the end of the arena, Calhoun County fans have taken over the other side. It’s also evident when a wrestler from schools like Cameron and Grafton (just to name a few) win a match.

One team that has an ever-growing fan base at the state tournament is Bridgeport, and for good reason. The wrestlers on this year’s team hadn’t even been born the last time a Bridgeport wrestler stepped on the mat at the state tournament. But now in just two years, Coach Mike Mason’s Indians have gone from an upstart team that finished 29th in the 2003 state tournament to a top-ten team with three placers, including state runner-up at 130, David Haws. Not too shabby!

Independence’s Robert Rash gave his fans something to cheer about as he got the ball rolling in the finals with a win at 103 over Oak Glen’s Brandon Davis. Top-ranked at 103 all season long, the Patriot sophomore lived up to the billing as he pinned Davis in 2:37.

Fortunately for Oak Glen, the disappointment didn’t last long as junior Brandon Miller, who had wrestled with a knee injury all year, took home his first individual title with a win over Cameron’s Tim Cumpston at 112. The regional rematch saw Cumpston come out of the gate charging as he took the early lead, but Miller pulled ahead with a takedown late in the second and never looked back. His victory celebration was low-key, as he simply walked over to Coach Larry Shaw where he received a congratulatory hug and a smile.

Just as certain as death and taxes, one thing’s for sure: when you have two defending state champions facing off in the final match of the year, only one will be lucky enough to repeat as a champion. In one of the best matches of the night, defending champions Josh Neal of Shady Spring and Judd Billings of Ravenswood traded leads throughout the 119-pound final match. Neal had the advantage heading to the end of the first, but Billings took the Tiger junior to his back at the buzzer to record the go-ahead takedown. After Neal went ahead with a second-period reversal, Billings tied the score with an escape and then got another escape in the third to go ahead 5-4. Just as it appeared that Billings (who had been ranked as low as 5th at one point in the season) was going to pull the upset and win his second championship, Neal registered a takedown with just 20 seconds remaining in the match.

Neal’s victory must have been all the incentive teammate Derek Scarbro needed in the 125-pound final as he shot for a takedown just 10 seconds into his match with Oak Glen senior Shane Wright and never looked back en route to a 6-2 victory. The Tiger junior had been sidelined with an injury from January 10 until the regional tournament, but now he is looking to become Shady Spring’s first 3-time state champion in 25 years when he begins his title defense next season.

At 130, Calhoun County’s Justin Ashley realized his goal of becoming a 3-time state champion with a pin in 5:04 over Bridgeport’s David Haws. Ashley’s father is the legendary Matt Ashley, West Virginia’s first 4-time state champion. The younger Ashley was recognized for his efforts by being named the AA/A Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Ashley has many things for which to be thankful. In addition to winning his third straight title plus the outstanding wrestler award, the Calhoun senior is thankful to even be alive. In a three-month period prior to his freshman year, Ashley sustained two serious concussions, one of them life-threatening. His family owned a farm in Wirt County where they raised draft horses. (In case you’re not familiar with the term, draft horses are large work horses, the most notable example being Clydesdales.) In one accident, Ashley was riding one horse and leading another when he got tired of holding the rope and put it around his waist. Something spooked the horse and it took off, taking Ashley with it, dangling by its side. Luckily a neighbor came to his rescue before he was hurt too badly. And then three months later, another horse kicked him in the left temple, rendering him unable to speak for four days. Unable to get medical clearance to from the local physician in time to begin wrestling practice, Ashley’s parents finally got clearance from a sports specialist in Wheeling, but that wasn’t until February, well into wrestling season. The Ashley family eventually ended up in Calhoun County, where Justin wrestled his final three seasons as a Red Devil.

The road to the state championship wasn’t easy for either of the 135-pound finalists. Oak Glen’s Brennon Chambers had to face Region 3 champion Justin Chapman of Shady Spring in the semifinals and managed to escape with a 7-5 decision. The road was just as tough for Calhoun County’s Andrew Cummings. Cummings had to face 2-time defending state champion Dustin Bartrug in the quarterfinals and Region 2 champion Jeremy McCarty in the semifinals. Things didn’t get any easier in the finals as the two battled it out with Chambers prevailing 3-2. The victory was especially sweet for Chambers, who had to miss last year’s state tournament due to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Cameron’s Jeff Cumpston had dominated the 140-pound weight class all season long, with his only losses coming to out-of-state opponents. He continued to dominate in his final match of the year as he defeated Williamstown’s Anthony DiMarco by way of a 15-0 technical fall.

Cumpston’s teammate Casey Hughes put the final touches on an outstanding senior season with a 13-3 major decision over Braxton County senior Lance Hines. The 145-pounder finished the season with a 41-0 record and three individual state titles under his belt. Tough as nails, Hughes overcame odds and injuries to place 1st, 6th, and 1st his first three years, and proved to everyone that he was as unbeatable as he looked this year. The 3-time champion and 4-time placer should be in contention for the Dutton Award this year.

