CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Huntington's Class AAA wrestling team championship last season put the Highlanders in an exclusive club along with Wheeling Park in 2007 and North Marion in 1998 as the only teams not named Parkersburg or Parkersburg South to claim the big school title since 1988.
Since the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission began sanctioning a state wrestling tournament in 1948 only one school south of Parkersburg -- Woodrow Wilson in 1949, 1952 and 1954 -- had claimed a team state championship before Huntington's win in front of its home crowd at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena last February.
Huntington lost five seniors from that team, including 145-pound state champion Justin Arthur, but with what returns this season the Highlanders should be considered among the favorites to win another state title in 2014.
"I think the coolest thing about (winning a state title in front of a hometown crowd) was all the alumni were there," Huntington Coach Rob Archer said. "They were all right there. It was really cool that the alumni were right there as you come off the mat. It seemed like the whole freaking town was there, it was great."
Huntington finished 39.5 points ahead of second-place Parkersburg at last year's tournament on the strength of underclassmen and this season those wrestlers and back, in several cases to defend individual state championships while several others look to get over the hump and go from place-winner to state finalist or champion.
Juniors Logan Grass (106) and Jordan Allen (113) return to defend championships in the two lowest weight classes while senior Jonathan Spence placed second at 120 last season.
Other Highlanders that placed last season returning this season are senior Nigale Cabell (third at 220), senior Paden Christian (fourth at 152) and juniors Chase Childers (fifth at 126) and Carter Capehart (sixth at 182).
Archer mentioned Grass as one wrestler that would likely stay at his previous weight class but expects most of the rest of the team to naturally move up from last season to this one. Other than Grass, Cabell could stay at 220 but Archer said that decision has not yet been made.
"(Cabell) is built perfect for 220," Archer said. "Once he comes down from football and gets in a little better wrestling shape we'll make the decision then."
Archer estimated the Highlanders' wrestling team is missing as many as 10 participants that are still busy with Huntington's other big athletic pursuit of the moment - winning a Class AAA football state championship.