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Prep wrestling: New classification exciting challenge for Point Pleasant

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The move to Class AAA presents a challenge that John Bonecutter and Point Pleasant welcome.

Bonecutter, the Big Blacks' fourth-year wrestling coach, guided Point Pleasant to three consecutive state titles in Class AA/A.

The program's schedule hasn't changed much. In Class AA/A, Point Pleasant faced most of the same teams it will face in its new classification starting with this weekend's Jason Eades Memorial Duals.

The two-day event at Point Pleasant High School will feature seven other Class AAA schools - Beckley, Capital, George Washington, Hurricane, Nitro, St. Albans and Spring Valley.

The Redskins, Wildcats, Red Dragons and Timberwolves are all in Region 4 with the Big Blacks.

Class AA/A programs Berkeley Springs, Calhoun County, Clay County, East Fairmont Greenbrier West, Liberty-Harrison, Notre Dame, Philip Barbour, Wahama and Wirt County and Western Brown (Ohio) round out the 19-school field.

Matches begin at 3:20 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday.

"It presents a whole new set of challenges and obstacles we have to face," Bonecutter said. "Our schedule hasn't changed (from previous seasons). We're still wrestling the same teams."

Point Pleasant is ranked No. 3 in the WVmat.com poll, behind No. 1 Huntington and No. 2 Parkersburg South. The Highlanders, who finished third last season, are also in Region 4, while the Patriots have won five consecutive state titles and 20 overall.

"We've wrestled all these (Class AAA) teams," Bonecutter said. "We haven't always won against those teams, but have competed well against them.

"We've been the favorite year-in and year-out. We were the team everyone was chasing and now we're the ones doing the chasing. I like the challenge."

The Big Blacks attended the U.S. Air Force Indian Classic at Dobyns-Bennett High in Kingsport, Tenn., last weekend.

Other top tournaments Point Pleasant will compete in include the Winner's Choice in Fairmont on Jan. 11-12 and the Asics Top Gun Tournament in Alliance, Ohio on Jan. 18-19.

Those events have helped prepare his team, Bonecutter said.

"I've tried not to make it a big change," Bonecutter said. "Just go about our business. (The move) doesn't change what we're doing or trying to do."

The Big Blacks are led by seniors Noah Searls and Zach Nibert. Each captured state titles last season - Searls at 132 pounds and Nibert at 160 pounds.

Bonecutter said Searls will wrestle at 138 pounds and Nibert will stay at 160 pound, for now.

"The goal for (Searls and Nibert) has always been to improve," Bonecutter said. "Both are outstanding kids and they both work hard. They're focused on improving and getting better and they know if they do that everything will fall in place."

Other top wrestlers include seniors Micah Powell and Trevor Hill and juniors John Raike, Guy Fisher, Brycen Reymond and Josh Hudson.

Raike and Powell are returning runner-ups, while Fisher, Hill, Hudson and Reymond are returning place-winners.

Five sophomores - Jacob Duncan, Austin Rutter, Jacob Starcher, Jonathan Peterson and Derrick Jackson - have shown promise.

"We only have four seniors in our lineup, so we're a relatively young team when you look at that," Bonecutter said. "With those five sophomores, I saw a lot of potential in them as freshmen. But they have really surprised me."

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


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