Oak Glen 152-pounder Rhett Northcraft had paid attention to undefeated Eric Metz from Calhoun County all weekend long, because he was expecting to meet up with the Red Devil senior in the finals Saturday night. As expected, both wrestlers reached the finals, but Northcraft’s homework must have paid off as he managed to hand Metz his first loss of the year with a 5-3 decision in a hard-fought battle between two excellent wrestlers. I had to marvel at the concentration of Coach Larry Shaw during the match. As Corey Adkins and David Campbell were tumbling around on the next mat in the AAA final, things got a little wild and Adkins landed at Shaw’s feet. Shaw barely batted an eye, took a quick glance down at Adkins, and then went back to concentrating on what was going on in his own corner.

Williamstown super-athlete Shane Smith was one of only four wrestlers in the state to finish the season undefeated. However, the victory didn’t come easily as he won his third title in four attempts by way of a 6-5 decision over Oak Glen’s Garrett Railing at 160. Although Smith never surrendered the lead at any point in the match, he did find the score tied a couple of times, including the beginning of the third period when an escape by Railing made it 4-4. But a quick takedown by Smith made it 6-4. Although Railing came a little closer with an escape, the wrestlers spent the remainder of the match on their feet with Smith coming away the victor. With the win, Smith wrote the final chapter in a wrestling career that included three state titles, and runner-up finish, and the feat of defeating the eventual AAA champion in his weight class for at least the past three years.

Alan Tracewell made it two in a row for the Yellowjackets as he earned a 9-3 decision in his 171-pound title match with Cameron’s Isaac Stewart, who faced Smith in last year’s final. I noticed that the match got a little heated there at a point or two and I read later that Stewart had thought Tracewell had wrenched his neck on purpose but Tracewell had no idea what he was talking about and explained so to Stewart.

Tracewell gives new meaning to the term “better luck next year”. He took the saying to heart each year as he finished fourth his freshman year, third his sophomore year, second his junior year, and finally first his senior year.

The 189-pound final was a match I was really waiting to see. As was the case in the AAA 189-pound match, I hated to see either wrestler lose because I’d followed the rivalry between Greenbrier West’s Mark Smith and Independence’s Robert Ward all season long. The two had met several times during the regular season, with Smith having the advantage in victories. But as we all know, anything can happen at the state tournament. Finding himself down 5-2 going into the third period, Smith began the period in the neutral position but raised the score to 5-4 with a little over a minute to go in the match. Fearing that his wrestler wouldn’t be able to hold the lanky Ward, who stands either 6’7’’ or 6’8’’, West Coach Jeremy Tincher was yelling for Smith to “cut him” (loose). However, Smith heard “cradle”, and did just that, sticking Ward with the cradle and grabbing the nearfall count with one minute showing on the clock. Ward fought the cradle and the Independence fans actually thought he had the reversal at the edge of the mat, but when all was said and done, Smith had come out on top, 7-5. The two wrestlers exchanged a hug at the end of the mat.

Coach Tincher said that he would pick Mark Smith up every morning at 6:00 a.m. to work out and train for this moment. Anytime Smith would get discouraged, his coach would tell him to stick with it, promising that all the hard work and dedication would pay off, and it most certainly did.

Last year, Oak Glen’s Cody Potts was one of the top three wrestlers in the 189-pound weight class and was capable of winning his weight class. But everything came to a screeching halt as Potts dislocated his elbow just two days before the regional tournament. But he returned this year with a vengeance, and wrestled to a 36-1 record, quite an accomplishment for any Oak Glen wrestler, considering the schedule they wrestle. Potts’ only loss this year came in the finals of the Brooke Classic at the beginning of the season. He led his team to an OVAC championship with his individual title and appeared poised to add a state title to his resume as well. He had a bit of a scare in his first round match with Wirt’s Jacob Lowe, but went on to face Roane County’s Sam Craddock in the 215-pound final. Craddock was leading the match 2-1 when Potts grabbed a takedown with 8 seconds left in the first. Craddock suffered a pulled tendon in his bicep and Potts was able to overpower the Raider senior and register a pin in 2:15.

I got to meet Cody Potts’ parents one morning at breakfast and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell them congratulations and that I really enjoyed talking to them.

I expected the 275-pound match to be more of a dogfight between Weir’s Andy Fegal and defending state champion A. J. Freda of Lewis County. But Fegal quickly took Freda to his back to start the match and Freda had to fight the pin for over a minute and finally managed the escape with 13 seconds left in the first. That was pretty much the match as Fegal got an escape to start the second, making it 6-1, which is where the score remained, with Fegal becoming the newly crowned AA/A heavyweight champion.

Before I close, I’d like to send a special congratulations to Coach Sterling Beane of Braxton County, who was awarded with the 2003 National Federation Coaches Association Coaching Award for Wrestling.

Thanks to everyone for a fine season, and we’ll meet again in December where we’ll see if the eight returning state champions can successfully defend their titles in 2005!
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