Wirt eyes Single-A mat title

Wirt County’s Aaron Life, right, controls Nathan Warden of Independence during the 160-pound finals earlier this season at the Bob Zide Rumble. Life and his teammates are hoping to lead the Tigers to the Class A state title this weekend at Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena. Photo by Jay W. Bennett.

ELIZABETH — While nearly four dozen grapplers from the Mid-Ohio Valley will be competing at this week’s Class AA/A West Virginia state wrestling championships which begin Thursday evening inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena, it appears only one area squad has a chance to bring back some team hardware.

For the first time in state history, a Class A team champion will be crowned following the conclusion of Saturday night’s finals.

Although Independence is expected to roll to its fourth straight Class AA crown, Wirt County head mat coach Danny Life is hoping his Tigers can shine during the three-day event and finish ahead of Greenbrier West and Madonna. If the Tigers can pull it off, it would mark just the second state title in orange and black mat history. The first came when the state tournament was one division and the Tigers won it all in 1968 under head man George McCune.

“This team’s overall goal was to win a state championship this year,” admitted coach Life, who was a two-time 119-pound state champion for Wirt County.

“We wanted to win the LKC and the regional, but that wasn’t our main goal. We got second at those two and we lost both to double-A teams (Braxton in the LKC and Point Pleasant in the regional).

“The single-A challenge (at Ritchie) I held out four wrestlers and three of them being state qualifiers. If we had wrestled them we would’ve won it. I held them out for rest purposes. It’s a very good group of well dedicated kids. At 5 a.m. every morning they are at Planet Fitness lifting and then they go to school and practice.”

Coach Life felt his team would qualify between seven and nine wrestlers out of the regional and ended up with eight for the final weekend of the season.

“We’re shooting for the single-A championship,” said Life, who during his sophomore year in 1993 was part of the Tigers’ Class AA/A state runner-up squad. “It’s between us, Madonna and Greenbrier West. The state thinks we are an underdog. I like not being seen, though, so it’s good.”

A trio of area matmen will be attempting to place at state for the fourth consecutive season — Calhoun County’s Allen Metheney (132), Roane County’s Jacob Spencer (126) and Magnolia’s Caleb Nice (195).

Spencer and Nice are two of the 15 area grapplers who enter state as regional champions. Also going in with a regional champ tag are Ritchie County’s Connor Spaulding (106), Calhoun County’s Seth Moore (160), Roane County’s Garrett Burnside (220) along with Wirt County’s Wyatt Powell (120), Hunter Moore (145), Joe Powell (170) and 220-pounder Mike Burns. Braxton County’s regional champs feature Dylan Dennison (120), Gavin Triplett (132), Jordan Williams (160) and Levi Jarvis (170). Both Dennison and Jarvis sport identical 52-1 records. For Clay County, the Panthers have two regional champions thanks to Joel Cruickshanks (152) and 182-pounder Blake Belcher.

“This team, hopefully they are going to be able to achieve something I was never able to do,” coach Life said of winning a Class A title. “They just need to do their job — nothing more, nothing less. That’s all they got to do.”

Of course, this also will be the last weekend he coaches 160-pound son Aaron Life, who is 27-7 and finished third in the regional.

“He’s put in his time as far as work,” added the coach. “Like I told him, no matter what or how it turns out he’s got a chance to do something I never did.

“He’s always kind of been in my shadow and I want him to be in his own thing. He’s got the capabilities of doing it.”

During Thursday’s opening round, five matches will pit area grapplers going head-to-head. Spaulding is set to face Ravenswood’s Cody Smith. At 126, Ravenswood freshman Clay Tanner and Magnolia senior Riley Nice will square off. Metheney, a four-time LKC champion, drew Roane County’s David Rhodes. Williamstown senior Luke Myers is set to take on Belcher while Caleb Nice’s first opponent is Jesse Gunter of Braxton County.

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106: *Connor Spaulding (Ritchie, 37-3, soph.)

Cody Smith (Ravenswood, 22-14, fr.)

Nathaniel Lawson (Braxton, 40-15, jr.)

113: *Cole Cheuvront (Wirt, 27-4, jr.)

Brantley Guckert (Williamstown, 28-17, jr.)

Ethan Ash (Roane, 34-12, sr.)

120: *Dylan Dennison (Braxton, 52-1, jr.)

Wyatt Powell (Wirt, 30-5, soph.)

Zaiah Blackwell (Roane, 27-9, soph.)

126: Josh Frye (Williamstown, 26-20, sr.)

*Gage Vincent (Braxton, 50-3, jr.)

Jacob Spencer (Roane, 44-4, jr.)

Colton Whipkey (Wirt, 23-13, fr.)

Clay Tanner (Ravenswood, 29-10, fr.)

Riley Nice (Magnolia, 35-10, sr.)

132: Korbin White (Webster, 30-16, sr.)

*Allen Metheney (Calhoun, 30-7, sr.)

David Rhodes (Roane, 29-14, soph.)

Colton Clark (Ravenswood, 17-17, soph.)

Gavin Triplett (Braxton, 46-7, soph.)

138: Casch Somerville (Williamstown, 26-19, fr.)

Jacob Tanner (Ravenswood, 6-7, soph.)

*Jake Whiting (Roane, 37-8, soph.)

145: *Hunter Moore (Wirt, 31-4, jr.)

Jacob Miklos (Clay, 29-12, jr.)

152: Noah Garrett (Wirt, 5-5, jr.)

*Joel Cruickshanks (Clay, 37-7, soph.)

160: Aaron Life (Wirt, 27-7, sr.)

Jordan Williams (Braxton, 51-4, fr.)

*Seth Moore (Calhoun, 40-5, sr.)

170: Joe Powell (Wirt, 25-11, sr.)

*Levi Jarvis (Braxton, 52-1, sr.)

Conner Ritchie (Calhoun, 33-10, sr.)

182: Quin Meador (Braxton, 37-13, fr.)

Jeremy Smith (St. Marys, 27-9, jr.)

Blake Belcher (Clay, 27-10, sr.)

Luke Myers (Williamstown, 15-22, sr.)

195: Caleb Nice (Magnolia, 40-3, sr.)

Jesse Gunter (Braxton, 17-17, sr.)

Hunter Anderson (Doddridge, 37-11, sr.)

*Ryan Stewart (Clay, 23-1, sr.)

220: *Mike Burns (Wirt, 30-3, sr.)

Garrett Burnside (Roane, 29-5, sr.)

Bryce Mefford (Williamstown, 24-8, sr.)

285: *Justin Hudnall (Braxton, 43-13, sr.)

Cory Chipps (Tyler, 32-6, jr.)

* Denotes Little Kanawha Conference champion

NOTE: The opening round of the W.Va. State wrestling tournament begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena.