A giant leap for OVU

A Wood County-based wrestling program made history on Saturday, but it didn’t place at the West Virginia State High School Wrestling Tournament.

Rather, it occurred at the NCAA Division II SuperRegion 1 meet.

That’s where Chase Long, a junior at Ohio Valley University, became the first wrestler in the three-year history of the Fighting Scots program to qualify for the NCAA National Championships, set for Birmingham, Ala., on March 8-9.

Three years ago, OVU announced it was starting wrestling. It also announced it was hiring former Parkersburg South state champion Pat Sole as its head coach.

From that time forward, Sole has put his heart and, er, soul, into building a quality program.

While OVU had enjoyed some successes on the mat, it needed a national qualifier to make a true impact on the Division II wrestling scene.

Thanks to Long, a Buckhannon-Upshur product, mission accomplished.

While Sole would have loved for all his wrestlers to qualify for the nationals, he said OVU couldn’t have a better representative than Long, who is the OVU student body president, an honor roll student and the captain of the wrestling team.

The story of Long’s journey to the national tournament is an interesting one. Early in the season, he placed at the prestigious Midwest Classic, which provides a good measuring stick for Division II competitors.

His success there allowed Long to gain some confidence that his goal was within sight.

But before he could wrestle in the SuperRegional, a potential disaster struck.

Long came down with some skin ailments that potentially could have ended his season. His condition was so severe, he was running a high fever and wasn’t allowed to train with any of his teammates.

Finally, he recovered, rejoined the team’s workouts and joined his teammates at the SuperRegional. Paired in the quarterfinal round against a wrestler from Pitt-Johnstown, Long advanced.

If he could win his semifinal match, he would be OVU’s first national tournament representative. Staring him down was top-seeded Tyson Searer of East Stroudsburg, who earlier in the season had defeated Long in double overtime. Long went into the final period trailing 1-0. But he managed to get a takedown and ride out Searer for the rest of the period, punching his ticket to Alabama.

If Long can finish in the top eight in the 16-member bracket there, he will attain all-America status.

“I knew three years ago, Chase had the potential,” said Sole, who views the accomplishment as a validation of the OVU program.

“This is huge for a small school program like ours,” Sole said. “Once you have a national qualifier, you are recognized in the wrestling community. It puts you on the map.”

No one ever doubted Sole’s ability to turn out winners. And he never doubted Long’s ability to go to where no OVU wrestler had gone before.