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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
sullivj2@ohio.edu
2009 AA/A State Tournament Wrapup for December 1, 2009

To the superstitious, it might have appeared at first as though 12-time defending state champions Oak Glen were on a roller coaster ride with Lady Luck for the 2009 edition of the WVSSAC AA/A State Wrestling Tournament. As tough as it is to repeat as state champions, the number “13” had an ominous feel to it, making it seem that this year’s battle might be the toughest yet.

Coming out of the regional tournament, the Golden Bears “only” qualified 13 of their wrestlers, leading to speculation that the elusive title #13 might not come so easy this time around, and possibly not at all.

However, Williamstown’s Josh Radabaugh (Region 1 champion at 189) suffered a freak accident, forcing him to withdraw from the state tournament. Subsequently, the other Region1 qualifiers bumped up a spot in the bracket, allowing fifth-place finisher Zac Montero to join his teammates in Huntington.

The perennial team to beat found themselves in an unusual spot at the end of the first day, behind their strongest threats, Calhoun County and Point Pleasant, to finish the first round of wrestling tied with Independence for third place with 21.5 points.

But the Bears, led by veteran coach Larry Shaw, kept their composure and came back out and wrestled well the next day, climbing back up the scoreboard, and regaining a lead they refused to surrender for the remainder of the tournament, proving 13 to be a lucky number after all.

Point Pleasant had their own lucky number and it was the number “3”. The Black Knights finished as runner-up for the third year in a row, produced three state champions, and kept it a close race throughout the three-day tournament, staying within a 10-20 point margin throughout the final two days of competition.

Going into Saturday morning’s action, the title was still mathematically up in the air, but Oak Glen’s Marcus Brennan brought his team within ½ point of clinching Title Number 13, and Heavyweight Jimmy Boyd added the finishing touch with his consolation semifinal win. Aiding Oak Glen’s cause was the aforementioned Montero, who had a Cinderella tournament, going from a fifth-place regional finisher to state runner-up in less than a week. Granted, Montero’s second-place finish was a factor in the Bear’s 20-point final margin over Point, but the northern powerhouse still would have won the tournament regardless, as Montero scored a total of 18 points.

Five AA/A wrestlers repeated as state champions, and three wrestlers were able to keep their perfect records in tact. Grafton’s Cameron Gallaher was a member of both groups, winning his third straight title, and recording his 131st consecutive win. It’s no surprise that Gallaher was voted the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler for 2009.

The 2009 state championship finals started in much the same way as did the 2008 finals. The first three weight classes featured the lightweight sensations from Roane County.

Getting things started off on the right foot was freshman 103-pounder Dylan Cottrell, who had not lost to an AA/A opponent all season. In fact the only blemish on his record came at the hands of Huntington’s Justin Riggs, who just happened to be busy on the next mat winning a state title of his own. Cottrell won his first title in convincing fashion as he pinned fellow freshman Tommy Dodd, just the third state finalist for Liberty Harrison in 14 years.

Sophomore Josh Fisher kept things perfect for the Raiders and for himself as he won his 91st match without a loss when he handed Wirt County Junior Drew Smith a 12-0 major decision in the 112-pound weight class. Unless my calculations are incorrect Fisher is the first wrestler in the state to go undefeated in both his freshman and sophomore years.

Point Pleasant sophomore Rusty Maness put a stop to the Roane County win streak, but kept his own win streak alive as he successfully defended his state title at 119 with yet another close win over rival Justin Fisher. The two wrestlers had met several times this year and each time Maness pulled out a close decision. The final win was perhaps the hardest to come by, as Maness found himself trailing 4-2 in the second until he tied the match with just a few seconds remaining. After gaining the go-ahead escape with 30 seconds remaining, the defending state champion fought off a valiant takedown attempt by Fisher, and took home his second state title with a 5-4 decision.

When Frankfort Senior Alec Peer won his second state title at 125, he became the first wrestler in Frankfort history to repeat as a state champion. In what was almost a repeat performance of the Region 2 final match, Peer once again defeated regional foe Derek Hovermale, a junior from Berkeley Springs. Hovermale had tied the match by the end of the second period, but Peer quickly escaped in the third and sealed the deal with a takedown as the clock showed a mere two seconds remaining. What’s interesting to note about Peer is that he won a state title as a sophomore, but failed to place his junior year. It was nice to see him bounce back and win a second state championship.

Cameron Junior Tevin Hall came out the victor in a tough 130-pound weight class that featured two defending state champions. Hall had finished as a runner-up in last year’s state tournament and wanted it all this year. The Region 1 champion fell behind Liberty Raleigh’s Jacob Milam, but pulled ahead when he nearly pinned Milam in the second. A third-period reversal coupled with an unconventional move to gain some back points gave Hall a comfortable lead, and he won his first state title with an 8-2 decisio

One thing most repeat state champions have in common is that they’ve logged several years and several hundred matches in their wrestling careers. John King, however, is an exception. The senior from Philip Barbour didn’t even start wrestling until his freshman year, yet finished as a runner-up as a sophomore and won back to back titles in his final two years. King, the first wrestler from Philip Barbour ever to win two state titles, won a hard-fought overtime decision against Oak Glen’s Joel Paolo to take the 135-pound title. Finding himself behind 1-0 going into the third, King sent the match into overtime. He got the go-ahead escape in overtime and held on in the final overtime to secure the win.

