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High school wrestling: Hamrick, Panthers set sights on region

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coach Geoff Hamrick hopes his Clay County wrestling team can buck the trend this weekend at the Class AA/A Region 4 championship.

The Panthers, ranked No. 5 in the WVMat.com poll, are seeking their first region title after coming up short the previous three seasons. Clay County finished runner-up in 2012 and 2011 and third in 2010 with Point Pleasant winning the championship each year.

The Big Blacks, who won three consecutive state titles in Class AA/A, made the move to Class AAA this season, which has opened the door for the Panthers. But Region 4 still has its share of competition.

On Feb. 2, Clay County finished second behind No. 3 Wirt County at the Little Kanawha Conference championship in Elizabeth, while No. 8 Calhoun County finished third and No. 9 Williamstown placed fourth. Roane County finished seventh and Ravenswood was ninth at the 11-team event.

The Tigers compiled a score of 190.50, compared to the 180.50 by the Panthers.

Each of those six teams will be competing in the one-day event at Roane County in Spencer. Matches begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The 12-team field also includes Buffalo, Herbert Hoover, Parkersburg Catholic, Poca, Sissonville and Wahama.

"Wirt edged us out by 10 points," said Hamrick, who is in his second season guiding the Panthers. "We came in on Monday after the LKC tournament and I don't want to say our heads were hung because we wrestled well there. It could have been different if a couple matches would have went our way. We competed with them.

"We feel we're just as good and competitive as they are. I fully expect to go in there this weekend and win it."

A pair of seniors, Justin Triplett and Alex Suite, lead the Panthers.

Triplett enters the event with a 35-1 record and is ranked No. 2 at 113 pounds. He was a state champion last season at 106 pounds with a 34-0 record. In 2011, he was a runner-up at 103 pounds with a 42-1 mark.

His lone loss this season came against Cody Goff of Grafton in the championship of the Braxton Invitational on Jan. 12.

"It has been a real strong year for Justin," Hamrick said. "He lost a close match and it gave him a hunger that he needed. I am looking forward to seeing him potentially being back in the finals and meeting Goff again."

Suite has a 26-3 record and is ranked No. 2 at 132 pounds. He was a state champion in 2012 at 126 pounds with a 37-4 record and was a State Tournament qualifier in 2011 at 130 pounds.

He is the younger brother of Danny Suite, a state champion at 119 pounds in 2011, who became the school's first champion since Jay Carper at 132 pounds in 1987.

"Alex is in a tough weight class, 132 pounds is loaded this year," Hamrick said. "But he's picking up momentum heading into the State Tournament.

"He knows as long as he has one state title he'll always be Danny's younger brother, but when he gets the second he will just be Danny's brother. His high school career is coming to a close and he's doing anything he can to get back on the podium."

The Panthers return three others with State Tournament experience - senior Mitchell Schoolcraft and juniors Ricky Ahart and Tyler Stewart.

Schoolcraft is ranked No. 8 at 138 pounds with a 38-11 record. He was a qualifier at 132 pounds last season and at 135 pounds in 2011 and 2010.

Ahart is ranked No. 8 at 152 pounds with a 27-6 record and qualified at 138 pounds last year and finished third at 140 pounds in 2011.

Stewart is No. 3 at 160 pounds with a 36-4 record and finished fifth at 160 pounds last season.

Other top wrestlers include junior Jack Cummings and freshmen Zach Ahart and Brandon White. Cummings is ranked No. 5 at 106 pounds with a 28-8 mark, while the younger Ahart has a 23-10 record and is No. 6 at 120 pounds and White is No. 8 at 170 pounds with a 32-9 record.

"We've never won the region title," Hamrick said. "This week, we'll focus on wrestling and try to peak at the right time."

*  *  *

THE EVENT will feature five wrestlers ranked at the top of the 14 weight classes, with Wirt County boasting two - senior Jon Cain at 120 pounds and junior Jake Linville at 138 pounds.

The other top-ranked wrestlers include Williamstown junior Dalton George at 126 pounds, Wahama junior Kane Roush at 160 pounds and Herbert Hoover senior Richard Woods at 285 pounds.

Contact sportswriter Jay Fankhauser at jay.fank@daliymail.com or 304-348-4871.


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