West Virginia Mat Lines
by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 18, 2005:
As we head into the final two weekends of the 2004-2005 wrestling season, the cream of the wrestling crop is beginning to rise to the top.
It's fun to watch pre-season and early season predictions of wrestlers who will do well in their respective weight classes. But if you've ever wondered why the coaches' rankings don't even get released until the first week in February, it's because it's nearly impossibly to rank wrestlers until after some of the major tournaments. By the end of January, most wrestlers have found their permanent weight class, and most have had a chance to wrestle a good number of wrestlers in their class. I'd like to cover some of the tournament action I've either witnessed or read about over the past few weeks.
I always try to get to as many tournaments within driving distance as I can during January. My big plan for the first weekend after the holidays was to try and squeeze in both the Jackson County Invitational and the Nitro Pat Vance Invitational. Because of other responsibilities, I was only able to attend a little bit of the Nitro tournament, but was able to make it back to Ravenswood for the finals of the JCI.
Cabell Midland used the strength of the consolation rounds to finish ahead of the pack at Nitro. Although claiming only one individual champion in 215-pounder Mike Cremeans, the Knights placed 12 of their 14 wrestlers to claim the team title over runner-up Shady Spring (about whom you'll read a little later). Additionally, Nitro's Anthony Easter claimed his fourth individual title.
While Cabell Midland was earning their team title in Nitro, Point Pleasant was up the road in Ravenswood winning their first Jackson County Invitational team title in 25 years. Runner-up Ripley found themselves at a disadvantage going into the championship finals not only in points, but also in number of finalists, as they had four finalists to Point Pleasant's six. The Vikings pulled ahead in the team standings after Mitch Smith earned his fourth straight JCI title at 140, but then Brandon Warner's victory at 152 sealed the deal for the Black Knights. Warner joined teammates Brent Hereford (160) and Heath Shirley (275) in the championship circle and they celebrated when they learned that their team had won the title Ripley had held for the past three or four years.
I had a lot of fun talking to Coach Dave Satterfield of Ravenswood and Coach Jason Scott of Ripley after the tournament. It was a well-run tournament (with nice program books!), and it's great to see how the coaches from the two rival schools work together to produce a quality tournament.
I want to say a big thank you to Missy Smith (Mitch's mom), who e-mailed me some very helpful information about the history of the JCI. And with that, I was able to discover that not only did Mitch win his fourth JCI title, he also won the Outstanding Wrestler award for the third time in four years!
Clear over on the other side of the state, Jefferson was playing host to teams from four different states in one of the toughest Jefferson Invitational tournaments on record. The out of state schools proved to be formidable opponents, as Hedgesville was the highest finishing team from the Mountain State at 5th. West Virginia individual champions included Musselman's Dustin Haislip (winning his second title in as many years) and Billy Barrett, Martinsburg's Robert Conner, and Fairmont Senior's Drew Mauck.
The Northern Panhandle was as busy as the Eastern Panhandle as Cameron won their own Tri-State Invitational on the strength of seven individual champions, including three-time winners Tim Cumpston (119) and Kelly Hughes (130).
Berkeley Springs' Joe Delph (275) had won his first individual tournament title back in December at the Max Horz Invitational with a pin over Cameron's Dan Dishman. I'd read an article where he stated that he liked the feeling and wanted to win again. Well, win again he did when he met Dishman once more in the finals at Cameron to take home title number two.
Every year it seems I have to miss out on a couple of tournaments that I've been able to enjoy at least once - the Braxton Pizza Hut Big 16 Tournament and the Winners Choice/Rotary Invitational - because I take a weekend off from wrestling season each year to fulfill my duties as a pageant hostess at the annual convention of the West Virginia Association of Fairs & Festivals. And while I'm on the subject, I want to recognize the sponsors of these tournaments as I did in my last article, because we all owe them a big thank you for making these tournaments possible for wrestlers and fans alike.
Shady Spring broke the stronghold that Calhoun County had held on the team title at Braxton County for the past four years when they won the tournament in convincing fashion with three individual champions (Derek Scarbro-125; Justin Chapman-140; and Josh Jones-215) and eight other placers. Shady's ascent to the top began in 2003 when they finished fifth. After a runner-up finish last year, the Tigers were determined to win it all this year. And this is the same team who finished a disappointing 19th at the same tournament in 2002!
Former Shady Spring wrestler Josh Neal found himself in Marion County this year instead of Braxton County as he and his teammates at Parkersburg High came back to the Winners Choice/Rotary Invitational after a year's absence. The Big Reds came back in style as they won the tournament by nearly 100 points over runner-up Albert Gallatin. Top-ranked Big Reds Brandon Rader (135), Andy Thomas (160), Chance Litton (171), and Joey Lindamood (215) all lived up to their billing by winning their respective weight classes.
