"It's going to be interesting. We look forward to the tougher tournaments, and we're just about in the stretch run [of the season]. Next week is the county tournament, then you hit regionals and the states.''
Harper has seen his team slowly climb the ladder of respectability. In addition to rising to sixth in the team poll, the Patriots sport eight individuals ranked among the state's top 10 in their respective weight classes.
GW's ranked wrestlers are Philip Sharp (106 pounds, third), Sam Moore (113, seventh), David Pancake (120, sixth), Corey Shamblin (132, ninth), Jensen Lorea (138, third), Hunter Jones (170, third), Jack Skidmore (220, seventh) and David Smith (heavyweight, third).
Harper said the Patriots, who will fill all but three weight classes in today's meet, have to start getting used to being in the bull's-eye as one of the state's top programs.
"The majority of our kids are sophomores,'' Harper said, "and they haven't said a whole lot about it. I preach to them that all of this [attention] is nice, and that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. But in all honesty, if you go undefeated all year and get to regionals and the state tournament and have a bad weekend, nobody's going to care.
"They're focused on the big prize at the end of the year. It's nice to pick up an MSAC championship, a county championship or a regional championship along the way, but our goal all season is to place yourself as high as you can in the regionals to give yourself the best opportunity in the state tournament - to get to that podium [as a place-winner]. If you don't get to that point, it doesn't mean a whole lot.''
Winfield brings five state-ranked wrestlers into the meet - second-most among Kanawha Valley schools - in Chris Cochran (120, eighth), Bryce Humphreys (132, first), Evan Fairchild (145, 10th), Jimmy Clark (170, sixth) and Noah Julian (220, fifth).
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.