CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington captured its first regional wrestling championship in nearly 50 years last weekend, so the Patriots feel that anything is possible at the state championships.
The 67th annual event begins its three-day run today at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. Wrestling begins at 6:30 p.m. today, with sessions starting at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by the 6 p.m. finals.
Huntington, the defending state champion who was No. 1 in the final West Virginia Coaches Association-wvmat.com team poll, is firmly entrenched as the Class AAA favorite. The Highlanders cruised to their first state championship last year by 39 1/2 points over runner-up Parkersburg.
In AA-A, defending state champion Greenbrier West has its work cut out for it if it hopes to repeat. The No. 2-ranked Cavaliers failed to win their region as No. 1 Independence, which was runner-up to West by 12 points at last year's state tournament, seized it.
George Washington is riding a wave of excitement after taking the Region 3 crown, its first since the late 1960s, by a convincing 32 1/2 points over Ripley. The Patriots also advanced nine qualifiers to states. (The top four individual finishers at regionals from each weight class advance to the state tournament.)
"They were pretty pumped up and emotional about winning that,'' GW coach Richard Harper said of his grapplers. "I think they're feeling pretty good about themselves. I think they've got some confidence behind them.
"This season we gradually built ourselves up. Everything's on a roll and we're where we need it to be. They're ready as they can get. I think they're pretty ready to give it all they've got.''
No. 7 GW has shown it can go toe-to-toe with the established programs this season, taking fourth at the WSAZ Invitational, the state's largest regular-season tournament where schools compete for one championship regardless of class. GW was only behind champion Huntington, Independence and Parkersburg South.
"Ideally from the get-go our goal is to go in and win it,'' said Harper of the state title. "To go in and tell your kids let's settle and finish top 10, I don't like doing that.
"Our kids feel like they've got as good a chance to win it as anyone. We think we've got a chance to make an impact. If things go right I think we can be right there at the top. We're going to give it a run.''
Patriots sophomore Phillip Sharp captured the region title in the 106-pound weight class. GW's other regional champs were junior David Pancake (120 pounds), Jensen Lorea (138), who owns a 50-1 record, Hunter Jones (170) and David Smith (285).
Also qualifying for states were GW sophomore Sam Moore (second, 113), sophomore Levi Smith (third, 126), sophomore Corey Shamblin (fourth, 132) and senior Jack Skidmore (second, 220).
"Nobody stands out, but they're just all good kids that work really hard,'' Harper said. "The chemistry of these kids probably has to rank in with one of the best teams I've been associated with.''