HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Things are pointing up … and up, and up, and up.
The Point Pleasant wrestling team notched three weight class titles and produced 10 state placers while securing the program’s fourth Class AA-A crown on Saturday night at the 72nd annual WVSSAC Wrestling Championships held at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Cabell County.
The Big Blacks — who technically clinched the 2019 team crown by the end of the third session Friday evening — dominated the three-day event with 203 points, finishing 83 points ahead of runner-up Independence (120) and the rest of the Class AA-A field.
The Red and Black — who entered the weekend with only one senior out of their 14 divisional qualifiers — amassed a 38-18 overall record in head-to-head bouts, with 20 of those wins coming by pinfall.
Point Pleasant led wire-to-wire through all five sessions and secured its first state title since a three-peat performance in Class AA-A from 2010 through 2012, and the Big Blacks also produced their first individual state champions since the 2016 campaign.
Sophomore Isaac Short (106), freshman Derek Raike (120) and freshman Justin Bartee (126) were all magnificent in their first-ever state tournaments as each underclassman went 4-0 while claiming state titles in their respective divisions.
The triumphant trio increased Point Pleasant’s state champion total to 24 while also becoming the 16th, 17th and 18th individuals to accomplish the feat in program history.
Raike and Bartee are also the third and fourth freshmen in school history to win state championships, joining current senior teammate George Smith (2016) and Rusty Maness (2008) in that very exclusive club.
It was the seventh time in school history that Point Pleasant had multiple champions at the same state tournament, as well as a record-tying fifth occasion of having three state champions at one meet.
The Red and Black also secured two runner-up finishes to go along with a third place and a fourth place effort. PPHS also had a trio of grapplers end up fifth in their respective divisions.
The Big Blacks received wins from a dozen different individuals over the weekend, and nine separate Point grapplers also produced at least one pinfall win. Point Pleasant also lost eight of their 18 contests by two points or less, including six matches by a single point.
The 203 team points, 10 state placers and 83-point margin of victory are short of only the 2012 squad in program history. The 2012 team set the school marks with 224 points, a dozen top-six finishers and also won by 85 points.
This state championship group, however, is only beginning to scratch the surface of its abilities. George Smith — a four-time state placer, the seventh grappler in program history to accomplish the feat — and Colton Carr are the only members of the program that will be lost to graduation.
With 13 state qualifiers — including seven from the sophomore and freshman ranks — set to come back next season, 10th-year PPHS coach John Bonecutter acknowledges that this weekend has the potential to be the start of something great.
As for now, Bonecutter — who received his third career Dix Manning Award after being named the 2019 Class AA-A coach of the year — is just humble and appreciative to be back on top of the mountain.
“This was a lot of work from a lot of different people on different levels of our program. Seven years of really hard work came to fruition for us this weekend, and I’m really proud of our program from top to bottom,” Bonecutter said. “The program is still getting better and better right now, but we are definitely headed in the right direction. I’m really proud of the boys because I thought we really put out a great product this weekend. The kids bought in early to what we were preaching and it all paid off. I’m really happy with the outcome.
“We had some things that could have gone better for us this weekend, but our guys picked up a lot of valuable experience in some of those matches. We’ll have a lot of experience coming back to hopefully defend this title, so I’m really excited about the future and the direction that this program is headed. It’s good to be back on top.”
Point Pleasant went 10-4 and led by two points after the first session Thursday night, then increased its lead to 24 points with a 13-4 effort in Session 2 on Friday afternoon. By the end of the third session Friday night, the Big Blacks had 164 points and were ahead by 60 points with a 29-13 overall record.
PPHS went 6-3 on Saturday morning and increased its lead out to 71 points with 187 points total, then went 3-2 in the finale before settling at 203 points.
Sophomore Christopher Smith (113) and sophomore Mitchell Freeman (138) came up short in their quests to become state champions as each went 3-1 and placed second following losses in the winner’s bracket final.
George Smith ended his illustrious career with a 4-1 mark and a third place finish at 132 pounds, while sophomore Wyatt Wilson placed fourth with a 3-2 mark at 145 pounds.
Juniors Zac Samson (152), Logan Southall (160) and Jacob Muncy (285) completed Point Pleasant’s state placer category with a trio of fifth place finishes. Samson went 4-2 over the weekend, while Southall and Muncy each finishes 3-2 overall.
Junior Juan Marquez went 2-2 overall at 182 pounds, while junior Wyatt Stanley finished 1-2 at 220 pounds. Junior Nazar Abbas (170) and sophomore Nick Ball (195) both went winless in two bouts.
Point Pleasant was the top-ranked team in West Virginia headed into the postseason. Independence — who was the five-time defending Class AA-A champion headed into the weekend — was second to PPHS in the team standings after all five sessions of competition.
Visit wvmat.com for complete results of the 2019 WVSSAC Wrestling Championships being held at Big Sandy Superstore Arena last weekend.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.