It was speculated for a while that Parkersburg broke the record for most points scored at the tournament, but that's not the case, as they themselves set what I believe to be the record back in 2003.
And while we're on the subject of the Big Reds, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate Brandon Rader on being selected to represent our state at the Dapper Dan Classic on March 26 in Pittsburgh. Dubbed the "Rose Bowl of Wrestling", the tournament features match-ups between Pennsylvania's best wrestlers and the USA All-Stars.
Had Parkersburg participated in the Winners Choice tournament last year, Rader more than likely would have become a 4-time champion this year, but had to "settle" for his third championship. One wrestler who did take home his fourth title was Ripley's Mitch Smith, as he stepped atop the podium for the fourth and final time just as he did one week earlier at the JCI.
I'd actually planned to go to the opening night of the OVAC tournament, but decided I'd better not risk hitting bad weather. As it turns out, the weather was just one of a few quirks at the OVAC tournament this year. Some of those quirks occurred before any wrestlers even set foot on the mat. A few wrestlers from an Ohio team didn't make weight, and several wrestlers from another Ohio team had to miss the tournament because of Whooping Cough. I didn't even know people got Whooping Cough these days! And then to top it off, the tournament had to be postponed due to the weather for only the second time in recent history.
The tournament finals went off without a hitch the following Monday evening. Daniel Felton from Brooke and Ronell Green from Wheeling Park resumed their rivalry in the 103-pound class, with Felton coming out on top 7-6. Green earned a 7-2 decision back in December at the Wheeling Park Duals. The two are expected to meet in the finals of this weekend's Region 1 tournament.
Green's teammate and brother Ronnie Green took home the 119-pound title as did Park's Abbie Rush at 125. This was Rush's third title in as many years, and he (along with Zack Schuller from Buckeye Local) has a 2006 goal of joining the very elite club of 4-time OVAC champions. Clay Tucker of Martins Ferry became just the 5th wrestler in OVAC to win four straight titles when he claimed his championship at 140 this year.
The Greens and Rush led the Wheeling Park contingent to their best OVAC finish since 1997 when they also finished third. Although it may seem a daunting task, the Patriots are thought to be the AAA team with the best chance of taking the state title out of the city of Parkersburg this year.
The third time was a charm for John Marshall's Dustin Richey. The 152-pounder found himself in the OVAC finals for the third straight year, and this year he took home the gold with a win over Jeff Cumpston of Cameron. Both Richey and Cumpston are top-ranked in their respective classes in West Virginia.
Another top-ranked wrestler, Rhett Northcraft of Oak Glen, tangled with Brooke's Dana Davis (who himself had been ranked #1 at the time of the OVAC tournament) in the 160-pound class. The two wrestled a rough and tumble bout that ended with Northcraft coming out on top 21-14.
Northcraft's teammate Cody Potts has had his work cut out for him this year in maintaining a perfect senior season thus far (he's 36-0 going into the regional tournament). Potts earned a hard-fought 2-1 overtime victory against Beaver Local's Jimmy Bowersock in the OVAC semifinals, and then won a 2-1 double overtime decision over Elijah Meyer of Martins Ferry in the finals. And then two weekends later he won another 2-1 decision in overtime to win the 215-pound title at the Spartan Classic. I get worn out just thinking about it!
While the OVAC - the largest conference tournament in West Virginia - was being held on the northern end of the Ohio River, the largest invitational tournament in the state was being held on the southern end (at least the southern end in West Virginia). The massive WSAZ Invitational played host to schools from Ohio and Kentucky as well as all three high school divisions in West Virginia, plus ninth grade, middle school and junior highs.
Researching Parkersburg's history at the Winner's Choice made me curious as to whether or not Parkersburg South broke a scoring record of their own en route to winning the WSAZ. They did indeed, and beat their old record from 2004 by 6 ½ points.
Although Parkersburg South had an impressive team performance at the WSAZ with their eight finalists and four champions, the team that caught my attention was Shady Spring, who finished third behind Cabell Midland and ahead of Huntington.
The Shady Spring wrestling team is heavily populated with seniors (seven) so, like Parkersburg High (also with seven seniors), several of the team members have wrestled together for four years and have developed the team mentality that is an integral part of a program's success.
The Tigers didn't have a single individual champion, but as runner-up Cabell Midland did at Nitro, they used their strong showing in the consolation rounds to edge out Huntington (who had two champions and two runners-up) for third place by a 7 ½ point margin.
