Winfield wrestling program climbing the ladder
NITRO, W.Va. -- Winfield proved Saturday evening that the spotlight wasn't too big, but the Generals still have some work to do before they'll feel comfortable among the state's elite wrestling teams.
The Generals captured their first team championship in school history at the 43rd Pat Vance Invitational at Nitro High School.
Winfield entered the finals with a 24-point lead and held on for an eight-point victory over runner-up George Washington (2221/2-2141/2). Herbert Hoover finished third with 189 points, followed by Nitro (166) and Hurricane (1301/2).
The Generals qualified for the finals in seven of the 14 weight classes, but only senior Isaac Reed captured an individual title with a win in the 145-pound division.
"As happy as I am we won it, I feel like our guys aren't ready yet to win the big match," said Winfield coach Mike Cochran. "For almost all of our guys, they've never been under the spotlight. I feel bad. We didn't perform as well as I thought we should. We didn't wrestle the way I thought we should.
"I'm going to take this as a learning experience, as this is what we have to do to win the big one. Be under the lights with all the fans and the pressure. Maybe that will help us later on. That's what's spinning in my head, this is what we have to work on and this is what we have to work on.''
Winfield's Chris Cochran (113), Bryce Humphreys (126), Evan Fairchild (132), Jimmy Clark (160), Tyler Grimm (170) and Noah Julian (195) all lost in the finals in their respective weight classes.
Others who placed for the Generals were Garrett Keefer (138, third), Taylor Grimm (152, fifth), Tyler Payne (160, sixth), Jonathan Shamblin (170, third), Zack Richardson (182, third) and Brady White (220, sixth).
"This will boost everybody's confidence up a notch or two,'' said Reed, who is ranked third in Class AAA at 145. "Overall, we're doing good I think. We're a little bit better this year. Everybody's working together as a team.''
Winfield is breaking new ground for the program this season. The Generals were No. 10 in this week's AAA state coaches association-wvmat.com poll and placed second in tournaments at Musselman and North Carolina.
The Generals also have several more grapplers ranked among the state's best in Chris Cochran (120, seventh), Humphreys (126, second), Clark (160, sixth), Tyler Grimm (170, ninth) and Richardson (182, sixth).
"We've never been ranked since I've been here,'' said Mike Cochran, who is beginning his seventh season as the Generals' coach. "I was told a long time ago in double-A they [Winfield was] ranked as high as seventh.''
Cochran said most of the team has been working out on its own during the offseason and the program is also reaping the benefits of the middle school team.
"Our goal was to start building the program,'' said the Winfield coach. "It's taken a long time to get to where we are. That's been our goal to get to the point where we can compete with the best teams in the state.
"We've been competitive with middle-tier teams, but we want to be competitive with upper-tier teams. You've got to really work hard. You can't just walk on the mat and work on in season to be at that level. When enough guys buy into that everybody feeds off that. We've got good team leaders and the guys push each other.''
Cochran said he envisions the Generals taking the next step as a perennial contender at the state tournament once a youth program is established.
"That's the one thing we don't have,'' he said. "We're working toward getting that, then we'll have all three phases. [We'll] get the little guys interested and keep them going at the middle school then get them up here [at the high school].
"It used to be when I first started coaching you had to teach them basic moves, and now I don't have to teach basic moves. I can go on to the more advanced stuff, and that helps us when we wrestle the good teams.''
Cochran said he feels good about where the high school program is headed.
"This is all practice,'' he said. "Our goal is to qualify eight for the state tournament and try and get some state placers this year.''
Other individual winners from the Kanawha Valley included GW's Sam Moore (106), Jenson Lorea (126), who was also voted the most outstanding wrestler by the coaches, Jake Smith (160) and Hunter Jones (170); Hoover's Justin Duncan (120), Zane Weese (220) and Richard Wood (285); Hurricane's Jeremy Francis (152); Capital's Patrick Vance (182); and Buffalo's Kyle Frazier (195). Smith, Jones and Woods won by pin. Buffalo was also given the sportsmanship award.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.