Reclassification shakes up state wrestling picture
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."
Beyond that pair, Harper said his squad is looking good thus far.
"We've got some new guys and a few guys back with experience, some who were one match from placing last year," he said. "They've been working real hard in the offseason. This early, you just never know."
While the Patriots are likely the most tournament-tested team in the Valley, there are several individuals worth keeping a close eye on. Those include junior Zane Weese at Herbert Hoover, who finished fifth at 195 in the state tournament; Winfield sophomore Bryce Humphreys, who placed sixth at 120 as a freshman; and Nitro sophomore David Smith, a heavyweight who qualified for the state meet last season before dropping his opening match to the eventual state runner-up.
Around the state, three two-time champions return. Parkersburg senior Jared Haught won at 182 last season and at 160 as a sophomore; Musselman senior Cody Spinks won at 152 as a junior and 145 as a sophomore; and Huntington senior Justin Arthur, who won at 138 as a junior and 119 as a freshman.
Parkersburg South is the defending Class AAA champion, and with the departure of Point Pleasant, the AA-A field is likely to be wide open. Independence, Clay and Wirt finished behind Point in last year's state tournament, while newcomers East Fairmont (7th in AAA), North Marion (10th in AAA) and Bridgeport (15th in AAA) will be looking to make a splash in the small-schools division.
The state tournament is scheduled for Feb. 21-23 at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.