Shady Spring might have actually finished ahead of Cabell Midland had it not been for Derek Scarbro's misfortune. Had Scarbro (the number one seed) finished the tournament in first place, he probably would have earned enough team points to put the Tigers in second place. However, Scarbro took his fifth place finish in stride and demonstrated one of the best attitudes I've seen all year when he held up his plaque on the podium and flashed a big smile. From what I heard and observed, Derek is a fun-loving young man who is always cutting up and makes everyone around him laugh. And obviously, the losses at the WSAZ didn't bother him, as I think he won the remainder of his matches during the regular season, including claiming another Coalfield Conference title.
While every AA/A team in the state would like to be THE team - you know, the team that finally takes the AA/A crown away from 8-time champion Oak Glen - Shady Spring perhaps has the best chance at being that team this year. But Calhoun County is right up there with Shady as they've been turning in some fine tournament performances themselves.
After claiming their own invitational, the Red Devils turned right around and won the Williamstown Rumble the following weekend with three starters out of the lineup. With one of the state's few remaining undefeated wrestlers, Paul Goodrich (171) leading the way, Calhoun claimed seven individual champions at the Calhoun Invite and six champions at the Rumble. Calhoun has a tough regional battle ahead this weekend, so we'll take another look next week at how both Calhoun and Shady's chances look in Huntington.
In addition to JCI Champs Point Pleasant, the Red Devils will find themselves up against a Herbert Hoover team that has its sights set on a run for the regional title. Recent team championships in duals tournaments such as the Roane County Raider Cup and the Cardinal Conference have given the Huskies the confidence they need to go up against the powerhouses. Coach Dave Hall stated in a recent article that a conference win was one of the team goals. Now they'd like to finish in the top ten at the state tournament next week.
AA/A Region IV is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive regional tournament this weekend. Another team in the region is Clay County, who is enjoying a resurgence of their own. The Panthers have used the strength (literally) of their heavyweights to finish first at their own invitational, second at Calhoun, and third in the LKC. Top-ranked heavyweight Ben Harper is the favorite to claim a state title next week. If he does so (and if my records are correct), he'll be the first state champion from Clay County since 1987.
And keep an eye on Clay County 103-pounder Jordan Adkins, whom I believe is just a freshman. The littlest wrestler on the team has had one of the biggest seasons as he's finished first at the Harwood Duals, the Nitro Pat Vance Invitational, the Clay Bob Stover Classic, and the Calhoun Invitational, plus second at the Braxton Pizza Hut and the LKC. The losses at those two tournaments have been his only losses on the year, so be looking for this young man to be among the ranks of the state champions at some point in his high school career.
You know wrestling season is hitting the homestretch when the conference tournaments roll around.
I'd like to start by congratulating Hedgesville Coach Bill Whittington on earning his 300th win at the CVAL Conference Tournament this year!
Calhoun County ran away with the title at the LKC Tournament to win their fourth straight conference crown. The Red Devils placed 13 wrestlers and crowned five individual champions to outdistance runners-up Clay County by over 70 points.
Some individual LKC performances that caught my eye were those of Roane County's Andrew Branard (160) and Ritchie County's Chase Hyde (145). Neither wrestler has received a lot of attention this year, but both are worthy of mention.
Branard has been on a winning streak since taking third place at the JCI. Claiming titles at both the Pizza Hut and the Raider Cup, the Raider junior upped his record to 30-4 with his win at the LKC and is currently ranked third in the state.
Hyde is just a freshman and hasn't wrestled as many matches as other wrestlers in his weight class, but his win over top seed Titus Schoolcraft of Clay put him in the category of one to keep an eye on, since it's always good practice to pay attention to any wrestler who wins the LKC.
Ritchie County's team is made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores, so don't be surprised if you hear more from this team in a couple of years. Another young team in the rebuilding stages is Williamstown, who only has one senior on the roster. Self-titled the "Young Guns", this team has seen steady improvement and promises to be back in the thick of things in a year or two.
One other LKC team that I'd like to mention is St. Marys. It's been good to see the Blue Devils return to the top ranks. Last year they finished almost 100 points behind Calhoun in the LKC (7th out of nine teams), and this year they claimed the runner-up spot. Led by the likes of lightweights Brandon Wilson (undefeated at 103) and Tommy Little (112) and 215-pounder Brian Barnhart, St. Marys is another young team who will be even better next year.
And speaking of teams who are enjoying being at or near the top again, I like to give some praise to North Marion. Another team with just two seniors (Justin Lodge and Waylon Miller), the Huskies plan to be in contention for a while. One of their pre-season goals was to win the NCAC conference. Not only were they named the regular season conference champs with a perfect NCAC dual meet record, they also won the conference tournament for the first time since 1999, placing 12 wrestlers, three of whom were runners-up and four of whom were champions.
