HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — They say the original is always better than the sequel … at least when it comes to movies.
For a quartet of Point Pleasant wrestlers, they’ll have at least two more years to nail the follow-up production.
The Big Blacks added four new members to their hallowed hall of state champions this past weekend at the 75th annual WVSSAC Wrestling Championships held at Mountain Health Arena.
Sophomores Nathan Wood and Conner Blessing, as well as freshmen Gunner Andrick and Josh Woyan, collectively became the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26 different athletes to win individual state championships for PPHS … all while increasing the total number of title-winners out to 42.
For Wood and Blessing, it was a cherished memory that came in each grappler’s second state tournament appearance after qualifying for state as freshmen the year before.
For Andrick and Woyan, conversely, it was a state debut that has only been matched four times previously in Point Pleasant history as the duo joined Rusty Maness (2008), George Smith (2016), Derek Raike (2019) and Justin Bartee (2019) as the only freshmen to ever win state championships on behalf of PPHS.
The quartet was also joined by both Bartee and Raike atop the podium by the completion of the weekend, giving the Big Blacks a total of six individual champions at the state tournament — the most ever recorded by a single program at one state championship.
It was the third consecutive year in which PPHS came away with six individual champions, and only the fifth time in the tournament’s history — dating back to 1976 — that one team accounted for a half-dozen champions. Oak Glen (2001) and Independence (2017) have also accomplished the 6-pack of champions once apiece.
This moment was cherished by each individually, but the foursome also displayed a great deal of pride in being part of the program’s first-ever 4-peat as Class AA-A team champions.
And by night’s end, those four seemed even more driven to be back in this same spot approximately 12 months from now.
Wood — who placed fifth at 106 pounds a year ago — noted that last year’s experience at the state tournament paid dividends … all the way to the top of this year 113-pound podium.
“It’s an amazing feeling being a state champion and it’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I was five years old. The experience of being here last year helped tremendously because I didn’t have the nerves that I did last year and I was able to stay focused more on the matches and the goal … and now I’m the guy on top,” Wood said. “I feel very fortunate to even be here in this spot. I dislocated my elbow earlier in the year and there was a possibility that my season was over at that point. Luckily, I healed quickly and was able to get cleared to compete in the postseason … and now I’m a state champion. It’s an amazing feeling to know how all of this has ended now.”
Wood went 4-0 at 113 pounds and scored a single pinfall win to go along with three victories by decision. Wood ends the year with a 21-4 overall record.
Blessing was another sophomore with experience at the state tournament after competing at 113 pounds last winter. This time, Blessing fell behind 2-0 in the first period before rallying with three straight points to claim a 3-2 victory in the 120-pound final.
Blessing — who finished his sophomore campaign with a 39-6 overall record — scored one pinfall victory and three wins by decision en route to his first state crown.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be a state champion. I just tried to take it one match at a time and give it all I had each time out on the mat … and it paid off,” Blessing said. “We’ve put the work in to reach this goal tonight and we knew coming in that we were the best team in the state. This weekend, we proved that. That’s the best part about all of this, being able to 4-peat and send those seniors out properly.”
They were the only two freshmen in Point’s starting lineup, and both Andrick and Woyan delivered like seasoned veterans in their state debuts at 126 and 152 pounds respectively.
Andrick was dominant in his first state tournament after recording three pinfall wins and a 9-1 major decision victory in the semifinal round. Andrick’s 4-0 mark at 126 pounds completed his first full varsity campaign with an impressive 44-5 overall record.
“It’s a good start and a great feeling to be a state champion. Honestly, my main goal is to win four of these, and the hardest one might be out of the way,” Andrick said with a confident grin. “It’s good to be in a very small group of acclaimed freshmen to win championships, but it’s even better being part of the program’s first 4-peat with this group of guys. I’m glad that things have gone the way they did this weekend.”
Woyan trailed 1-0 headed into the final period of his 152-pound championship bout, but the freshman didn’t break under the pressure and scored a reversal before pinning his opponent. The win allowed PPHS to secure its fifth straight victory on Championship Saturday and also etched Woyan’s name into the record books.
Woyan recorded three pinfall wins and a decision throughout the 152-pound bracket and ends his first varsity campaign with a 36-9 overall mark.
“It definitely means a lot to be a state champion at Point Pleasant as a freshman. It means even more to be part of this team championship with these guys,” Woyan said. “They’ve helped me get where I am right now. I’ve practiced with Derek (Raike) and Justin (Bartee) all year long, so my nerves really didn’t get to me as much as they could have on a stage like this. I’m glad we could send the seniors out right. Now we start preparing for numbers five and eight.”
Point Pleasant had six state champions and nine podium finishes at the 2022 Class AA-A tournament, which led to the Big Blacks winning their seventh overall team title.
A story on both Derek Raike and Justin Bartee becoming 4-time state champions and joining only Rusty Maness (2008-11) in that feat at PPHS will appear in the Thursday sports editions of the Point Pleasant Register, Gallipolis Daily Tribune and The Daily Sentinel.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.