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West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 25, 2010

“Today’s the big day!”

I remember as a child my mom, Nora Lee Gilchrist, would wake us up with those words each year on our annual trip to Huntington’s Camden Park. Each year I waited for days (and perhaps weeks even) to hear those words before the day was finally upon us. Today as I awake (although already in my hotel room in Huntington), I feel that same excitement about another annual trip I’ve made several times to Huntington for the state wrestling tournament.

I’m not the only one excited. I think I speak for wrestlers, coaches, fans, and families across the state when I say we’re all excited about the state tournament. I loved the forum post entitled, “2 Days and a Wakeup”. How many of you reading this have used that phrase in helping your children count the days until Christmas, a birthday, or a big trip. And just yesterday, my boyfriend Craig sent me an early morning text message that read, “One more day!” He’s excited about his son competing again in the state tournament.

Perhaps nobody is more excited to be making the trip to Huntington as are the wrestlers from Hampshire County and Lincoln County. Jacob Pezzanite and Brent Walter from Hampshire County and Jimmy Scraggs and Matt Tawney from Lincoln County are making history as the first wrestlers to represent their respective schools at the state wrestling tournament. And on top of that, Scraggs was the first male athlete from Lincoln County to ever qualify for a state event in the school’s history and was joined moments later by his teammate Tawney. Here’s wishing all four young men, their coaches, and their wrestling programs the best of luck and continued success in years to come.

Another notable qualifier is Parkersburg Catholic’s Riley Wines, who is the first Crusader wrestler to participate in the state tournament since 1997. Wines’ father Ron , a former Parkersburg South wrestler, started a middle school program at Parkersburg Catholic a few years ago. Some of those wrestlers have moved up to the high school, and this year four of them participated in the AA/A Region 1 tournament. Ron Wines is another example of a former wrestler giving back to the community, and I'm sure the parents and fans at Parkersburg Catholic appreciate his commitment to the sport.

Parkersburg Catholic and other private schools don’t have the luxury of recruiting athletes from a large pool of students as do some of the public schools who boast sizeable enrollments. However, one Catholic school does not seem to be suffering too much this year. Weirton Madonna qualified the highest number of wrestlers in the school history. Their seven wrestlers will join the seven from Weir High and the 13 from Oak Glen to form what’s arguably the largest Hancock County state tournament contingent ever.

It’s been a good year for the boys from Hancock County, with multiple individual and team titles earned throughout the season. Weir fielded a full team for the first time in over 15 years, and Oak Glen has once again taken a young team and turned them into a solid threat to take home their 14th straight AA/A team title.

Of course, as it’s been for the past 13 years, there have been several teams who have wanted to be THE team to end THE streak. Point Pleasant closed the gap in 2009, finishing 20 points behind the Golden Bears. This year, the wrestlers of first-year coach John Bonecutter currently lay claim to the #1 team ranking, thanks in part to a close dual victory when the two teams met in late January. Both teams won their respective regions and are expected to take it to the wire in what could be the closest finish since the early 90’s. Or who knows, it could even be as close as the 1989 state tournament, when St. Marys edged out Spencer by ½ point to take the AA/A team title.

Keyser won their first regional title since 2005, and threw a wrench into the team rankings by winning the Region 2 title over #3 Berkeley Springs by a 15-point margin. Keyser went into the regional tournament unranked and came out with 13 wrestlers who will be heading to Huntington today. Independence won the Region 3 title over runner-up Greenbrier West and will be bringing 12 wrestlers to Huntington.

As far as numbers go, defending AAA state champion and top-ranked Parkersburg South appears to be in a dead heat with Region 3 champion and #2 Ripley. Both teams qualified 13 wrestlers and both teams crowned more individual regional champions (7) than any other AAA school. (In AA/A, Oak Glen brings 7 regional champions as well.) The team race between these two AAA rivals should be an interesting one. Ripley has the edge in wrestlers who are ranked in the top two in their respective weight class, but South may have the edge when it comes to overall depth. The Patriots also own a 2-0 dual meet advantage over the Vikings this year. Things could get interesting very early and stay that way throughout the remainder of the tournament.

