GW among schools hoping to dethrone Huntington
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington captured its first regional wrestling championship in nearly 50 years last weekend, so the Patriots feel that anything is possible at the state championships.
The 67th annual event begins its three-day run today at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. Wrestling begins at 6:30 p.m. today, with sessions starting at 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by the 6 p.m. finals.
Huntington, the defending state champion who was No. 1 in the final West Virginia Coaches Association-wvmat.com team poll, is firmly entrenched as the Class AAA favorite. The Highlanders cruised to their first state championship last year by 39 1/2 points over runner-up Parkersburg.
In AA-A, defending state champion Greenbrier West has its work cut out for it if it hopes to repeat. The No. 2-ranked Cavaliers failed to win their region as No. 1 Independence, which was runner-up to West by 12 points at last year's state tournament, seized it.
George Washington is riding a wave of excitement after taking the Region 3 crown, its first since the late 1960s, by a convincing 32 1/2 points over Ripley. The Patriots also advanced nine qualifiers to states. (The top four individual finishers at regionals from each weight class advance to the state tournament.)
"They were pretty pumped up and emotional about winning that,'' GW coach Richard Harper said of his grapplers. "I think they're feeling pretty good about themselves. I think they've got some confidence behind them.
"This season we gradually built ourselves up. Everything's on a roll and we're where we need it to be. They're ready as they can get. I think they're pretty ready to give it all they've got.''
No. 7 GW has shown it can go toe-to-toe with the established programs this season, taking fourth at the WSAZ Invitational, the state's largest regular-season tournament where schools compete for one championship regardless of class. GW was only behind champion Huntington, Independence and Parkersburg South.
"Ideally from the get-go our goal is to go in and win it,'' said Harper of the state title. "To go in and tell your kids let's settle and finish top 10, I don't like doing that.
"Our kids feel like they've got as good a chance to win it as anyone. We think we've got a chance to make an impact. If things go right I think we can be right there at the top. We're going to give it a run.''
Patriots sophomore Phillip Sharp captured the region title in the 106-pound weight class. GW's other regional champs were junior David Pancake (120 pounds), Jensen Lorea (138), who owns a 50-1 record, Hunter Jones (170) and David Smith (285).
Also qualifying for states were GW sophomore Sam Moore (second, 113), sophomore Levi Smith (third, 126), sophomore Corey Shamblin (fourth, 132) and senior Jack Skidmore (second, 220).
"Nobody stands out, but they're just all good kids that work really hard,'' Harper said. "The chemistry of these kids probably has to rank in with one of the best teams I've been associated with.''
Huntington produced five regional champs, but showed off its depth with seven other qualifiers to win Region 4 by 49 points over runner-up Point Pleasant. Highlanders juniors Logan Grass is the defending state champion at 106 while Jordan Allen, who won it all at 113 last year, has moved up to 120 and won the regional.
Parkersburg and Parkersburg South, which have dominated the state tournament since its inception in 1948 with 21 and 18 state titles, respectively, are again in the mix. No. 3 South, which took third last year at states, qualified 13 in securing its sixth straight Region 1 crown, while the No. 2 Big Reds, the regional runners-up, advanced 10.
No. 5 Point, which won three straight Class AA-A titles from 2010-2012 before moving up to AAA last year and finishing sixth, will also have a say in who takes it all. The Big Blacks produced four region champs and eight other qualifiers.
"All those guys right there are going to be in the hunt when it's all said and done,'' Harper said. "Going into it everybody knows Huntington's the front runner. They've kind of set the standard. I'm not so sure anybody can catch them. After those guys it's going to be a tight race.''
Other regional winners in AAA from the Kanawha Valley include Winfield junior Bryce Humphreys (132), a state titlist at 126 last year who owns a 53-0 record at 132 this season, St. Albans sophomore Trey Harman (138), Riverside senior Chase Hanshaw (195) and freshman Darrell Holstine (220) and Nitro junior Hunter Skeens (220).
Independence won the AA-A Region 3 title, beating out Greenbrier West by 23 1/2 points. Independence produced seven champions while the Cavaliers had four, including defending state champions Dustin Yoakum (132) and Malik Boatwright, who won it all at 152 last year but moved up to 160 this time around.
Oak Glen, which captured 13 straight AA-A titles from 1997-2009, finished third in the final poll and could be a player this weekend after winning Region 1 by 41 points over No. 4 North Marion with 13 qualifiers.
Herbert Hoover senior Zane Weese captured the AA-A Region 4 title at 220 pounds and has some unfinished business left after losing his only match last year in the state finals.
The Huskies hope to get back in the top 10 after an 18th-place showing last year. Also advancing for Hoover were freshman Chase Stover (fourth, 106), junior Tristan Duley (third, 113), junior Jesse Weese (third, 132), junior Zach Callen (fourth, 138), junior Alex Goff (fourth, 152), freshman Brody Thomas (fourth, 182) and freshman Peyton Carey (third, 285) also advancing.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.