Prep wrestling: In battle of powers, Huntington tops Parkersburg
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Parkersburg has long been a town synonymous with wrestling, and while Parkersburg South has won four of the last five Class AAA titles in the sport, Parkersburg High has been in a drought of sorts.
The Big Reds last won a team state championship in 2008 and own 21 overall, more than any school in West Virginia.
A year after winning their last title the Big Reds too 17th place. The low point, however, came in 2011 when Parkersburg finished 27th in the state.
Two seasons ago that trend started to turn. The Big Reds finished fifth in 2012 and second last season in the big school division at the state tournament behind Huntington, which claimed its first state wrestling title. The Highlanders hosted Parkersburg on Thursday in an early-season matchup between two of the state's preeminent programs.
"Those couple years we had some bad luck with injuries and we were really young," Parkersburg Coach Chris Way said. "A combination of those things, which kind of put us down, and at the time before that, we won multiple state championships and a lot of times some of the guys behind them quit wrestling because they don't get to see the lineup.
"There was a little void there in the classes but we came back strong."
Huntington won Thursday's dual meet 38-32 on an evening where 12 wrestlers that placed at last year's state tournament, including two state champions - Huntington juniors Logan Grass (106 pounds) and Jordan Allen (120) - were in action.
With that much talent on the mat, it was little surprise that most of the matches were competitive and the result was in doubt until the final match.
Huntington and Parkersburg entered the 285-pound match tied at 32-32. The Highlanders' Nigale Cabell pinned the Big Reds' Charlie Conley to provide the difference.
"He loves to compete," Huntington Coach Rob Archer said of Cabell. "I felt confident in the fact that he likes the limelight and it wasn't his first time wrestling heavyweight and going last.
"I didn't feel confident he would get the pin but I was confident he would win. I knew nerves wouldn't get him."
Cabell, and All-State lineman for the Highlanders football team, was wrestling his first match of the season after Huntington's run to the Class AAA football state championship game. He said there was still some rust to shake off but was happy to come away with both the team and individual wins.
"There was a lot (of rust) at first," Cabell said. "Everyday you've got to get better. Coming off football, even (playing) both sides, you still have got to condition for wrestling."
Grass opened the competition with a major decision win against Big Reds' freshman Jared Donahue.
Parkersburg sophomore Austin Spears, who lost to Grass in the state semifinals at 106 pounds last season, pinned Highlanders freshman Will Jeffers. Huntington followed that with wins from Allen (by technical fall) at 120 and Jonathan Spence (last year's state runner-up at 120) at 126.
One of the handful of Highlanders making their season debut after being part of the football team - senior Paden Christian - had his night cut short by injury. Christian came up grabbing his left shoulder early in a match against Parkersburg's Trapper Hayes and was forced to forfeit because of the injury.
The match of the night was at 182 pounds between Huntington junior Stefan Gibbs and Parkersburg junior Drew Murphy. After a back and forth first period, Murphy appeared to pin Gibbs as time expired in the second round, however the buzzer sounded prior to the referee's hand hitting the mat. Gibbs stormed back on points in the third period, but a point in the final seconds gave Murphy a 12-11 win by decision.
"It was the first real test for us," Archer said. "Anytime you wrestle a team from Parkersburg it's going to be a good dual and that certainly was."
Way agreed and said getting to see where his team stood against some of the best wrestlers in West Virginia, win or lose, was something he took away from Thursday's dual.
"You always want to wrestle the best teams in the state and Huntington is always one of the best teams," he said. "It's good to wrestle them early in the season because it does give your guys a gauge of where they're at early in the season against some of the best kids in the state."
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports.