Huntington brings trophy down south
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The South finally rose again.
For the first time since 1964, a school from the southern part of West Virginia emerged as the big school or overall team champion at the state wrestling tournament.
Huntington, the hometown favorite and the state's top-ranked team all season, ended nearly 50 years of northern domination by capturing the Class AAA title Saturday before an appreciative crowd at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
The Highlanders, coached by Rob Archer, had their crown wrapped up before Saturday night's individual weight-class title matches, where they turned in three state champions in Logan Grass (106 pounds), Jordan Allen (113) and Justin Arthur (145).
They finished with exactly 200 points for a healthy margin over runner-up Parkersburg (1601/2).
Archer wasn't even aware how long the dry spell had been. Shady Spring was the last big winner from below U.S. Route 50, the state's unofficial dividing line, capturing the overall title in 1964 (competition was split into two classes starting in 1976).
"That's news to me. I didn't know what year it was,'' Archer said. "We're proud to represent the South. We're the first, and I hope there's many more from the South. We've been chasing the Parkersburgs and the Wheelings and those teams for a long time. It's nice to finally break through.''
Also, Greenbrier West outlasted Independence in a tight battle for the Class AA-A title, giving the Cavaliers their first-ever crown and the first AA-A championship from the southern part of West Virginia since Independence won it all in 1996.
The Kanawha Valley did its share to support the South's emergence, producing two champions and a top-10 AAA team finish by Winfield.
George Washington senior Jake Smith (41-0) capped an unbeaten senior season with his second straight state title, edging Dylan Ceravalo of Washington, another past state champ, 6-4 in the 160-pound final.
"No words can describe what I'm feeling right now,'' Smith said. "I've achieved all my goals and I get to mark it off my list as soon as I get home. It's a great feeling. Hard work pays off. I've had a great four years at GW, and there's not a better way to go out my senior season.''
Smith was up 5-1 in the final period, but Ceravalo (38-3) earned a point on an escape and got a takedown with 13 seconds left to make it interesting. Ceravalo allowed Smith an escape point to try and get a final takedown to tie it, but his attempt was ruled off the mat with two seconds to go.
"It was definitely a close match,'' Smith said. "We were both kind of gassed. We're both seniors going at it, going for that two-time state champion title. It's all who wanted it more. We're both broke, I can tell you that.''
Winfield sophomore Bryce Humphreys (46-2) claimed a championship at 126, scoring early and downing Ripley freshman Lucas Simpkins 11-5.
"I just thought about all the stuff I went through over the summer,'' Humphreys said, "and how hard I'd worked at nationals and stuff, and thought I deserved it. I guess it paid off.
"I'd never seen him wrestle before. He's really good and has been to a lot of big tournaments. I don't really think he was nervous. I guess I got lucky he made a mistake.''
His title helped the Generals finish in ninth place in AAA with 701/2 points.
The Valley's only other finalist, Herbert Hoover junior Zane Weese, wasn't as fortunate as Smith and Humphreys.
Weese brought a 48-0 record into the AA-A 220-pound finals but was pinned in 4:52 by Matt Parkinson of Berkeley Springs (52-1).
The match was scoreless heading into the third and final two-minute period. Weese placed fifth at 195 last year.
Huntington had never before won an SSAC-sanctioned state wrestling title, though it did claim an unofficial state championship in 1922. The SSAC began recognizing state champs in 1948.
The Highlanders twice before had finished second in the state meet.
"This team will get identified for being the first [to win],'' Archer said, "but honestly it's been a long building process. Wrestling isn't like other sports where you get a couple key guys. You put a team together and start at a young age and build a pyramid.
"I wish the guys who came before them could get some of the credit, too, because they deserve it. I've got guys' names in my head who paid the price to give these kids a [chance]. They just kept the level up, and now here we are.''
Huntington didn't accomplish its goal without a bit of adversity. It was ranked No. 1 all season long, giving opponents a target to shoot at, had various ailments and lost one of the state's top-ranked wrestlers just before the WSAZ Invitational when he was kicked off the squad.
"There's never a season without adversity,'' Archer said. "Someone gets hurt or sick or you lose a kid. We've been through our share, but our kids have been tough the whole way.
"I don't think they believed they were No. 1 until now, and that's what's been good. They believed it could potentially be theirs, but now it's nice to say, 'Hey, we did it.' We kept telling them not to overlook things, and they bought into that. It's hard to get 15-, 18-year-old kids to buy into that.''
As if Huntington's rise to glory wasn't enough, some of the sport's past powers dropped off a bit during what turned out to be an historic meet.
Parkersburg South, which had won the past four AAA crowns, didn't put a wrestler into the finals for the first time since 1993. Oak Glen, which won 13 AA-A titles in a row from 1997-2009, ended up in 12th place.
Point Pleasant, which succeeded Oak Glen as the AA-A champ in 2010 and took three straight titles, moved up to AAA this year and finished sixth.
Other place-winners for the Kanawha Valley Saturday were:
Both of the most outstanding wrestler awards ended in ties.
In AAA, Jake Martin of Ripley (138) shared the honor with Huntington's Arthur (145). In AA-A, a three-way deadlock emerged between Cody Goff of Grafton (113), Tyler Parker of Greenbrier West (170) and Jesse Roman of East Fairmont (195).
The AAA coach award went to Huntington's Archer and the AA-A honor to Jeremy Tincher of Greenbrier West.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.