Top teams start strong at WVSSAC State Wrestling Tournament

— By David Walsh

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — University coach Ken Maisel and Parkersburg South coach Shaun Smith had simple messages Thursday before the start of the WVSSAC State High School Wrestling Tournament at Marshall Health Network Arena. 

“Keep wrestling as hard as you can. Give me your best three days,” Smith said.

Both teams are the main contenders for the 2024 team title in Class AAA.

“It’s another tournament. Why do anything different. Nothing’s changed,” Maisel said.

On opening night, all coaches hope their favorites come through and avoid any upsets. And after the opening session, the coaches left positive. University went 10-2 with the losses by one and two points. Parkersburg South posted a 12-1 record. The Patriots lead with 41 points followed by University with 35 and Region 3 winner Woodrow Wilson in third with 33.

Parkersburg South is defending champion. The Patriots won the Region 4 crown handily.

In the final coaches poll, University held the top spot and Parkersburg South was second.

University won the Ron Mauck OVAC tournament, the Region 1 tournament and beat Parkersburg South to win the West Virginia State Team Duals. The Patriots won the WSAZ Invitational, which University took second in.

Smith admits his team does hear its fair share of boos and they like the attention. Nearly half the team is comprised of wrestlers competing in the state for the first time.

“No one likes us. We feel it,” Smith said. “We’re young. I told them have fun and go for it.”

Parkersburg South’s top threat is Gage Wright at 175. Also a standout football player for the Patriots, Wright will prolong his wrestling career at Virginia Tech.

University had two wrestlers seeded No. 1 — Luca Felix at 165 and unbeaten Brock Kehler at 285.

Kehler wrapped up the night for the Hawks with a win by pin.

“Definitely confident,” Kehler said of the team’s frame of  mind. “Unbeaten. Don’t worry about the record. Help the team.”

“We had some good tournaments,” Maisel said. “It’s something about Parkersburg South when they come here. As much as people hate them, they do it. They’re prepared.”

In Class AA, Point Pleasant came in ranked No. 1 and defending champion Fairmont Senior No. 2. Point Pleasant beat Fairmont Senior for the State Duals title in their class.

The Big Blacks had nine champs while winning Region 4. They have five No. 1 seeds in the state. Fairmont Senior has two.

“We need to stay focused,” Point Pleasant coach John Bonecutter said. “Tunnel vision. It’s what we do. Can’t make this any bigger than it is.”

The Big Blacks went 9-3 in round one and lead with 35 points. Oak Glen is second with 29.5 after a win by pin at heavyweight. Fairmont Senior is third with 28.

Fairmont Senior coach Michael Fortier made no great speeches before the night. The Polar Bears, who won here last year, lost their 190-pounder via injury default.

“Come in and wrestle, have fun,” Fortier said.

Ravenswood leads Class A with 21 points. Wheeling Central is next with 15.

Tournament action continues Friday with two sessions. The first begins at 11:30 a.m. and features quarterfinal matches in the winner’s bracket. The third session starts at 7:30 p.m. and has semifinal action along with wrestlebacks.

Session 4 begins Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and features place matches in the consolation bracket.

And in a first, the girls will do all their wrestling Saturday starting at 10:30. They’ll have four mats to use go through until finalists are determined.

The championship round begins at 6 p.m. and there’ll be three mats in use. One for Class AAA, one for Class AA-A and one for girls. Starting weight class is 106 for boys and 100 for girls. This is the first year the girls have had their state at the same time as the boys.

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