Damen Capper was the bright spot in a dark night for the Eastern Panhandle, as he was the lone wrestler from the eastern schools in either division to take home a title when he decisioned Tyler Consolidated’s Nate Taylor for the 140-pound championship. Heading into a scoreless third period, Capper reversed Taylor for the only points he would need, thus ending a sophomore season that saw him go undefeated against AA opposition. He is now in position to become the first three-time state champion from Berkeley Springs.

Calhoun County sophomore Ben Laughlin also put himself into position to become a three-time state champion, when he finished a perfect season at 145 with an 8-0 major decision over Oak Glen’s A. J. Rhodes. A state runner-up last year, Laughlin finished the season with a 33-0 record and upped his career record to an impressive 71-4.

Yet another sophomore took home the gold at 152 as Tanner Whyte handed Greenbrier West’s Brian Gray a 5-1 overtime defeat. Whyte’s victory gave Cameron the distinction of being the only Northern school to have multiple state champions. Although the loss was a disappointment for Gray, finishing as a state runner-up marked an incredible comeback for the senior who had been told a serious football injury would all but end his wrestling career.

Another wrestler to stage an amazing comeback from a football injury was Weirton Madonna junior Max Nogay. Wrestling just his 17th match of the season, Nogay overcame a broken wrist sustained during the state football semifinals to emerge as the 160-pound wrestling champion with a tight 5-4 decision over Grafton’s Beau Bartlett. Nogay held a 5-2 lead for a majority of the match, but Bartlett made things interesting with a late takedown in the third to come within one. However, time was on Nogay’s side and he became the 6th wrestler from Madonna to take home an individual title.

Point Pleasant senior Derek Mitchell faced a daunting task in his championship final against fellow senior and friend Jake Justice from Liberty Raleigh. The top-ranked Justice was undefeated and had already beaten Mitchell three times during the regular season. But any seasoned wrestling fan knows that statistics might as well be thrown out the window when a state championship is at stake. Mitchell took the lead in the first period and only surrendered it once, when Justice turned the tables with an escape and takedown to end the first. However, those were the last points Justice would be able to score, and thanks to five unanswered points in the second and third periods, Mitchell had won the ultimate match between the two with a 7-3 victory.

Grafton’s Cameron Gallaher capped off one of the most phenomenal careers in Grafton wrestling history, and in West Virginia high school wrestling history as well. Having only lost one match in four appearances at the state tournament, Gallaher added his name to the list of the state’s three-time state champions with second-period fall over Oak Glen’s Zac Montero. Gallaher made his mark in the Grafton history books by breaking several records, including most state titles (3), most career wins (185), and highest win percentage – an almost unheard-of .984.

Cullen Grover left Huntington with two very good weekends behind him. The senior 215-pounder from Tyler Consolidated had entered the AA/A Region 1 tournament as a third seed, but took home the regional title along with the Outstanding Wrestler Award, thanks to a couple of come from behind victories. While the award was special in itself, it was also historic, as Grover was the first Silver Knight wrestler ever to be named Outstanding Wrestler in any tournament in the school’s history. The history making didn’t stop at the regional tournament, however. Grover joined teammate Nate Taylor as a finalist, marking the first time Tyler Consolidated and Coach Larry Richie had two wrestlers in the championship finals. Grover decided to make the retiring Richie’s last match as head coach a memorable one as he defeated Herbert Hoover sophomore Patrick Nary 7-4, making him Richie’s second state champion exactly 10 years after Jason Snider won the first title for Tyler Consolidated.

The final AA/A championship match of the night looked like a battle between David and Goliath, as Point Pleasant’s Casey Hogg faced a beast in Zac Acord, a junior from Liberty Raleigh. Acord (whom my friend Lynn Wiblin likened to Mr. Incredible from “The Incredibles”) had a definite physical advantage, but Hogg was not to be intimidated. He got the first points in the match with a two-point nearfall in the second, and held on to the lead for most of the match. Acord managed an escape in the waning seconds of the match but was unable to score a takedown, and Hogg went on to win his first state title as a sophomore. Since both wrestlers are underclassmen, there's a good chance we could witness a rematch in 2010.

So once again, the AA/A champions have been crowned. Nine underclassmen will return to defend their titles next year, three of whom (Cottrell, Fisher, and Maness) will hope to continue their quest to become four-time state champions. Best of luck to all wrestlers in the upcoming season!
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