St. Albans has finished tops among Kanawha Valley Class AAA teams at the state wrestsling tournament in each of the last four years.
If the Red Dragons are to make it five in a row, it will have to do so with a young team and up against a stiff challenge from a county rival.
Like St. Albans, Riverside is wrestling with a full deck, fielding a grappler in all 14 weight classes and bringing back some state tournament experience from a year ago. That starts at the top with heavyweight Austin Chapman, who lost 2-1 to Parkersburg South’s Louden Haga in last year’s title bout. Josh Slack also registered a sixth-place finish as a freshman at 106 pounds.
Riverside coach Mark Scites believes that experience should pay dividends this year as the Warriors look to better a 13th-place finish as a team.
“I think it’s going to be huge for Austin just getting to the finals,” Scites said. “He was real nervous last year and for the rest of them that maybe didn’t place, just to get down there, now they know what to expect.”
The Warriors are No. 10 in the wvmat.com rankings, the only Class AAA team in the Kanawha Valley to crack the top 10.
But even though the season is relatively young, the Warriors have already dealt with some injuries, some illness and an emergency appendectomy.
“Our main goal is to get healthy right now,” Scites said. “Hopefully around the [WSAZ Invitational on Jan. 24-25] we want to be full capacity and then go to the MSAC tournament rolling.”
Scites also said his team’s biggest goal is to win the Region 3 tournament, an accomplishment St. Albans notched a year ago. But even though the Red Dragons may be young, coach Darren Gilfilen believes his squad will be one to reckon with by year’s end as well.
St. Albans lost a big senior class, including state champions Brandon Holt (126 pounds) and Isaiha Casto (170), and Thomas Hartley, the 106-pound state champion as a freshman two years ago, transferred to George Washington.
With those departures has come a roster stocked with just two seniors and one junior. But that roster also fills out all 14 weight classes and Gilfilen is confident in his young bunch.
“Every one of these kids have wrestled for a long time,” Gilfilen said. “A couple of these freshmen aren’t just beating kids right now, they’re pinning everybody.”
Particularly sticking out among the Red Dragons’ ninth graders are Elijah Edge at 182 and Jerron Allen at 195. Both have been impressive thus far with Edge winning his weight class in a tournament in Bristol, Tennessee, earlier in the season and Allen taking third. Edge is 27-2 on the year and Allen is 26-3.
Zach Stewart and Trevor Morris are the team’s two senior leaders with Ashton Stokes, a junior, also providing some leadership.
While it may prove difficult to factor into team standings with four open weight classes, George Washington has quality where it may lack quantity and that may be enough to compete both in the Valley and at regionals.
The addition of Hartley at 132 pounds certainly was a shot in the arm, and Patriots coach Alex Neal said his team has several potential contenders elsewhere as well.
“I always tell the kids our goal is regionals and states, we’re not real worried about what happens between now and then,” Neal said. “We’ve focused a lot this year on our effort and our consistency in the [wrestling] room. Are you doing your best? Are you getting better? We try to get every kid to be better than they have been.”
GW’s Hayden Stone finished sixth as a sophomore at 160 a year ago and is up to 170 this time around. Neal has also seen significant improvement from sophomore Brace Mullett (heavyweight), sophomore Seth Anderson (182), sophomore Devlin Daugherty (120), senior Vincent McCray (152) and senior Austin Conaway (145), who is also the team’s captain.