HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There was nothing ordinary about the first-ever WVSSAC Wrestling Championships held in the COVID era, but Point Pleasant very much looked like its normal self while wrapping up the program’s sixth Class AA-A championship Thursday night with a convincing 135.5-point victory over the field at Mountain Health Arena.
The Big Blacks technically secured the school’s second 3-peat championship by the end of Session 2, as the Red and Black had accumulated 115.5 points through the completion of Wednesday night.
PPHS ultimately completed the fourth and final session by winning six state championships and also earned 10 podium finishes overall, all en route to a winning tally of 247.5 points. Fairmont Senior — who trailed only Point Pleasant after each of the four sessions — was next with 112 points in the final standings.
Five of Point’s six state champions were repeat winners from a year ago, including a trio that notched the third consecutive individual titles of their respective careers. Four of those champions were also members of the senior class, allowing them to complete their PPHS careers in an ultimate fashion.
The Big Blacks completed the 74th annual event with a 41-15 overall record, which included 24 pinfall wins, three technical falls and a trio of major decision victories. All 14 of Point’s state qualifiers also scored at least one win apiece at the tournament.
Point Pleasant — which started Session 1 with a perfect 14-0 mark for the second straight year — was ultimately 19 points short of last year’s record-setting tally of 266.5 points, as well as 20 points shy of the winning margin of 155.5 points set a year ago.
The Red and Black, however, did manage to become the first program in Class AA-A history to have six individual champions both twice and in consecutive state meets. Oak Glen accomplished the feat first in 2001, then Independence produced a half-dozen champions back in 2017.
Senior Isaac Short (126), junior Derek Raike (145) and junior Justin Bartee (160) all captured their third straight weight class titles, while seniors Parker Henderson (113) and Mitchell Freeman (152) both secured their second consecutive state crowns. Senior Chris Smith also picked up his first-ever state championship at 132 pounds.
The six champions all posted perfect 4-0 marks within their divisions, with Freeman scoring pinfall wins in all four of his matches. Henderson and Raike had three pinfall victories each, while Bartee and Short each recorded two pinfall wins.
Smith had one pinfall win and scored a 15-0 technical fall win as well. Raike and Bartee also recorded technical fall wins of 18-2 and 22-7, respectively.
Senior Wyatt Wilson (170) and junior Mackandle Freeman (138) both lost by decision in the championship finals, ending their respective weeks with matching 3-1 marks. Each grappler also scored one pinfall win.
Freshman Nathan Wood ended up on the podium with a 4-2 overall mark at 106 pounds, good enough for fifth place. Wood notched three pinfall wins and also scored a 10-1 major decision.
Senior Nick Ball completed the podium efforts for PPHS by finishing sixth with a 2-3 record in the heavyweight division.
Junior Brayden Connolly (195) went 2-2 and scored two pinfall wins, while freshman Conner Blessing (120) and Colby Price (220) each had one pinfall win and went 1-2 overall in their respective divisions. Junior Zander Watson scored a 12-3 major decision victory and went 1-2 overall at 182 pounds.
PPHS frontman John Bonecutter — whose first three seasons as head coach resulted in the program’s first 3-peat performance from 2010 through 2012 — noted afterwards that this 3-peat was a lot more difficult to obtain, primarily because of all of the uncertainties that went into making the 2021 campaign a real possibility of not happening.
But, as fate or even divine intervention would have it, all of the hard work and preparation paid off in the long run.
“First, only by the grace of God did we get to this point. I feel very fortunate this year because we not only got to have a season, but we also never had to quarantine our kids due to the coronavirus. When you are watching teams do that all around you, you really start to amp up your precautionary measures to make sure we can keep wrestling,” Bonecutter said. “The challenges that came with the restrictions, the quarantines, the daily procedures … it all just added another element to stay on top of. Honestly, some of it was almost unbearable because we as coaches … we just want to work with the kids and make them better. In a lot of ways, I’m really glad that this year is over because it’s been mentally exhausting.
“Now, with that said, there’s a lot of pride to take away from what these kids have done this week. They’ve battled through so much and they’ve done everything that we’ve asked of them so that we could not only win another state title, but just making sure that we had our full squad healthy headed into the postseason. Through all of the adversity, our guys wrestled well and got the job done. I’m very proud of what we’ve managed to accomplish this year.”
Overall, the Big Blacks increased the program’s total to 36 state champions by night’s end. Like last season, PPHS also claimed its second state title this year after winning the Class AA-A Team Dual Championship back in March.
It was the final week in PPHS singlets for Henderson, Short, Smith, Wilson, Ball and Mitchell Freeman, all of whom have played vital roles in returning a storied wrestling program back to the top of the mountain.
There will be some pretty big shoes to fill next year, but Bonecutter believes that better days are still ahead for the Big Blacks. That is, as long as the kids are willing to keep working for it — because the future bull’s-eye just got a lot bigger.
“These seniors are a group of special young men. Those six are going to be greatly missed as we move forward because of the work that they’ve put in and the leadership they’ve shown over the years. They’ve helped lay a real solid foundation for our future,” Bonecutter said. “At the same time, we have some quality experience returning and some newcomers arriving that will be able to help us. It’s next man up now and some of these kids are going to have to step it up. We plan on being right back in this situation next year because we don’t plan on going away anytime soon. It doesn’t come easy, but the hard work is paying off. That’s the price we have to pay for wearing this uniform right now.”
Bonecutter picked up his fifth Dix Manning Class AA Coaching Award on Thursday night — including his third in as many years.
Moorefield — which placed ninth overall with 54 points — squeaked out a half-point win over runner-up Cameron (53.5) for the Class A team crown. Wahama — which joined Buffalo and River View in a 47th place tie with a single point — was one of the 49 schools to score at the AA-A meet.
Sophomore Kase Stewart went 1-2 at 132 pounds and accounted for the lone White Falcon point, while senior Gavin Stiltner was winless in two matches at 170 pounds.
A story regarding the state champions will appear in the Tuesday sports editions of the Point Pleasant Register, Gallipolis Daily Tribune and The Daily Sentinel.
Visit wvmat.com for complete results of the Class AA-A Championships held Wednesday and Thursday at Mountain Health Arena.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.