A couple of AAA teams who hope to make things interesting themselves are Region 2 Champions Hedgesville and Region 4 Champions Huntington. Hedgesville found themselves atop the leader board for the first time since 2004, and they’ll be bringing 10 wrestlers - including 5 regional champions - to the state tournament. Also bringing 5 regional champions is Huntington, who won their regional tournament by a comfortable 53 ½ point margin over George Washington, a team composed entirely of underclassmen, some of whom are expected to appear in the championship finals this weekend.

Two wrestlers who are heavy favorites to appear in the finals are Point Pleasant’s Rusty Maness (130) and Calhoun County’s Cody Clark (135), the only wrestlers who come into the tournament without a loss. Clark, a senior, is the only 4-time regional champion and is hoping to win his third individual state title in four years. Maness, a junior, is shooting for his third straight title.

Two additional wrestlers hope earn the title of three-time state champion. Parkersburg senior Jordon Nolan is aiming for his third title in four years, and Roane County junior Josh Fisher, with only one loss in three years of high school wrestling, is the odds-on favorite to take home his third straight title.

AA/A wrestlers hoping to defend or reclaim state titles this year are Berekely Springs’ Damen Capper, Calhoun County’s Ben Laughlin, Cameron’s Tevin Hall and Tanner Whyte, Point Pleasant’s Casey Hogg, Roane County’s Dylan Cottrell, Shady Spring’s Sonny Harrah, and Weirton Madonna’s Max Nogay.

AAA wrestlers who hope to defend or reclaim state titles are Cabell Midland’s Evan Thompson, East Fairmont’s Hunter Wood, Huntington’s Justin Riggs, Lewis County’s Elijah Hull, Parkersburg South’s David Jeffrey and Tyler Green, Ripley’s Corey Ratliff and Adam Bicak, and Washington’s Dylan Nick.

As I like to do every year, I want to extend my congratulations to the wrestlers who have qualified for the state tournament all four years of their high school wrestling careers:

Dalton Duffield – Braxton County
Tommie Brunswick – Bridgeport
Evan Thompson – Cabell Midland
Cody Clark and Aaron Yoak – Calhoun County
Tevin Hall – Cameron
Zac Townsend and Hunter Wood – East Fairmont
Markus Griffin – Grafton
Derek Hovermale – Hedgesville *
Troy Huffmaster and Connor McComas – Huntington
P. J. Lilly – Independence
Jonathan Alton and Dereck Merritt – Lewis County
Jacob Milam – Liberty Raleigh
Nick Bryant – Nicholas County
Sam Dunbar – Nitro
Chad Efaw – North Marion
Joel Paolo – Oak Glen
Kyle Bratke and Chad Morrison – Parkersburg
Tyler Green – Parkersburg South
Matt McCormick – Point Pleasant
Ronnie Mullins, Luke Parsons, and Tyler White – Ripley
Alex Buckley and Chaz Robinson – Riverside *
Sonny Harrah – Shady Spring
Dane Niday – Spring Valley
Dylan Nick – Washington *
Max Nogay – Weirton Madonna
Mark Board and Tyler George – Williamstown
Drew Smith – Wirt County

* Note: Derek Hovermale wrestled his first three years at Berkeley Springs, Dylan Nick wrestled his first two years at Jefferson, and Alex Buckley qualified for the state tournament in 2009 but was unable to participate.

Once again, it seems as though the season started just yesterday. The anticipation has been building all year long, and we all have our own destinations to reach. Whether it’s standing atop the podium as a wrestler realizing his dream of becoming a state champion, or merely arriving in Huntington as a fan or parent anticipating a great weekend of wrestling, reaching that final destination never loses its thrill, regardless of whether you’ve been there one or many times. To me, it’s just like whenever I drive west of Huntington and catch a glimpse of Camden Park. Every time I see the “Sign of the Happy Clown”, I’m immediately reminded of the thrill I felt as a child each and every time I’d see that sign.

Now it’s not just that happy clown who causes me to take an annual trip down memory lane whenever I visit Huntington. Every time I round the corner and see that big orange building that’s now known as the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, I get the same feeling of excitement I felt in 1978 when Dad and I attended the first state tournament held here.

As I write this, I pray for safe travels for all of the teams and fans who will be braving the weather to make it to Huntington. Mother Nature hasn’t been very kind to our sport this year, so here’s hoping we get the last laugh on her by getting everyone here, and getting us all here safely.

Best of luck to everyone for safe travels and to all the wrestlers in this weekend's state tournament. It's finally here. "Today's the big day!"

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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