CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state wrestling tournament that starts today could be unlike any other.
Parkersburg and Parkersburg South have dominated Class AAA since the event's inception in 1948. The Big Reds have captured 21 state championships while cross-town rival South has 18 crowns, including the past four titles. Point Pleasant has recently been the one to beat in AA-A, taking the last three state championships.
You can throw all of that out of the window with the No. 4 Big Blacks moving up to AAA to join Huntington, which is No. 1 in the final state coaches association-wvmat.com poll, No. 2 South, No. 3 Parkersburg, No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Ripley, No. 7 Musselman and No. 8 Shady Spring, which also jumped to AAA. The meet begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington and continues Friday and Saturday.
"It's going to be a tough state tournament this year,'' said Point coach John Bonecutter. "There's going to be a lot of parity. I think it could be as little as four or five points separating four or five teams. I think Huntington is your clear-cut favorite.
"Parkersburg South has won four in a row. You've got a slew of other teams there that will be battling for the other top spots. Those teams might not be playing for the team title, but they're going to have a say. Every time you step to the line it's going to be a battle.''
In AA-A, with Point's departure, the door is wide open for No. 1 Greenbrier West, No. 2 East Fairmont, No. 3 Wirt County, No. 4 Independence and No. 5 Clay County, No. 6 Fairmont Senior and No. 7 North Marion.
Point failed to win its region this year as Huntington took the AAA Region 4 title and qualified wrestlers in all 14 weight classes while the Big Blacks qualified a dozen. The top four individual finishers at regionals advance to states.
"I don't think we're the favorite this weekend,'' Bonecutter said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility. The kids are still working hard, battling and competing. This has been a very trying year. We've had a variety of things this year. Sickness, injuries and a few other things going on. If it's not been one thing it's been something else.
"I think we're a stronger team now for it. It's difficult to deal with, but anytime in life in general and face adversity and conquer it you grow stronger. I'm proud of our team. I wouldn't want to go to battle with anybody else. We really didn't have anything left to prove in AA. This is a new set of challenges for us and I'm excited about it. You always want to keep everything fresh and challenge yourself.''
The Highlanders are hoping this is their year after finishing third last year, second in 2011 and third in 2010.
"This is one of the few years where you have two defending state champions in the same division,'' said Huntington coach Rob Archer. "It's made it even deeper. In my opinion they've done it and we haven't. That's how I'm thinking about it.
"We're still the underdog in my mind. I think we have a chance. I've felt like that the last three years. This group has been through this. They know how close it's going to be and how important bonus points are going to be.''
There will be several other players determining the AAA team title.
South, the AAA Region 1 champ, qualified 12 of 14 grapplers while runner-up Parkersburg had 11 qualifiers. Ripley won AAA Region 3 but only qualified nine of 14 positions while runner-up Shady Spring had 11 positions filled for states. Washington was the Region 2 titlist with 11 qualifiers while runner-up Musselman also had 11.
"It's very equal this year,'' said Archer. "A lot of weight classes are jam-packed. There's eight or nine kids that can place top six and four or five kids that can win it. It's just going to be whoever wrestles the hardest and reaches their potential will win it as a team. The ones who fold under pressure won't be in the hunt.''
The Kanawha Valley doesn't sport anyone challenging for the overall team championship in either of the two classes, but plenty will be at stake with George Washington and Winfield in AAA and Herbert Hoover in AA-A hoping to break into the top 10. Several grapplers from the Valley will also have a chance at individual glory.
Winfield sophomore Bryce Humphreys captured the region title at 126 while junior Jimmy Clark took the 160 crown. Winfield's contingent also includes senior Isaac Reed (145, second), junior Chris Cochran (113, third) and senior Zach Richardson (182, second).
Hurricane sophomore Sky Steadman (120, fourth), junior Chantz Rankin (132, fourth), Jeremy Francis (152, second), senior Zach Cooper (160, fourth) and junior Mitchell Fitzgerald (285, third) also advanced to states. Nitro sophomore David Smith won the region crown at 285 while junior Ryan Walters (195, third) and sophomore Hunter Skeens (220, third) also moved on.
George Washington senior Jake Smith, who was the state champion at 145 last year, is trying to win it all at 160 this time where he won the region title. Patriots junior Jensen Loria (126) also captured the region crown while freshman Sam Moore (106, third), sophomore David Pancake (120, second) and junior Jack Skidmore (285, second) also advanced.
Capital freshman Christian Price (113, fourth) and Kavin Kincaid (126, fourth), sophomore Desean Reed (145, fourth), junior Pat Vance (182, second) and freshman Tyler Burke (285, fourth) are in the mix. Riverside junior Vince Hunt (132, fourth), senior Justin Burke (160, fourth), junior Chase Hanshaw (195, second) and South Charleston freshman Fred Crosier (152, fourth) also qualified.
In AA-A, Hoover had one region champ in junior Zane Weese (220) and qualified seniors Camren Duncan (113, fourth), Justin Duncan (120, fourth), Brady Dye (182, second) and Richard Woods (285). Sissonville senior Nick Lane (145, third) and Buffalo junior Kyle Frazier (195, second) also qualified.
The AA-A field will also have several teams battling it out for the team title.