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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for December 1, 2009:

With the 2009-10 season upon us, I wanted to take a look back at the 2009 WVSSAC State High School wrestling tournament. Looking back not only brings back memories both good and bad, but it also adds to the anticipation of the coming season. As a fan, I always begin the new season wondering what new “stars” will be born, what records may be broken, what stories may emerge during the course of the season, and even what new friends I will meet in my travels.

This article will highlight individual and team accomplishments and recall some notes I made during the state tournament. For more details on the actual championship finals, check out the AAA wrap-up and the AA/A wrap-up. And love statistics like I do, or you want to get a sneak peek at what's in store for the upcoming season, check out some year-end stats in the 2009 State Tournament Statistics.

The team titles were never in question, as both Oak Glen (AA/A) and Parkersburg South (AAA) were the top-ranked teams all season long. On the first night of the state tournament, South bolted to an early lead and never looked back en route to their 15th state title, but Oak Glen didn’t have the same luck, as they finished the night tied for third place. But any veteran wrestling fan knows that Coach Shaw’s wrestlers don’t go down without a fight, and they steadily built up enough of a lead throughout the remainder of the tournament that they were able to win their 13th straight title without a single individual champion.

The 2009 state tournament brought some new changes, and for the most part they were welcome changes. Although my “floor time” was limited this year, cutting into my opportunities to chat with wrestlers, officials, and coaches to gather tidbits that I use for my writing, I applaud the Archers and their tournament staff for implementing and enforcing the new floor security. It made for a much more enjoyable experience for those of us sitting in the stands.

Somebody had hinted about a “surprise” for the championship round, and when spectators filled the stands on Saturday evening, they were treated to the sight of a raised platform in the middle of the Big Sandy Superstore Arena that held two mats side by side. While the platform increased visibility for fans, it also caused concern, especially for parents of those who were to be participating.

I saw some close calls with the edge of the platform during the finals matches, namely the 215 and 285-pound championship finals. Josh Kay and Derek Merritt came close to the edge of the platform in their match, and in the heavyweight match, official Jeremy Callen actually placed himself between Gabe Hardiman and Jesse Sigman at one point. I have a feeling that had the two big guys built up enough speed going at each other, poor Jeremy would not have been able to stop them and would have tumbled off the edge right along with them. And unless my eyesight was failing me, I believe I saw Casey Hogg’s feet go off the platform during his match with Zac Acord.

Luckily, the finals were incident-free, and tournament officials have already made plans for a different size platform next year that will increase the safety of the wrestlers, coaches, and officials.

The platforms posed a personal challenge for me as well. Normally during the championship finals, I position myself on the floor between the two mats so I can cover the action for both divisions. Prior to the tournament, I review the list of participants in the championship finals with Bob Moore, who always provides radio commentary for a Parkersburg radio station. Occasionally I’ll eavesdrop on his interviews with local state champions and offer up congratulations or even a hug if the wrestler isn’t too sweaty

This year, however, I opted to sit in the stands for a better view, but from time to time I would glance over at Bob to see him doing his thing and enjoying every minute of it. When I caught a glimpse of him interviewing 125-pound champion Adam Metz, he had a look of pride on his face that was as if Metz was his own son. In a way, he was. Moore and his brother Dean (an assistant coach at South) led Metz and his fellow classmen at Edison Jr. High (now Edison Middle) to an amazing season in their ninth grade year. They took a band of ragamuffin wrestlers and transformed them into a wrestling force. They wrestled together, laughed together, and even cried together, when teammate Byron Amos (who would have been a senior in 2009) was tragically killed in a car accident in the spring of his freshman year. This group of Parkersburg South seniors was special to so many people, but perhaps to none more so than Bob Moore.

Even though I did spend more time in the stands covering the finals or scoring matches than I did on the floor chatting, I did still get to see some old friends and meet some new ones.

One of the highlights of my weekend was getting to see one of my favorite coaches of all time, former Spencer/Roane County Head Coach Garry Bender. It was so good to see that he’s bounced back from the recent health scare he had a couple of years ago.

It was also a pleasure to see Calhoun County’s Mike Stump recognized as the 2008 Mideast Sectional Coach of the Year. Congratulations Coach Stump!

Something I look forward to each year is meeting people at the state tournament with whom I’ve corresponded electronically but had never met in person. This was a VERY good year for meeting new people face to face for the first time, and I’ve made some wonderful new friends. Included in my group of new friends were a couple of coaches with whom I’d corresponded earlier in the year. I finally got a chance to talk with Capital’s Mike Wheeling and George Washington’s Richard Harper. Coach Harper was joking that he had to buy a new suit in case he had a wrestler in the championship finals. Well, it turned out to be a good purchase as he accompanied Dakota Vanbibber to center stage for his 103-pound championship final. Coach Harper, from the looks of your team, you may be wearing that suit for the next few years at the very least!

I don’t think there was any coach happier at the end of the tournament than was Tyler Consolidated Head Coach Larry Richie. Richie, the first and only wrestling coach in the history of Tyler Consolidated, completed a near-perfect tournament as his entire contingent of two wrestlers both found themselves in the championship finals. Although Nate Taylor finished as runner-up, Cullen Grover won a title for the retiring Richie in his last coaching match of his career. Richie will certainly be missed by many, including myself.