North Marion was actually tied with defending champions University heading into the 152-pound championship match when sophomore Wesley Byard upset top seed Henry Miller of University to put the Huskies in the lead. Byard is the son of two-time state champion Tim Byard (Mannington - 1977 and 1979) and stepbrother of former North Marion great Adam Gorby, so his success comes as no surprise to this fan!
Another name worth remembering is Erick Hinerman. Hinerman lost a close 3-0 decision to Morgantown's Micah Gerasimovich, who has been dominating most of his opponents this year. And speaking of Gerasimovich, he won his fourth straight NCAC title and was awarded with the Outstanding Wrestler award, so congratulations Micah!
I'd also like to mention a few wrestlers on Buckhannon Upshur's wrestling team. First of all, I wanted to mention Ike Ward at 125. Ward has compiled some impressive statistics for his senior season, including a win over Shady Spring's Derek Scarbro, and individual titles at both the WSAZ and NCAC tournaments en route to a 44-5 record, a #2 ranking in the state and a top seed for this weekend's Region III AAA tournament. And most everyone has at least heard of if not seen 112-pounder Brittany Woodall. The girl can wrestle! Her 33 wins (against 22 losses) have earned this pretty young sophomore a second seed in the regional tournament. Beauty AND brawn - what a winning combination!
Another Buckhannon wrestler I think you'll hear a lot from in the next few years is freshman George Lavis. Lavis placed at the WSAZ and was a runner-up at the NCAC. He's seeded behind Lewis County's ever-tough Jeremy McCarty, but don't be surprised if you see him among the top six next weekend in Huntington.
McCarty and his Lewis County teammates won their first-ever Big Ten Conference title. McCarty, who won his third title in as many years, joined Zach Smailes, Shawn Wine, and Shawn Clark in the winner's circle as the Minutemen had an outstanding semifinal performance - nine wrestlers advancing to the finals - to put them ahead of runner-up Grafton. It's worth mentioning, though, that Grafton placed all eleven of their wrestlers in the tournament.
Keyser continued their dual meet success that they enjoyed at the Petersburg Viking Smash (where they finished 8-0) with a PVC conference title, which was wrestled in a dual meet round robin format. Although Keyser won the team title, Musselman claimed an exiting 40-39 victory over the conference winners. Clutch wins by Jeremiah Shore and Luke Dawson helped propel the Applemen to victory over their conference opponents.
The MSAC Tournament held little surprises as Parkersburg once again claimed the title, although they won it by a narrower margin over runners-up Huntington than they did last year. Huntington made things interesting in the finals as they actually took the lead a couple of times during the championship round. However, four straight wins by the Big Reds' Andy Thomas, Chance Litton, Dustin Combs, and Joey Lindamood gave Parkersburg an insurmountable lead en route to their fourth straight conference title. Four-time conference winners were Nitro's Anthony Easter (119), Parkersburg's Brandon Rader (135), and Ripley's Mitch Smith (140).
One note of interest is that Woodrow Wilson, newcomers to the MSAC, were only able to hold one home dual meet this year due to conference scheduling rules.
Shady Spring capped their regular season with a successful defense of their Coalfield Conference crown. The road was a little easier for the Tigers this year, as they won by a comfortable margin over runners-up Independence. Last year things were a little more tense as Shady only won the team title by 1 ½ points over Greenbrier West..
Although West dropped to third this year, they were able to employ the services of Western Greenbrier wrestlers Randy Ferrill, Jon Myles, and Kenny Holland who moved up to wrestle with the high school team after closing out their middle school careers as conference champions in their respective weight classes. Ferrill walked away with an individual title in the high school conference tournament as well, and Myles finished third. Not too shabby for a varsity debut! I'm sure this isn't the last we've heard from these young men.
And one final wrestler I'd like to mention is Independence freshman heavyweight Adam Barnette. The brother of former Independence state champion Adam Barnette, the younger brother caught my attention at the JCI, where he finished second. Barnette placed fourth in both the Pizza Hut and WSAZ tournaments amidst some rugged competition before claiming a Coalfield Conference championship. I had the pleasure of meeting Adam's grandmother at the WSAZ tournament, and came to find out that I actually went to school with his late Uncle Randy Barnette. Small world!
As I write this, the regional tournaments are literally hours away. I want to wish all the wrestlers the best of luck. Here's hoping we have a weekend free of injuries and full of good sportsmanship.
The untimely deaths of two wrestling fans from the Parkersburg area (one of whom was a good friend of mine) and a young wrestler from Musselman cause us all to take pause and remember the things that are really important in life. As much as I'm sure the families of the two men from Parkersburg love their teams, they'd give up a state championship any day to just have their loved ones back. Let's all remember that life is precious and while it's fun to win, we need to keep things in perspective. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these three young men. The whole state is hurting with you. May God comfort you and bless you through these difficult times.
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