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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 11, 2006:

It's hard to believe that in just two short weeks we'll be right in the middle of the 2006 WVSSAC State Wrestling Tournament. The season has gone by so quickly, as they all seem to do now that I'm getting older. My favorite saying is that life is like a roll of toilet paper - the closer you get to the end, the quicker it goes!

I've had an interesting season so far. As a result of becoming more heavily involved with the Parkersburg South wrestling team and mat maids, I've gotten to see parts of the country I've never seen, plus I've gotten to watch some of the country's best wrestlers in action.

But as enjoyable as that is, I'll take wrestling in the Mountain State any day. Last weekend I got the chance to see the Amateur Wrestling News #2 team in the country, Lakewood St. Edward rally to beat Christiansburg (AWN #6) in a quad match that also featured Parkersburg South and Willard, Ohio. However, to me personally that wasn't nearly as enjoyable as seeing Kason Melchiori from John Marshall register a first-period pin to give the Monarchs a 37-36 victory over fellow OVAC team Cambridge at a triangular match at South last week. After Melchiori's pin, the John Marshall bench emptied and their fans celebrated.

Witnessing Blair Academy (AWN #1) win the prestigious Walsh Ironman in a tight team race early in the season was exciting, but give me home team excitement any day. Like finally hearing the normally vocal South fans come alive for the first time at home this year when South sophomore Ryan Stoops got a pin over John Marshall's Mark Chambers last week, or when South reserve wrestler Jeramiah Alton clinched a victory for the Patriots against Cambridge.

I have to take a moment to say a little bit about Alton. He's one of those dedicated wrestlers who has stuck with the South program throughout his high school career, although he never cracked the permanent starting lineup. An avid reader who aced his ACT test, Alton has quietly wrestled for the junior varsity squad for three years, filling in from time to time when he was needed in a varsity match. Never seen without a paperback in his hands, Alton's quiet demeanor is a little deceiving. I've been fortunate enough to get a chance to enjoy that dry sense of humor this year. Best of luck to you, Jeramiah. It's been a pleasure!

And I also have to make mention of South's freshman 215-pounder Josh Cale. After enjoying a pretty successful 8th grade season at Edison Jr. High, Cale moved up to South to wrestle for the Patriots this year. More often than not, a young wrestler making the transition from junior high to high school wrestling finds the going a little tough. Plus anyone familiar with wrestling on the national scene can take one look at South's schedule and tell that it's absolutely brutal even for a seasoned veteran, let alone a 15-year-old in just his third year of wrestling. After starting the season at 275, Cale quickly dropped weight in January to fill a void in the lineup and, as expected, took quite a few beatings along the way, including back-to-back losses to nationally-ranked wrestlers Joey Lindamood of Parkersburg and Jared Platt of Blair Academy.

So last weekend when Cale was slated to face Christiansburg's Cody Gardner, the nation's top-ranked wrestler, the South coaches asked him if he wanted to forfeit the match. Cale opted to wrestle Gardner, and even stated that he was going to go for an ankle right off the bat. And that's just what he did. Cale actually took the first shot in the match, although Gardner quickly countered and secured the pin. Josh told me after the match with a big smile on his face that he indeed had the ankle for a split-second. Yes, national rankings are nice, and I wish more West Virginia wrestlers had them, but you've got to love a wrestler with heart!

There's never an absence of heart displayed in the wrestlers at the Little Kanawha Conference Tournament, and I was sorry that I was out of town last weekend and didn't get a chance to attend. It sounds like the finals were a real barn-burner, with 11 of the 14 individual championship matches being decided by three or less points! Congratulations to Williamstown Coach Jeff Givens for his first-ever LKC team title as head coach of the Yellowjackets.

And I also want to congratulate another LKC coach, Coach Garry Bender of Roane County for reaching his 400th career win. Congratulations Coach Bender!

As I was reading the results of the LKC tournament, I noticed something odd and wondered if it had ever occurred in the storied history of the tournament. Roane County's Tyler Hyer and Calhoun County's Justin Whipkey were the only two heavyweights entered in the tournament and had to sit through the entire tournament without wrestling, only to decide the 275-pound conference champion in the final match of the night.

This year's AAA spoiler teams, Wheeling Park (OVAC) and East Fairmont (NCAC) each won their respective conference titles. Both teams are enjoying a lot of success this year, as Wheeling Park has been the top-ranked AAA team since late December, and the Bees are enjoying a fine showing from their young team which includes five freshmen, including a school record 20 dual wins. Both teams have their sights set on taking the team title away from the city of Parkersburg, and although Wheeling Park is the greatest threat this year, watch out for East Fairmont in a couple of years.

Another team enjoying some mat success is Tyler Consolidated. Although not ranked among the state's top ten AA/A teams, the Silver Knights of Coach Larry Richie have made some school history this year. 171-pounder Junior Yost became just the fourth wrestler from Tyler Consolidated to place in the Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament. A couple of weeks later, the Knights swept a triangular match with Weir and Ritchie County, and then took home their first-ever team title (at an away tournament) when they won the Magnolia Blue Eagle Wrestling Invitational. They also set a school record with five individual champions in the tournament.

And although Tyler Consolidated is having a good season, it doesn't appear as though they or any other team in AA/A will get in the way of Oak Glen winning their 10th straight team title and tying a state record for the longest winning streak in West Virginia high school sports that was set by Parkersburg's boys' tennis team from 1976-1985.

One team that wants to try to make things tough on Oak Glen is Point Pleasant. As is the case with East Fairmont, the Big Blacks are starting to see the fruits of the labor of their successful middle school program. Coach Jack Cullen appears to finally have all his wrestlers back on the mat, and his team is the favorite to take home the runner-up trophy.

Another school that might need to make some room in the trophy case for a runner-up trophy would be Independence. Although tied for fourth in the latest coaches' poll, the Coalfield Conference champions are proving to be a tough tournament team. Led by individual champions Robert Rash and Shawn Sexton, who each upped their records to a perfect 44-0, the Patriots regained the conference crown that had eluded them for the past three years. Rash made conference history as he became the first wrestler ever to win four straight individual titles. And keep an eye on Jacob Antoine. A key factor in Independence's state tournament finish could be where Antoine (who's been wrestling at both 189 and 215) chooses to finish the season.

While reading up on Robert Rash, I realized that surprisingly enough there has been little discussion this season as to who might receive the coveted Robert Dutton Award, the annual award given to the state's top wrestler. This year it could quite possibly go to a wrestler from the AA/A division for the first time since Wirt County's Mike Miller won the award in 1999. With his unbeaten record, Rash appears to be the statistical front-runner in a tight race that also includes three other wrestlers who, in addition to Rash, are looking to become three-time state champions. That field includes Ravenswood's Judd Billings and Oak Glen's Rhett Northcraft (both in AA/A) and Wheeling Park's Ronnie Green (AAA). Both Rash and Billings are aiming to reach the state finals for the fourth straight year. Chad Porter of Parkersburg South may also be in consideration, as he too is aiming to make his fourth straight finals appearance and take home his second state title, in addition to being a nationally-ranked High School All-American.

I won't get a chance to see Porter and his fellow senior teammates wrestle their last home match at South this weekend, as I'm heading to a Junior Varsity tournament at Tyler Consolidated tomorrow. I think it's great that the junior varsity wrestlers still have an opportunity to wrestle this late in the season and be recognized for it. And who knows, I might just see a future state champion or two!

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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