One wrestler who certainly had to have been happy was Oak Glen’s Zac Montero, who was the Cinderella story of the 2009 tournament. A fifth-place regional finisher, Montero stepped into the bracket when 189-pound regional champion Josh Radabaugh (Williamstown) suffered a freak injury and had to withdraw from the state tournament. Montero worked his way through the upper bracket until he came across a stumbling block in the championship finals by the name of Cameron Gallaher.

Fans across the state have been envious of Oak Glen’s fortune for several years, and many were quick to question whether or not the Bears would have won their 13th straight title had Montero not been with the team in Huntington. As noted in the AA/A wrapup article, it was close, in fact VERY close as Montero scored 18 points and Oak Glen won over runner-up Point Pleasant by 20 points. But it’s also interesting to point out that one of Montero’s wins came against Point’s Eric Veith, who may or may not have won the match against an opponent other than Montero.

Montero wasn’t the only wrestler to have a good tournament. Several wrestlers defied the rankings and made it to the championship finals and/or placed higher than their rankings. Other wrestlers made history for their schools.

Josh Kay became the first state champion in Capital High School’s history with his win over Lewis County’s Derek Merritt at 215.

Washington’s Dylan Nick became the first wrestler from his school in the championship finals, and will seek to become the Patriots’ first-ever state champion in his senior season.

Bluefield’s Jake Lilly became the first state tournament placer for his school with his 6th place finish at 189.

Ripley’s Corey Ratliff (130) and Adam Bicak (145) were the first pair of freshmen ever to win state titles from the same school in the same year. Their wins propelled Ripley to a third-place finish, which was their highest team finish in school history.

Other teams enjoying their best-ever team finish were Lewis County (who also enjoyed a spot in the top 10 for the first time), George Washington, Roane County, and Tyler Consolidated.

Every year I like to pay tribute to any wrestlers who battle their way completely through the consolation rounds after first-round defeats. It takes a lot of grit and determination to collect oneself and win five straight matches to take third place, but that’s exactly what Wheeling Park’s Zach Kimmins did. After falling to eventual state champion Gabe Hardiman in the first round of the 285-pound class, Kimmins registered three falls, a regular decision, and an overtime decision en route to his third place finish.

Speaking of Hardiman, he was one of the highest scoring wrestlers in the tournament, scoring three pins and a decision. And although no wrestler had a perfect tournament with four pins, Roane County’s Dylan Cottrell (103) and Grafton’s Cameron Gallaher (189) came close with three pins and a major decision each to tie for the most points scored at the 2009 state tournament (29 out of a possible 30).

For those of you who have been reading Matlines from the start, you may recall how I like to inject family anecdotes into the articles. When I first started writing, my nephew Lane was celebrating his first birthday at the state tournament. The family was keeping our collective fingers crossed that he would be a wrestler like his daddy, former Wirt County wrestler Frank Burton. My niece Lauryn was 11 and was just starting to become my constant wrestling traveling companion.

Now fast forward to 2009. Lauryn was a senior at Marshall with plans to continue on to Grad School. Lane celebrated another birthday at the state tournament – but this time it was Number 12! How time flies!

When word got out that I was getting the Sportswriter Award, I called my sisters. Leslie and her husband Phil (Lauryn’s parents) had planned to come down for Saturday’s matches regardless, but Missy (Lane’s mom) was only planning to come down on Friday night due to a swimming conflict. You see, Lane didn’t go down the wrestling road. Instead, he was enjoying a successful rookie season as a swimmer for the Parkersburg Sharks Swim Club. His forte is the backstroke, which requires him to use the lights in the ceiling as a guide. Missy said that anyone who likes looking at the lights that much would NOT make a good wrestler.

So Lane may not be a wrestler, and Lauryn’s wrestling days are pretty much over, but I have found a potential new wrestling buddy. My sister Missy brought my 8-year-old niece Malloree (Lane’s sister) down Friday for the semifinals. I had my ever-present red scorebook on my lap, and when I started scoring a match, Malloree was intrigued. I decided to teach her how to score wrestling since I had an extra scorebook. She caught on immediately, much to my pleasure!

She wanted to do it all, from writing the names of the wrestlers, to their ankle-band colors, to the choice of position, to fall times. When it got to the semifinals of the 135-pound weight class, Parkersburg South’s Bo Cooper was about to wrestle Ripley’s Luke Parsons, so I had her write “Bo” and “Luke” in the name boxes. Missy remarked, “Hey, just like the Dukes of Hazzard!” Although the joke was lost on Malloree, the experience wasn’t. She really took to scoring, and I think she might have become Bo’s newest fan!!

But we still have work to do. She told her mommy that she liked cheerleading better because there weren’t hot sweaty boys all over the place. Missy informed her that it wouldn’t be long before she’d be changing her mind!

We’ll have to see what the season holds not only for Malloree and her growing interest in wrestling, but also for the hundreds of wrestlers throughout the Mountain State who aim to be right back in Huntington in just a few short months. I want to wish all the wrestlers the very best of luck this year!
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