10 Kanawha Valley wrestlers capture individual crowns at Vance Invite
NITRO, W.Va. -- It was a tournament filled with surprises in terms of the team standings, and perhaps the coach of the winning team was the most shocked of all.
By virtue of placing seven wrestlers in championship matches on Saturday, Johnson Central, Ky., was able to cruise to a team title at the 44th Pat Vance Invitational at Nitro High School.
Johnson Central rolled up 218 points to best second-place Riverside (156.5) and third-place St. Albans (153), despite missing two of its best wrestlers due to a funeral.
Coach Jim Matney said his young squad impressed the entire coaching staff on Saturday.
"We're a little bit younger this year than we've been and we didn't know what to expect," Matney said. "We didn't expect this really, they probably wrestled a bit better than we thought they would. We made a heck of a run through the semifinals and won some big matches. Sometimes it just goes your way."
While the invaders from the southwest were claiming team hardware, 10 Kanawha Valley grapplers claimed individual titles, including three from the upstart Red Dragons.
Despite leaving several weight classes vacant, St. Albans finished third, mostly because of the efforts of freshmen Micah Crewdson, Trey Harmon and Michael Milam, who claimed wins in the 120-pound, 138-pound and 145-pound divisions, respectively.
"Things are taking off," said Red Dragons coach Gary Bennet. "The guys have been working hard and it's finally paying off for them. It's nice to have some kids that not only have a good work ethic but their excellent academics as well, so I don't have to worry about losing half my squad when grade cards come out.
"All three of our kids in the finals are freshman so that's great. That foretells a great future."
It was a different kind of day for pre-tournament favorite Winfield, as the Generals managed just 146 points and settled for fifth in the team standings, one point behind Hurricane.
Bryce Humphreys, the defending state champion in the 126-pound division, did his part by winning the 132 trophy by knocking off Johnson Central's Geordan Blanton 11-3.
The senior, who improved to 24-0 on the season, said a long layover may have cost his team on Saturday.
"I think the Christmas break kind of did that to us," Humphreys said. "We had a few kids because of weather conditions that couldn't make it to practice and then going to see family. I think once we get everybody back to practice, we'll be on top again."
Riverside coach Jaime McDonough credited the break with helping his team come out on top of all in-state schools on Saturday.
"We've got a very good mixture of seniors, juniors, and sophomores," McDonough said. "We really came together over Christmas break and everybody is working hard. We're stepping it up each week. We've got Winner's Choice in two weeks, one of the biggest tournaments in the state, hopefully we can get some placers and pull out a team trophy there."
In the matchup of the most highly ranked wrestlers according to wvmat.com, Herbert Hoover's Zane Weese rallied late to score a narrow 4-2 decision over Nitro's Hunter Skeens in the 220-pound division, despite suffering a minor ankle injury during the match.
Both entered Saturday undefeated, with Weese topping the division's rankings in Class AA-A and Skeens rated No. 4 in Class AAA.
It was Weese's third title at the Pat Vance Invitational.
"Me and [Skeens] always go at it at the beginning of the year," Weese said. "I start to figure him out at the end, but around this tournament we've always been close for three rounds. I thought he had me there for a minute and my luck popped in."
Capital's Pat Vance also captured his third title at the tournament, beating Hurricane's T.J. Henry by pin in the 182-pound division.
Other Kanawha Valley winners included Sissonville Ryan Keckley (113), South Charleston's Fred Crozier (152), Riverside's Chase Hanshaw (195), and Capital's James Walton (285).
Wahama's Kane Roush captured the 170-pound title and was named the tournament's most outstanding wrestler. Clay County's Jack Cummings (106), Wahama's Jacob Bennett (126), and Johnson Central's Jordan Ray Young (160) completed the individual winners.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.