CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The high school wrestling landscape will have a new look this season, thanks in large part to the most recent round of reclassification by the Secondary School Activities Commission.
Point Pleasant, last year's Class AA-A state champion and a perennial power in the small-schools division, is now competing against the big boys in Class AAA. With several place winners back from last season's team, the Big Blacks certainly have the talent to be competitive in Class AAA. But a tough road awaits to merely get to the state meet. Point Pleasant resides in Region 4 with two top-10 teams from last year's AAA state tournament a season ago - Huntington (third) and Cabell Midland (ninth).
The ripples from that move are being felt in the Kanawha Valley, where George Washington moves out of Region 4 and into Region 3 alongside the likes of Ripley (last year's AAA runner-up), Capital, Riverside and Woodrow Wilson.
"The biggest thing for us is they realigned the region," said GW coach Richard Harper. "That's made [Region 4] a really tough region. By that happening, it's really evened out the regions where you now have three or four top teams in each region. At the same time, the teams [in Region 3] are completely different than the teams we've wrestled in the past.
"The good news is I think we'll be really competitive in Region 3. But if you have a bad day in Region 3 and a kid finishes fourth, they might have to face somebody really good out of another region [at the state tournament]. In our region now, we have to focus on getting kids into the finals so they get a good draw in the state tournament."
The Patriots have two of the Valley's top grapplers in senior Jake Smith and junior Jensen Lorea. Smith capped a 48-5 season by winning the state title at 145 pounds last season, while Lorea finished fifth at 126. Harper has high expectations for both entering 2012-13.
"With those guys there, I expect at least a repeat," Harper said. "You expect to at least match that, and then some. With Jake, everybody realizes he's the real deal now so he's got a little X on his back, he's going to get everybody's best shot. If they can beat him, they know they're pretty good. It's hard to repeat, but he's very capable. We're just trying to keep him focused, and I think he's up to the challenge.
"For Jensen, there are high expectations also. Like any kid, he wants to win it and he's going to work hard enough. He's going to be there when it comes down to it."