PARKERSBURG - While Point Pleasant will be out to defend its Class AA/A mat crown when the three-day 64th annual West Virginia state tournament gets under way at 6:30 p.m. Thursday inside Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena, area Mid-Ohio Valley programs aren't expected to challenge in the team race.
The Big Blacks, who qualified 13 wrestlers and held off runner-up Calhoun County for the school's first state mat crown last winter, are the favorite. The biggest challenge is likely to come from Oak Glen, which qualified its entire team. Even though area programs might not have enough to challenge in the team race, there's plenty of hope for a lot of high finishes.
Roane County has a quartet of grapplers back in Josh Fisher (125, 33-2, sr), Dylan Cottrell (135, 43-1, jr), Brad Hickman (140, 47-0, sr) and Sam Whiting (145, 47-0, jr), all of whom advanced to last year's state finals. Although Cottrell won his second career crown and Fisher is looking to become a four-time state champion this weekend, both Hickman and Whiting suffered defeats in their final match of last season.
The duo of Hickman and Whiting are two of nine Class AA/A competitors trying to finish the season unbeaten. However, something will have to give at 145 considering Whiting and 31-0 senior David Schleiper of Cameron are likely to square off Friday night in the state semifinals.
Last year, Whiting lost in the 130-pound finals to Rusty Maness of Point Pleasant, who finished his campaign 41-0 and secured his third career state crown. Hickman was doubled up by Cody Clark of Calhoun County, 4-2, in the 135-pound finals as the Red Devil capped his season at 49-0.
Fisher and Maness, who is 19-1 and the favorite to win the title at 130, are the only wrestlers in the Mountain State who are trying to become four-time state champions, something that only has been accomplished 10 other times. Along with the two unbeaten Roane County grapplers for head coach Wayne Jarvis, Clay County has expected state champions with unbeatens Justin Triplett (103, 39-0, soph) and Danny Suite (119, 42-0, sr). Berkeley Springs features three undefeated wrestlers in Ryan Diehl (112, 46-0, soph), Damen Capper (152, 40-0, sr) and 171-pound 47-0 junior Tory Bennett. Calhoun County sophomore Jared Haught, a state runner-up last winter, enters the tournament at 49-0. In the past decade and a half, only three years have witnessed at least four individual undefeated Class AA/A state champions. In both 2007 and 1996 there were five unbeatens. However, in that same 15-year span, only the Wheeling Central duo of Dirk Bauer and Zach Basich in 2007 and Independence's Shawn Sexton and Robert Rash in 2006 have gone perfect as teammates.
Another interesting potential semifinal match on Friday night is expected to take place at 152 when a pair of two-time state champion seniors should collide in Calhoun County's Ben Laughlin (33-2) and the Indians' Capper, who defeated the Red Devil 7-4 earlier this year in their only meeting. Aside from Roane County's big four and Calhoun County's top two grapplers, other area wrestlers who will enter the tournament as regional champions include St. Marys' Logan Bowie (171, 32-6, sr), Wirt County junior heavyweight Eric Young (35-2) along with the Williamstown quartet of Dalton George (103, 38-4, fr), Cody Kelley (135, 31-7, sr), Jake Tracewell (140, 28-11, fr) and 21-3 senior heavyweight Tom Collins.