Big Reds’ Stephen Carder fine being top dog

Photo by Jay W. Bennett Parkersburg High School’s Stephen Carder, pictured here getting a pin earlier this season versus Ripley’s Hunter Burdette, is the top-ranked 145-pounder going into the Class AAA state wrestling tournament which gets underway Thursday inside Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Stephen Carder wasn’t favored to a win a state title last year, but things are different this time around.

The Parkersburg Big Red 145-pound grappler enters his final state wrestling tournament with a target on his back.

That’s quite all right with him.

“Honestly, it makes me feel pretty good,” admitted Carder, last year’s 145-pound state runner up. “I came from my freshman year not even placing to being the top guy in my weight bracket. It’s exciting.

“I’m mentally in, totally ready. I could walk in and wrestle the state finals match right now. I’m so excited for it. I’ve been practicing super hard and helping everybody else out.”

Carder is making his fourth trip to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. Although he qualified as a freshman, he went 1-2. He finished fourth at 138 as a sophomore.

“It’s been a pretty good senior year,” said the Big Red, who could face second-ranked Parkersburg South’s Zach Collins in the finals. “I didn’t start the year out the way I wanted to.

“I couldn’t wrestle the first two matches. I was pretty mad about that. We’ve got a lot of young kids and I see the program growing every day I am in the wrestling room.”

Although St. Albans’ Josh Humphreys, who is now a Patriot at Parkersburg South, bested Carder in last year’s finale, that result didn’t come in Huntington. Rather, it came more than two weeks later in Fairmont after part of the state tournament was postponed.

“At first it devastated me,” Carder recalled when asked about the loss. “But it was a good kid I was wrestling. I wasn’t expecting to go in there and wrestle some pud.

“(The loss) really got me kicked into high gear and pushing myself harder and harder this year to get my name on the wall. This is my last chance and I got to get it up there.”

While it will be his last opportunity, Carder doesn’t plan to give up the sport he loves anytime soon.

“My whole family has done it since my uncle. I’ve always been a part of wrestling, since I was 4 I’ve been on the mat,” said the Big Red. “I”m definitely planning to wrestle in college. I am not done in the sport yet. There is too much to be done.”

Even though rival Parkersburg South is eyeing a four-peat Class AAA mat title as well as passing PHS for the most team crowns (22) in Mountain State history, Carder has enjoyed his time as a Big Red. That includes being a member of the Big Reds’ state runner-up squad last winter.

Of course, this year has been a little different for Carder and the Big Reds with new first-year head coach Matt Littleton taking over the reigns from now PHS athletic director and former mat coach Chris Way.

“I miss my old coach,” Carder said. “He’s been my coach since I first started out.

“I’m happy for where he’s at and I’m actually liking coach Littleton a lot. He’s a good coach and will do great in the future.”

As for Carder’s immediate future, he’s hoping it soon includes holding his hand up high late Saturday night inside Big Sandy.

“It kind of sucked,” Carder explained when asked what his feelings were of what happened with last year’s 70th annual big show. “Not cheated, but more or less, I don’t know.

“Kind of, I don’t know how to explain it. I was mad. I was so ready and so excited and I had to go to Fairmont. I was part of that epidemic last year and I never got to experience that big old Big Sandy final experience.”

Obviously, Carder knows there could be pitfalls along the way this year once the state tournaments begins Thursday night, but he’s been preparing all his life for this moment.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge, but hard work is going to put me through it,” he said.

Contact Jay W. Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com.

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