Winfield's Bryce Humphreys holds down University's Mike Jones in their 132-pound match Friday.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Bryce Humphreys knows that when he takes to the mat in virtually any tournament, he's resting in the middle of somebody's bull's-eye.
That's what happens when you win a state wrestling championship at an early age - in Humphrey's case, as a sophomore last year for Winfield.
So he doesn't expect anything less than a lot of scrutiny this weekend as he competes in the 32-team WSAZ Invitational at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, one of the state's biggest regular-season events.
Humphreys, wrestling in the 132-pound weight class, got off to a good start Friday evening, earning a 20-2 victory over Mike Jones of University in his only match, which advances him to today's quarterfinal round, which begins at 9:45 a.m. The finals matches are set for 8:15 p.m.
Humphreys has already singled himself out among the local wrestling fraternity as the lone returning defending state champ from the Kanawha Valley. He and George Washington's Jake Smith, who took a Class AAA title at 160 as a senior, were the only two such performers.
Humphreys won at 126 pounds in AAA last winter to cap a 46-2 season.
"It's different now,'' said Generals coach Mike Cochran, "because everybody has that respect for him now, for the most part. But he really hasn't changed his style. He doesn't do anything different. He still works hard.
"He's got his style of doing things and he's not altering it. He works very hard in practice, and [opponents] know what's coming after them because he's got some real natural ability. One minute, it looks like oh no, he's in trouble, and the next minute he's out of it. He's got a real good mat awareness and he stays out of trouble.''
Humphreys, who is unbeaten this season in close to 30 matches, realizes the expectations he faces every match.
"It's a lot of pressure, I guess,'' he said Friday. "I just have to keep working hard - do the same things you did last year, and hopefully come out on top again.
"So far, it's been pretty good - a lot better than last year. I haven't lost yet, but it's a big tournament here.''
Humphreys has not yet faced any of the other top wrestlers at 132 in the West Virginia Coaches Association rankings, but he may today. If he downs Wahama's Randall Robie in the quarters, he gets either No. 2 Chase Childers of Huntington or No. 3 John Raike of Point Pleasant in the semifinals.
If he makes it to the finals, he could run into one of best athletes in the Class AA-A ranks, Dustin Yoakum of Greenbrier West or Dalton George of Williamstown. Yoakum is ranked first by the WVCA and George second, but George is seeded second for this tournament and Yoakum third.
One of the nuances of the WSAZs is tossing the state's top AAA and AA-A wrestlers into the same bracket, which doesn't happen a lot during the regular season.
Thus, mysteries abound all weekend as top-flight competitors like Humphreys run into unfamiliar opponents.
"You just go out there and try to get a feel for it in the first period,'' Humphreys said, "and after that, whatever works in the first period, just keep doing it.''
Cochran marvels at the resiliency of Humphreys, who surpassed 100 career wins during the Musselman Duals during the final weekend of December.
Winfield's coach recognizes that many people will expect Humphreys to win two more state titles, since he did so as a sophomore, but also realizes that others have yet to give his top wrestler his due.
"Even though he's virtually unscored on and a defending state champ,'' Cochran said, "there are a lot of people out there who don't give him any respect. They say, 'Oh, he just got lucky last year. He's got a fluke about him.'
"But he's a natural wrestler. He's really just tenacious and strong. He would chew off his arm than get caught in a trap. And he brings that every match, so he's very difficult to wrestle. He's mentally strong, too, which is kind of nice. He's a competitor.''
This year's WSAZ meet is spiced by the presence of the state's top two AAA programs, No. 1-ranked and defending champion Huntington and No. 2 Parkersburg South, the 18-time state titlist. It's the first time all season they've competed at the same tournament.
Also on hand are AA-A No. 1 Independence and No. 2 Greenbrier West (the defending state champ in that class).
Through Friday's matches, South led the team standings with 85 points, with Independence (82), Huntington (79), Cabell Midland (77) and Greenbrier West and North Marion (731/2) rounding out the top five scores. George Washington (661/2) stood eighth and Riverside (58) ninth.
The first round of the middle school portion of the tournament was set to follow the high school division Friday night.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.