While some prep wrestling regional tournaments got underway on Friday, two of the Kanawha Valley’s biggest hopefuls had another day to wait.
That would include Class AAA No. 3 St. Albans and Class AA-A No. 7 Herbert Hoover, both of which carry big aspirations into the postseason both in terms of team success as well as on an individual level.
For the Red Dragons, the first step will come in the Class AAA Region 3 tournament, scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Riverside High School. The top four finishers in each weight class will qualify for the state tournament.
Two years ago, St. Albans took home the Region 3 title, the first and only such championship under coach Darren Gilfilen, now in his 11th season at the helm. But, in looking at both the team and individual state rankings, the Red Dragons would certainly look the part of the favorite entering Saturday, and with St. Albans filling 13 of the 14 weight classes, expectations are high.
“I know top-five [in the state] is our goal, but our ceiling is top three,” Gilfilen said. “We’ve done pretty good this season.”
Just getting through the season has been an accomplishment in and of itself with wrestling coaches having to navigate the same scheduling perils around the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting contact tracing as everyone else. Gilfilen’s grapplers are for the most part home schooling and he canceled all meets within two weeks of Saturday, a popular strategy on the prep level.
The Red Dragons’ Elijah Edge is the only Kanawha Valley wrestler in the wvmat.com ratings currently ranked atop an individual weight class as he brings his 16-0 record into the Region 3 tournament and is ranked first in the 182-pound division. Edge was a state-tournament runner up as a freshman a year ago, falling to Wheeling Park’s Erick Brothers Jr. 4-2. Brothers was also a freshman but moved up to 220 pounds this year, where he is the top-ranked wrestler in that weight class.
“He’s just one of those kids that nobody wants to wrestle,” Gilfilen said of Edge. “He’s pretty big and he’s really long.”
Edge is part of a young core of St. Albans grapplers with the roster consisting of just two seniors and seven freshmen. St. Albans has eight wrestlers ranked in the top eight of their weight classes, including freshmen Mac Payne (fifth at 106), Sam Giordano (eighth at 113), Moses Eads (third at 120) and Matthew McAfee (fourth at 126). Junior Colton Spradling (fourth at 138), sophomore Jerron Allen (fourth at 195) and junior Ty Roy (seventh at 220) are also ranked.
Also fielding a strong team in Class AAA locally is No. 8 Hurricane, which will wrestle in the rugged Region 4 tournament Saturday at Parkersburg. Individuals ranked statewide for the Redskins include Cody Chapman (seventh at 106), Lucas Talley (second at 126), Isaac Tucker (seventh at 138), Kameron Phillips (seventh at 145), Griffin Porter (sixth at 152), Ty Chapman (seventh at 160), Gage Bailey (eighth at 170) and Owen Duffy (eighth at heavyweight).
Other ranked Kanawha Valley wrestlers include Riverside’s Josh Sergent (seventh at 113) and Zach Holstion (fifth at 160); George Washington’s Saige Walls (fourth at 120), Thomas Hartley (fifth at 132), Seth Anderson (seventh at 170) and Brace Mullett (fourth at heavyweight); and South Charleston’s Jai’Ernest Keys (eighth at 220).
While St. Albans is trying to return to the top of its region, Hoover is trying to stay there after claiming the tough Class AA-A Region 3 team title last season.
That victory also broke a lengthy drought for the Huskies, and despite a few losses to graduation and spring sports, Hoover will take a full slate of 14 grapplers to Independence High School on Saturday, where wrestling is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Usually the region is a two-day event, but with numbers down and in the interest of not keeping kids in the same place for longer than necessary, the title will be determined in one long day.
“This year, the expectations are high,” Hoover coach Richard Harper said. “The kids know walking in there that we’re defending our title. I’m hoping the kids feel they have something to prove, that they want to keep that title, that they don’t want to give it up.”
The Huskies’ Ben Kee won a state championship at 160 pounds a year ago but graduated, leaving an experienced, largely intact roster behind to make another run. Hoover has five seniors and six juniors.
To repeat, Hoover will have to deal with Class AA No. 2 Independence and Class A No. 1 Greenbrier West, as the three have created a healthy regional rivalry in recent years.
“We have experienced kids that have been there and done it and we have a couple that placed two years ago and missed last year and are pretty hungry to get back on the podium,” Harper said. “It’s going to be an interesting weekend. There’s two or three teams and any of us could win it, it just depends on who shows up and who is ready to go and no issues pop up.”
Hoover boasts six individuals ranked in the top eight of their respective classes — junior Dylan Corbin (eighth at 120), senior Tyler Teel (fourth at 132), sophomore Andrew Rollyson (eighth at 145), junior Wyatt Baldwin (fourth at 152), senior Zach Paxton (fourth at 195) and junior Mason Atkinson (fifth at 220).
Winfield, which is competing in Region 4 at Point Pleasant, also brings a state ranking into the postseason at No. 10 in Class AA. The Generals are led by freshman Noah Mace (eighth at 113) and sophomore Logan Howell (sixth at 182).
Other state-ranked Class AA-A wrestlers in the Kanawha Valley include Sissonville’s Austin High (fifth at 113); Nitro’s Braxton Smith (fourth at 132); and Poca’s Dillon Taylor (seventh at 195).