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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 19, 2010

Tournaments, tournaments, tournaments!

Ever since high school I’ve absolutely loved going to wrestling tournaments during the course of the season. I have so many great memories of going to tournaments with my dad, Phil Gilchrist. Sometimes my sister Missy would go, sometimes not, but Dad could always count on me to be his traveling companion, following the Parkersburg South wrestling team to local tournaments such as the PHS Christmas Invitational or the Marietta (Ohio) invitational, not to mention several regional and state tournaments.

As the years went by, though, things changed. South’s team started venturing out of state to bigger tournaments, Dad passed away, and I took on a new hobby known as “Mat Lines”. Although I lost one traveling companion in my dad, I gained another one in my niece Lauryn, whom I took practically everywhere with me. One year we managed to attend two regional tournament championship finals in the same day!

I’ve been to tournaments in different parts of the country from East to West, but some of my favorite tournaments are right here in the Mountain State.

In early December, I was able to accompany a group of Parkersburg South matmaids to the St. Albans Red Dragon Duals as they were asked to come back and lend their skills as table workers. Although it was an exhausting weekend, it provided a chance to see a good mix of AAA and AA/A teams and see how the teams (including South’s junior varsity team) perform in a dual meet setting. Coach Joey Warner, Dave Webster, and the staff at St. Albans High School are a great group of people. They’re very accommodating, and they’re making the Duals better each year.

A week later, our group boarded a bus to head to Point Pleasant for the Jason Eades Memorial Pool Tournament. I’d always heard great things about the tournament but had never been able to attend due to conflicts with South’s varsity schedule. I really enjoyed the individual pool format, and was very impressed with the quality of wrestling. Some of the state’s top-ranked teams and individuals competed, and it’s there I had the pleasure of watching Berkeley Springs’ Ryan Diehl in action for the first time. Something else I found very impressive was a computer program developed by Point Pleasant dad Chris Maness, which is an electronic version of the Medina bout system. The tournament ran like clockwork, thanks to the bouts being projected on the wall, and automatically updated every time a match was finished and the results entered in the computer.

After a Christmas break that allowed me to spend a little time on Christmas Day with my favorite wrestler from “up North” and his dad and brother, it was time to get back into wrestling.

Parkersburg South headed north to Wheeling on the first of three trips this year to the City of Lights for the much-anticipated Wheeling Park Duals. The Duals continue to get bigger and better every year, and the addition of several teams (for a total of 40) along with the move to the WesBanco Arena made this year’s tournament the best one yet. Tournament Director Steve Shaffer and his group run this tournament with a great deal of precision, constantly monitoring via walkie talkie the progress of each of the 10 duals that are being wrestled at a given time in order to adhere to a strict schedule. If a dual looks like it’s going to last longer than the 90-minute allotted time, Rich McCardle will coordinate moving necessary weight classes from that dual to another free mat in order to stay on schedule. The workers at the head table, including Sean Smith of ovaecwrestling.com and Samantha Shaffer, keep the tournament results as close to realtime as possible, and this year Sean provided “live” updates on his website.

When I first walked in the WesBanco Arena back in December, it brought back a flood of great memories, such as the 1979 state tournament where Matt Ashley of Spencer became the state’s first four-time champion, and my first-ever experience at the OVAC tournament back in 2002. As happy as I was to be in the Arena for the Wheeling Park Duals, I was already looking forward to my next trip, when the Parkersburg South team would make their “return” to the OVAC tournament. (The Patriots enjoyed a brief one-year stint in the conference back in 1976.)

I was thrilled to get to spend a little time talking to tournament namesake Ron Mauck and enjoyed meeting Ron’s wife Mary Lou, as well as OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak, who provided me with a plethora of information on the history of the conference. And OVAC President Dan Doyle went out of his way to make us “new kids on the block” feel welcome at the tournament.

Most people were excited about South becoming a part of the OVAC, and most also knew that South would be the team to beat coming into the tournament this year. However, there are always a few who are taken by surprise. I saw some talk on message boards doubting the strength of the Patriots, and this is understandable if the persons making the statements are unfamiliar with West Virginia teams outside the OVAC. It’s also understandable if one is unfamiliar with West Virginia AAA teams in general. I have a high school friend who attends one of the West Virginia schools in the OVAC conference. He was telling a friend how he expected South to totally dominate the tournament (or in his words, “kill”). His friend told him she didn’t even realize South had a good team. She didn’t make it to the tournament, but I’m sure he told her all about it!

South came on strong the first day and never looked back en route to their first OVAC tournament title. Their 256 total points fell just shy of the all-time points record (263.5) set by Wheeling Park in 2006. The Patriots benefitted from some favorable seeds, which initially were questioned by some coaches and fans. However, 8 out of 10 seeded Patriots met or exceeded their seeds. One wrestler whom people were watching to see if he lived up to his #2 seed was 189-pound sophomore Steven Brogle, who joined the varsity lineup after Chris Smith dropped to 171. Brogle came within one point of making it to the championship finals, but bounced back in the consolations to give himself a third-place conference finish for his 16th birthday.

