Prep wrestling: Patriots preparing for big test at State Tournament
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington Coach Richard Harper has three wrestlers who know what it takes to be successful on the big stage. His other two qualifiers will soon find out.
But for senior Jake Smith, junior Jensen Lorea and sophomore David Pancake, the expectations are high entering the 66th annual State Tournament at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. The three-day event begins with the first round at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and continues through Saturday.
The Patriots are led by Smith, who will wrestle for NCAA Division I Cleveland State next fall. Smith (37-0) enters the event after capturing the Class AAA Region 3 championship at 160 pounds last weekend in Ripley. He will face Preston senior Brandon Poling (35-4), who finished fourth in Region 1, in the first round.
Smith will look to win his second consecutive state championship after winning the title at 145 pounds last season. He was a runner-up at 135 pounds in 2011 and placed third at 112 pounds in 2010.
"Jake is in the driver's seat, there's no doubt about it," Harper said. "He's been around long enough to know there's still a lot left to do. He's going in with the mindset he knows who he's got and who he will have to face to get to the finals. He's seen the guys before, so that gives him a big advantage."
Lorea (36-6) is making his third consecutive trip to the State Tournament after winning Region 3 at 126 pounds.
He will open the event against Cabell Midland freshman Adam Whitmore (28-14), who finished fourth in Region 4.
Lorea finished fifth at 126 pounds in 2012 and was a qualifier at 112 pounds in 2011.
"Jensen knows what it takes and he has been wrestling really well," said Harper, who is in his ninth season guiding the Patriots.
"If he stays focused and wrestles like he's capable of wrestling he can accomplish anything he wants to do. He's got a good shot with his draw."
Pancake (30-13) will look to place after being a qualifier at 106 pounds last season. He was a runner-up in his region at 120 pounds and will see Region 1 third-place finisher and Brooke senior Matthew Beaman (34-5) on Thursday.
Making their first State Tournament appearances for the Patriots are freshman Sam Moore and junior Jack Skidmore.
Moore (29-11) finished third in his region at 106 pounds and will face Region 4 runner-up and Point Pleasant junior Caleb Leslie (23-12) in the first round.
Skidmore (31-9) finished runner-up at 285 pounds to Ripley senior Daryl Hicks, a state runner-up in 2012. The GW heavyweight will open the event against Hedgesville junior Anthony Carter (29-28), who finished third in Region 2.
"Jack's a good athlete and has been coming on as the season went on," the GW coach said. "He's getting better all the time."
If Skidmore advances, he could potentially face Region 4 champion and Nitro sophomore David Smith (18-4) in the second round, setting up a meeting between a pair of Kanawha County wrestlers.
"You're at this point in time in the season where the goal is become a state champion," Harper said. "These guys will have three days of preparation this week and the quest for that state title starts Thursday. Every match will be a test."
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THE KANAWHA VALLEY will have 34 wrestlers competing in the State Tournament.
Leading the way with five qualifiers each are Capital, George Washington and Winfield in Class AAA and Herbert Hoover in Class AA/A.
Hurricane has four qualifiers, followed by Riverside and Nitro with three apiece. Buffalo had two earn a berth, while Sissonville and South Charleston each qualified one.
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HERBERT HOOVER junior Zane Weese is making his third State Tournament appearance after finishing fifth at 195 pounds in 2012 and was a qualifier at 171 pounds in 2011.
Weese (45-0), who won Region 4 at 220 pounds, opens the tournament against Region 3 third-place finisher and Independence junior Jacob Shrewsbury (30-18).
Other qualifiers for the Huskies include 113-pound senior Camren Duncan (25-6), 120-pound senior Justin Duncan (40-6), 182-pound senior Brady Dye (24-8) and 285-pound senior Richard Woods (46-2).
Contact sportswriter Jay Fankhauser at email@example.com or 304-348-4871.