HUNTINGTON — Both seniors, both multi-time state-championship winners, both ending their careers on the highest of notes.
St. Albans’ Brandon Holt (Class AAA, 126 pounds) and Winfield’s Jamie Ward (Class AA-A, 152 pounds) both put exclamation points on stellar prep careers on Saturday at the state wrestling tournament at Big Sandy Superstore Arena on Saturday. The two entered as the lone top-ranked grapplers in the Kanawha Valley according to rankings on wvmat.com.
But what those championships meant to each of their legacies varied between the two wrestlers.
Ward won his for redemption, to answer questions that have surrounded him since a controversial title a year ago. Holt won his as an exclamation point, to put a cap on a career that included three straight titles.
This time around for Ward, there was no controversy, no ifs, ands or buts.
Ward finished up his weekend and his senior season with a 5-3 win over Gavin Triplett of Braxton County to claim a state championship, his second.
The difference between the two — Ward won won as a 145-pounder a year ago — is quite substantial.
Ward defeated Independence’s Alex Hart as a junior to win a state championship 8-7 in overtime, but the decision was met with criticism by many within the sport. Several claim an extra point was awarded to Ward in the second period, without which Hart would’ve won 5-4 in regulation.
That controversy spurred Ward on all season and, in front of another near-capacity crowd in the same arena, he finally got his chance to make a final, clear statement.
“I just love this environment,” Ward said. “There’s no questions here, there’s no questionable cause. I’m the king of 152 in double-A and I’m still here. I think some people don’t like it but at the end of the day I’m still here, I’m still winning and it’s good to go out on top.”
Ward calmly flashed two fingers to the crowd as the final seconds rolled off the clock, signifying his two state titles. It’s something Ward, who will wrestle at West Liberty next year, used as motivation all year long.
“I didn’t score as much as I wanted to, but he never got close to touching me or taking me down,” Ward said. “I won the match, I did what I had to do.”
Triplett was defensive for the most part, trying to negate Ward’s explosive takedowns and strength in the clinch. He escaped several offensive opportunities from Ward, which held the score down, but Ward said he never felt threatened or that he had lost control of the action.
“He never really presented any real threats to me,” Ward said. “He got to my hips there but my hips were too strong for him. He’s a tough kid, but he’s a counter wrestler — as am I — but I know what counter wrestlers like. I’m not going to give him position to counter me.”
Holt, meanwhile, became just the fifth Kanawha Valley wrestler to win three state titles. Brothers Matt Easter (four), Anthony Easter (three) and Seth Easter (four) all turned the trick for Nitro in the 2000s with Winfield’s Bryce Humphreys winning three from 2013-15. (Josh Humphreys won four titles, but only two came for St. Albans. He also won one for Huntington and one for Parkersburg South.)
“I never even knew that,” Holt said. “It feels like I have some closure now.
“Wrestling is just a part of life, but I still would’ve probably thought about it every day if I lost this one. It’s just one of those things you’ll never forget. You’ll never forget your final match in high school. It’s awesome.”
The moment or the situation never seemed big for Holt, and why should it? The summer after his junior year, Holt went through basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and he credited that experience with giving him perspective and toughness moving forward.
“It was a rough 11 weeks,” Holt said. “Especially as a high schooler. Most high schoolers don’t know what they want in life. They think they do. They think they know everything about life. I don’t even know everything about life and I know that. But that was one of the things I wanted to do. It’s going to help me pay for college and it’s what I want to make a career out of and become an officer in the army and follow my dad’s footsteps.”
And wherever those footsteps take Holt, and Ward for that matter, they’re certainly leaving some big shoes and wrestling legacies behind.