Giving himself a 16th birthday present just one day earlier was Oak Glen’s Cody Churchill. The #7 seed, Churchill celebrated by knocking off the #2 seed Jimmy Gessler of Bridgeport to secure a spot in the semifinals in the final day of competition. He must not have wanted the celebration to end, as he proceeded to defeat #3 Jacob Border of Caldwell en route to a championship showdown with #1 seed Art Hobley of Steubenville – a stellar match in which he came within one point (6-5) of handing Hobley his first loss of the year.

Another stellar match saw Weirton Madonna’s Max Nogay emerge the victor in a 2-1 overtime contest with Chris Smith to become the first wrestler in Madonna’s history to win an OVAC crown.

In addition to Nogay, another parochial school product who made a name for himself was Bobby Richmond, who became the first Bishop Donahue wrestler in 14 years to appear in the OVAC championship finals. Just a junior, Richmond will have a chance next year to join fellow Don Josh Giovengo, who won both an OVAC and WV state title in 1996.

As much as I enjoy watching the progress of some of the state’s well-known wrestlers, I also enjoy rooting for wrestlers whose families I’ve connected with at various events. Two such wrestlers for whom I was rooting at the OVAC tournament were John Marshall’s Michael Berardi and Magnolia’s Jason Long, who both finished 6th in their respective weight classes. Berardi progressed all the way to the semifinals, and Long battled back from a first-round loss to work his way through the consolation bracket.

I had the pleasure of sitting with Berardi’s grandparents at the Meadowbrook Duals while South and John Marshall were wrestling head to head. Michael’s grandmother is his biggest cheerleader, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

I took notice of Jason Long last year while working a table at the Magnolia Invitational with two young wrestlers from the middle school program. Jesse Long was sitting next to me running the clock and cheering for the Magnolia wrestler who happened to be on the mat. When Jason won his match, Jesse informed me that the boy who’d just won was his big brother, all the while beaming with pride.

Unfortunately, Jesse didn’t get to see his brother wrestle at their home tournament this year, as the Magnolia Invitational was just one of several events that had to either reschedule or cancel due to this year’s harsh winter conditions. However, many tournaments were able to take place, including some tournaments that saw new teams take home top honors.

George Washington claimed the Nitro Pat Vance Invitational for the first time over defending champion Calhoun County. The Patriots have a team full of underclassmen, six of whom are ranked among the state’s top eight wrestlers. Look for them to do well not only in this year’s regional and state tournaments, but in the next few years.

Ripley is also looking to do quite well at the regional and state tournaments. Although quite a bit more experienced with seven seniors on the team, the Vikings claimed their first-ever Winner’s Choice tournament last month and now have their sights set on defending the AAA Region 3 title.

As happy as I am for the George Washington and Ripley wrestlers, I have to say I’m particularly excited about the resurgence of the Wirt County wrestling team. The Tigers have come on strong since January, winning three out of their last four tournaments (Braxton County, Calhoun County, and Bob Zide Rumble).

I suppose one could say I’m a little biased, since I sort of have a “family” connection to the team. As I’ve mentioned several times, my brother-in-law is former Wirt County wrestler Frank Burton. Frank’s brother Joe was an assistant coach to Matt Ashley back in the 90’s when Wirt and Cameron seemed to battle it out on an annual basis. Frank and Joe’s brother Danny Burton is enjoying the success of his grandson Tyler Cheuvront, a freshman who’s currently ranked 4th in the state at 112. Tyler’s cousin Jon Cain is currently ranked 5th at 103. Although they’re “technically” not related to me, Tyler and Jon are part of a close-knit family unit to which my sister Missy is connected, so I like to think of them as my extended family. And speaking of family, I can’t help but think how my dad would have enjoyed watching Tyler and his little brother Cole wrestle. Cole was recently named the Outstanding Wrestler at the Wood County Recreation League County Championships - another tournament Dad and I enjoyed together on more than one occasion.

And that brings me back to my memories of traveling to wrestling tournaments with my dad. This weekend’s AA/A Region 1 wrestling tournament will be held at Oak Glen High School. It just seems like yesterday that I drove Dad up to Oak Glen for the 1996 regional tournament back when Oak Glen was still a AAA school. It also just happened to be the last time the two of us travelled to a tournament together.

We lost Dad in December of that year, just one year before I started writing “Mat Lines”. I’d like to think, though, that he can still “see” the articles and that he’s sitting up there in Heaven telling anyone who will listen about “ol’ Jen” and her “rasslin’ articles”. Well, Dad, this one’s for you.

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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