Locals ready for AAA mat

Parkersburg South’s Ian Irizarry, top, and Parkersburg’s Hunter Ackerman will begin their run in the Class AAA 113-pound weight class starting tonight at the West Virginia state wrestling tournament held inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena. Photo by Jay W. Bennett.

PARKERSBURG — When the state wrestling tournament in Huntington gets underway this evening, the 32 area grapplers who qualified through last Saturday’s Class AAA, Region IV gauntlet will be out to give it their all on the mats.

The one certainty about this year’s state tournament is two-time defending champion Parkersburg South is a virtual lock to three-peat, which would put the Patriots in a tie for first place all-time with rival Parkersburg for total Mountain State team crowns with 21 apiece.

“If we wrestle well we could have 10 or maybe 11 into the semifinals on Friday night. It’s not out of the realm of possibility at all,” said second-year South mat boss Shaun Smith, whose team got good news on Wednesday when 145-pounder Jarritt Flinn was added to the tournament to give PSHS 13 qualifiers.

Competing in Region IV, which boasts the top-ranked Patriots, the No. 2 Big Reds, No. 3 Ripley, No. 6 Huntington and No. 10 Spring Valley, was something coach Smith felt was an overall positive.

“Yeah, it does (help),” added the coach. “It puts you in a position and it makes you have to wrestle your best. You have to wrestle your best every single match or you are going to get upset.

“In hindsight, it worked out for us for the most part. It’s good going through that gauntlet early on. We just have to stay focused and goal oriented.”

PHS head man Chris Way said the expectations at state are “to win. I don’t know if there are any particular expectations for the team. A lot of it is just individual-wise and you look at it and see what we can do. There’s been a lot made about our region being really tough and it was really tough.

“We didn’t perform as good as I thought we could in the regional, but what it did was separate us from all those guys, at least until the semifinals. I like where we are sitting. Now, it’s their job to go out and get it done.”

Included in Parkersburg South’s baker’s dozen which made it to the final weekend of the campaign is 195-pound senior Justin Allman, who is looking to follow David Jeffrey as the Patriots’ only four-time individual state champion. Allman’s journey started as a freshman when he upset Washington’s Zane Bradbury in the 182-pound finals.

“I remember it pretty well. It was probably my most memorable state title,” Allman admitted of getting that first one. “I went into the tournament ranked sixth in the state at 182 and the kid I was wrestling, he was a senior. He was beating me 7-1 in the third period and I put him on his back and pinned him (in 4:43).

“I really never think about losing. I know what I have to do whenever I get out there. Whenever I’m down at Big Sandy I wrestle a little better. I’m focused and I have my mind set. It’s been a long four years in high school. It’s a tough sport.”

Big Red senior Jared Donahue, who capped a 47-3 junior season with his first state title thanks to a 10-4 finals win versus Huntington’s Will Jeffers, is seeded second at 138. Although the Big Red defeated the now top-ranked Jeffers earlier this year, he came up short on Saturday to the Highlander in the regional final.

“It feels like the long road has ended, I guess,” Donahue said just prior to his last practice on Wednesday. “My first thoughts were if I was going to lose to him that would probably be the best place to lose to him, rather than the state finals.

“You just know what to work on now and what to do differently. I feel like I got a pretty good draw. I’ve never seen the other two regional champs on my side of the bracket.”

Donahue’s final go-around as a member of the red and white mat program has been somewhat emotional.

“It’s definitely some,” he said. “Like a feeling of sadness about it, but it’s also like it’s over and I’m about to move on to the next part. There’s no doubts. I’m just going to go out there and do what I do best.”

As a bonus, he’ll also have freshman brother Garrett Donahue, who is ranked fifth at 106, around for one more prep tournament.

“I treat him just like he’s my brother,” Jared said. “I treat them all like they are my brothers, but he gets that little special exception. I really like it. I’m glad I got at least one year with him.”

South’s T.J. Lambiotte (170) and Hunter DeLong (182) both reached the state finals last year, but had to settle for runner-up finishes. The teammates have been top-ranked in their weight class virtually all season, but Lambiotte dropped to No. 2 after losing to Ripley’s Chase Morgan in the regional final.

“I’m just ready for Saturday night,” DeLong admitted. “I’m really not looking forward to waiting another few more days. I just want to get to Saturday.

“I feel pretty good (about my bracket). I’m just going to take it one match at a time and not look ahead because that’s usually how people get upset.”

Lambiotte, who like DeLong has just one more chance to get their names on the Patriots’ championship wall, is hoping to be fully recovered from some illness before this weekend rolls around.

“It made me work harder and I’m going to do better this time,” Lambiotte said of his regional setback. “My dad came up short whenever he was in high school and he got second his senior year. He’s kind of beat it in my head about what I need to do.

“But, I got sick there (last week) and I couldn’t breathe on Saturday. It sucks, but I’m on some medicine to help clear me up. Thursday, Friday and Saturday of regionals it was just horrible.”

The lone regional champ for PHS was 145-pound junior Stephen Carder, who enters with a No. 2 ranking behind expected state champion Josh Humphreys of St. Albans.

“The No. 1 ranked kid, he’s on the other side of the bracket,” noted coach Way. “But, Stephen has some tough kids on his side of the bracket as well.”

Even though they both have some work to do in order to make it happen on Saturday night in the finals, the best chance of a PHS versus South championship showdown is at 120. Patriot Brayden Roberts lost the first two times he faced off against Big Red fellow freshman John Martin Best, but Roberts enters the tournament ranked No. 1 after nipping Best in the regional final.

“It’s been amazing. Everybody has been working with me,” Best said of his first year donning a PHS singlet. “My 120 class is going to be tough. I’m looking at it as you go through everything one by one because there’s always that chance of overlooking the smaller guys, the underdogs.

“You miss those guys and then you go down to the bottom (consolation bracket). Hopefully, I get a fourth round now with Brayden Roberts.”