CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new champion is assured for the WSAZ Invitational wrestling tournament that begins its weekend run today with 31 high school teams and 50 junior high-middle school teams at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.Point Pleasant, the two-time defending WSAZ high school champion and winner of four of the last five overall team titles, will not participate because of a scheduling conflict.The Big Blacks, who moved up to Class AAA this season after winning three straight AA-A state titles, are instead competing in the ASICS Top Gun tournament in Alliance, Ohio, this weekend."[John] Bonecutter's a friend of mine,'' said Huntington coach Rob Archer of Point's coach, "and we knew that way ahead of time. They'd made a commitment to another tournament and got the contract signed there before they knew our dates. It's just a mistake, and he said they'll be back next year.''
Point's absence means the event should be dominated by the host Highlanders, the season-long No. 1-ranked Class AAA team in the West Virginia Coaches Association/wvmat.com poll.Huntington owns five top-seeded wrestlers in the 14 weight classes, the most for any school - Logan Grass (106 pounds), Jordan Allen (113), Billy Waldeck (138), Justin Arthur (145) and Nigale Cabell (220).The Highlanders even had a sixth No. 1 seed, Jarred Simpkins at 120 pounds, but he was reportedly kicked off the squad earlier this week. Simpkins, a transfer from Ripley who placed third in last year's state meet, was also the top-ranked wrestler in the state in his weight class.That shouldn't bother Huntington, which is so deep that it has entered more than one athlete in some weight classes and sports double seeds at 126 and 138."We actually put all the Huntington stuff aside when we host a tournament,'' Archer said. "We have different hats on. I don't think about my kids when we're seeding. We'd be doing the teams who are coming a disservice if we didn't try to get the most fair [seedings]. It's a hard thing for us finding out who beat who with all these teams coming in [from outside West Virginia].''Three teams each from Kentucky and Ohio help comprise the sizable field. As far as state-ranked teams, Huntington will be joined by Shady Spring (No. 8 in AAA), Greenbrier West (No. 2 in AA-A), Independence (No. 4 in AA-A) and North Marion (No. 7 in AA-A).That's always been part of the allure of the WSAZ Invitational - big-school and small-school athletes competing in the same bracket at one of the largest meets of the regular season.In fact, in two weight classes, the top two seeds both hail from the AA-A division - 152 pounds (Malik Boatwright, Greenbrier West and R.J. Elam, Liberty Raleigh) and 182 (Tyler Arnett, North Marion and Charles Ayers, Liberty Raleigh)."Some of the smaller teams have some really good guys,'' Archer said. "That makes for a tough bracket. That's why guys circled the WSAZ tournament on their calendar a long time ago. This is fun for everybody - small and big schools all in the same bracket.''Representing the Kanawha Valley will be seven teams - Buffalo, George Washington, Hurricane, Nitro, Riverside, St. Albans and Winfield. One Valley wrestler earned a top seed - GW's Jake Smith, a defending state champ, at 160 (see list of seeds, Page 2B).High school matches get underway at 2 p.m. today, with the junior high-middle school division starting at 5.
Competition resumes Saturday at 9:45 a.m. in both divisions. Consolation semifinals and place-winner matches pick up at 6 p.m. in both divisions, and the championship finals are set to begin at 8:15.More information is available at the tournament's new website, wsazwrestling.com.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.When: Today-SaturdayWhere: Big Sandy Superstore Arena, HuntingtonStart times: High school 2 p.m. today, middle school 5 p.m.
Tickets: $7 adult, $6 students (ages 15 up); $5 students (ages 6-14); free (ages under 6); all-sessions passes $20, $17 and $14