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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 13, 2008:

Polls, polls, polls. They’re all around us, whether it’s website opinion polls, TV polls, polls for every sport, or - with this being an election year - every kind of presidential poll imaginable.

And of course we have our own West Virginia Wrestling Coaches Association/wvmat.com polls. It seems like once the highly anticipated first polls of the season are released, fans spend the remainder of the season studying, speculating, and challenging the methods used to arrive at the final results.

There is still no clear-cut method for determining team rankings. It’s a never-ending debate on whether voting should be based on dual performance or rather on a combined effort of the individuals who make up each team. Much discussion has been held on the subject, and coaches are left to vote as they see fit.

Most of the time, individual rankings are a little more cut and dried unless Johnny has beaten Jimmy and Jimmy has beaten Joey, but Joey has beaten Johnny. A perfect example of this is the AAA 125-pound weight class. Of the wrestlers currently in the weight class, Chad Morrison (Parkersburg), Luke Parsons (Ripley), and Nick Taylor (Wheeling Park) have all held the #1 spot at one time or another. However, Morrison and Parsons have beaten each other, Morrison beat Taylor, Taylor beat Parsons, and then you have Parkersburg South’s Nic Busch, who beat Morrison, but lost to Parsons and Brandon Ramsey (North Marion). Ramsey beat John Marshall’s Jeremy Howard, who beat Morrison. And throw in Elkins’ Joseph Howell, who lost to Morrison and Ramsey via injury default, and Nitro’s Sam Dunbar, who lost to Ramsey by only two points. In a nutshell, this class is wide-open.

It’s my true belief that sports polls are meant more for sportswriters and fans than they are for the actual athletes themselves. And we all know the political pundits would be lost without their polls. The polls give us something to talk about, plus they provide fodder for sportswriters. Some great sports stories came out of West Virginia’s Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma. I spent an entire hour at the computer in the wee hours of the morning following the Fiesta Bowl just reading the various articles that covered the game.

There’s just something about an upset that attracts the attention. At last week's Huntington/Parkersburg South dual, South’s Jeremy Corbitt raced ahead of Huntington’s Ronnie Luther 5-0 when he quickly took Luther to his back in the first period. Amazed, I told our scorekeeper Kimi Smith that Luther was ranked #2 in the state at 112. Of course, anyone there who’d been paying attention to the polls was smelling an upset except Luther, who turned the tables later in the match and took Corbitt to his back and finished the job.

Upsets at the state tournament are almost a given. “Showtime wrestling” (as my buddy Dean Moore likes to call it) affects wrestlers in different ways. Nerves may get the best of the higher-ranked wrestler who has had too much pressure placed on him, while adrenalin and sheer will may aid the lower-ranked or unranked wrestler who feels he has nothing to lose.

While the coaches have been pretty successful in their polling over the last ten years, no one can honestly expect them to be correct 100 percent of the time. Each year the coaches correctly predict on average nine out of 14 state champions in each division. The AA/A coaches were nearly perfect in 2002 when they had 13 out of the 14 champions ranked #1 prior to the state tournament. But last year was a different story as upsets occurred in both divisions. Eight AAA champions came into the tournament ranked #1 and only six AA/A champions came in at the top of their respective weights.

Some fans (and even wrestlers) place way too much emphasis on the polls while others purposely ignore them. Some even relish the role of the underdog. In 2003, a freshman from Parkesburg South by the name of Chad Porter came into the state tournament ranked 7th at 119 and ended up finishing as runner-up to eventual 4-time state champion Brandon Rader (Parkersburg). Porter went on to become one of just a few wrestlers to ever appear in the state championship finals four straight years.

Even more impressive was North Marion’s Andrew Starsick, who in 2001 was nowhere to be found among the ranked wrestlers in the 189-pound weight class. Starsick paid no attention to the polls as he defeated the #2, #6, and #1 ranked wrestlers, respectively, en route to a state title.

But perhaps most impressive was Tyler Cumpston of Cameron, who scoffed at the AA/A polls last year and came into the state tournament as an unranked, fourth place regional finisher with an uphill battle ahead of him. He knocked off the top three ranked wrestlers in his weight class - all three of them regional champions - plus another ranked wrestler to take the top prize at 135.

Now fast forward to this year. Calhoun County freshman Ben Laughlin hadn’t had the chance to make a name for himself at the beginning of the season, so he ended up ranked #7 in the first individual poll. But thanks to his 34-2 record, which includes wins over some very tough wrestlers (including two state champions), he has watched his stock steadily rise over the course of the season. He now is ranked at the top of his weight class and is the driver’s seat as the #1 seed going into the tough Region 4 AA/A tournament. But the going won’t be easy as he most likely will face two-time defending state champion David Dennis of Ravenswood once again at the regional tournament and quite possibly at the state tournament. (Their first two meetings ended in 3-1 and 2-1 victories for Laughlin.)

The regional tournaments are now just a few days away. As we enter the homestretch of this year’s wrestling season, take time to enjoy what time is left, especially if you’re a senior. But don’t take the polls too seriously or let them discourage you. If John McCain and Barack Obama had listened to the polls and given up on their campaigns, they wouldn’t be the frontrunners in the Presidential race right now. If the Mountaineers had listened to the polls they wouldn’t have shown the Sooners and the rest of the country that they were indeed the team that should have been playing for a national championship. And if the New York Giants had listened to the polls and let the undefeated New England Patriots intimidate them, they wouldn’t have played one of the best Super Bowl games in history.

If you’re at or near the top of your weight class, take pride in the recognition you’re receiving for your efforts, but don’t become complacent. Continue to work hard so you can prove to the state that you’re worthy of your ranking. If you’re not at the top, don’t see your ranking as a negative reflection, but rather as an opportunity to show the state what you’ve got.

I think we could all take the advice of Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President Jimmy Carter, who once said, “Don’t worry about polls, but if you do, don’t admit it.”

Best of luck to everyone at this weekend’s regional tournaments!

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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