HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — There are two big questions entering this week’s Class AA-A wrestling tournament.
First, can anyone keep Point Pleasant from capturing its third consecutive state title?
The other, can the Big Blacks possibly be any more dominant at Mountain Health Arena than they were a year ago?
The Point Pleasant wrestling team enters the 74th annual WVSSAC championship as overwhelming favorites in the Class AA-A field, and the 2-time defending state champs are aiming for a 3-peat performance of historical proportions this Wednesday and Thursday in Cabell County.
The Big Blacks have an entrant in every weight class and account for 14 of the 16 Mason County representatives competing this week, with Wahama also sending a pair of grapplers into the Class AA-A brackets.
PPHS, however, has five defending state champions in its 14-man lineup, as well as a quartet of podium finishers from a year ago. Half of those four non-champions also placed second at last season’s state meet.
The Big Blacks came away with six individual state champions, 10 top three efforts and a dozen podium finishes en route to a winning tally of 266.5 points last year — the second largest team total in Class AA-A history, dating back to 1976.
Those half-dozen individual titles ended up doubling the previous program mark of three state champions at one state tournament. PPHS also joined the 2001 Oak Glen and 2017 Independence squads in producing six different state champions at one meet, the most in Class AA-A tournament history.
In defeating runner-up Braxton County (111) by 155.5 points, the Big Blacks did set a new state record for winning margin in a Class AA-A tournament … surpassing the 143.5-point mark previously set by Independence in 2017.
Point Pleasant also came up three points short of matching the Class AA-A total points record set by Oak Glen (269.5) back in 2000.
All of that is relevant this week because the Big Blacks have enough firepower to replicate last year’s accomplishments … and maybe even surpass them.
Overall, the Red and Black have nine state qualifiers making repeat trips to Mountain Health Arena, as well as five grapplers making their first career appearances at the state level. Like last year, PPHS also produced a dozen individual champions at the Region IV tournament.
Juniors Derek Raike (21-2 overall this season) and Justin Bartee (23-0) are respectively aiming for state titles in the 145- and 160-pound divisions after winning championships as both freshmen and sophomores.
Senior Isaac Short (21-0) is also gunning for a 3-peat championship at 126 pounds after winning crowns his sophomore and junior campaigns.
Seniors Parker Henderson (20-1) and Mitchell Freeman (22-1) are looking to repeat as state champions in the 113- and 152-pound divisions, respectively.
Seniors Chris Smith (23-2) and Wyatt Wilson (16-2) are looking to improve on runner-up efforts last winter as they respectively chase titles at 132 pounds and 170 pounds.
Junior Mackandle Freeman (18-5) also competes at 138 pounds after placing third a year ago. Junior Brayden Connolly (18-7) did not place last year, but did win a match at the state level and heads into this week in the 195-pound bracket.
The newcomers to the state tournament are senior Nick Ball (19-3) at 285 pounds, juniors Zander Watson (14-8) and Colby Price (21-2) respectively at 182 and 220 pounds, and freshmen Nathan Wood (20-2) and Conner Blessing (18-2) at 106 pounds and 120 pounds.
Point Pleasant has double-digit entrants in the state tournament for the 13th time in 14 years. PPHS also has all 14 weight classes filled headed into state for the fourth time in program history, including a third straight year.
The White Falcons joined Calhoun County for 11th place a year ago in the Class A portion of the AA-A meet, scoring nine points. Overall, WHS ended up tied for 38th in the Class AA-A field.
The Red and White have two state qualifiers for a third straight year, with sophomore Kase Stewart (21-3) serving as the lone repeat qualifier for Wahama. Stewart — who did win one state level match last year — will be competing at 132 pounds.
Senior Gavin Stiltner will make his state debut in his final week as a Wahama grappler. Stiltner is 17-5 overall this season and is competing at 170 pounds.
The White Falcons have scored at least one point in 11 of the last 13 state tournaments overall.
The 2-day event at Mountain Health Arena starts Wednesday, with opening round matches at 11 a.m.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.