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Prep wrestling: Nitro program continues to grow

The numbers are gradually climbing for Coach Kevin Skeens and the Nitro wrestling team.

The Wildcats have 18 wrestlers on the roster and compete in 13 of the 14 weight classes, with 113 pounds left open.

Geoffrey Bevil and David Smith are the top returners for the Wildcats, who will compete this weekend in the 35th annual WSAZ Invitational at Huntington's Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

A two-sport standout, Bevil was a Class AAA All-State second-team selection in soccer this past fall and a State Tournament qualifier at 120 pounds last season. The senior has a 19-7 record in the same weight class this season.

Smith was a qualifier at 285 pounds last year and is ranked No. 7 individually in Class AAA in the WVMat.com poll with a 10-3 mark in the heavyweight division. The sophomore finished sixth in his weight class at last week's Winner's Choice at Fairmont after missing the first part of the season still competing with the Wildcats football team and later with pneumonia.

 "He had a late start," said Skeens, who is in his first season leading the Wildcats after serving as an assistant last year. "He was overweight and had to get under. Now, he's below the 285 mark and should be fine for the rest of the season.

"He's a young kid and has a lot of growing and maturing to do, but if he continues to stay on the path he's on, he could very well be on the podium his junior or senior year."

The 31-team field includes 23 other teams from West Virginia - Beckley, Buffalo, Cabell Midland, George Washington, Greenbrier West, Huntington, Hurricane, Independence, Liberty-Raleigh, Logan, Mingo Central, Nicholas County, North Marion, Petersburg, Richwood, Riverside, Roane County, Shady Spring, Spring Valley, St. Albans, Wahama, Williamstown and Winfield.

The event also features four teams from Kentucky - Ashland-Paul Blazer, Johnson Central, Meade County and Montgomery County - and three from Ohio - Chesapeake, Fairland and River Valley.

In Class AAA, Huntington is ranked No. 1 in the WVMat.com poll, while Shady Spring is No. 8, with Greenbrier West at No. 2 and North Marion at No. 7 in Class AA-A.

Matches begin at 2 p.m. Friday and 9:45 a.m. Saturday, with the championship rounds beginning at 6 p.m.

Tristan Woodson, one of the team captains, is coming off fourth-place finish at Fairmont and has a 26-6 record at 152 pounds. The junior spent the previous two seasons battling academic eligibility issues, but the Nitro coach said Woodson has improved his grades and will be with the Wildcats for the duration of the season.

"Tristan is a very good kid, but he has always had a rough time with school," Skeens said. "But he's eligible and gets to go on this year and it's helping him mentally where he can go into the postseason. He's proud of himself and has worked hard this year. He wants to go places.

"It's time for him to grow up a little bit and he realizes that. He's staying focused, keeping the kids and team focused, and where he's came from the previous seasons, he has come a long way."

Other top wrestlers include senior Chris Pontier, junior Ryan Walters and sophomores Caleb Vance and Hunter Skeens.

Pontier has a 20-10 record at 170 pounds, while Walters is ranked No. 10 at 195 pounds. Vance is 15-13 at 132 pounds and Skeens is 26-6 and No. 6 at 220 pounds.

"We're just trying to be competitive with the kids we got," Skeens said. "In the past two years the numbers have been really climbing and in the next couple years we should be really solid."

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PARKERSBURG SOUTH, the second-ranked team in Class AAA, has 12 wrestlers ranked individually.

The others are Logan Ball (No. 8, 106 pounds), Lance Hill (No. 2, 113), Braidon Knotts (No. 8, 120), Kyle Knotts (No. 10, 126), Jordan Quiocho (No. 8, 132), Dylan Alexander (No. 7, 138), Stewart Morris (No. 8, 145), Chip Sturek (No. 8, 152), Briar Shiveley (No. 3, 160), Drake Mills (No. 3, 170), Matt Dixon (No. 6, 182) and Dane Mills (No. 5, 285).

Top-ranked Huntington is the next closest with 10.

In Class AA-A, No. 2 Greenbrier West and No. 4 Independence each have nine wrestlers ranked, followed by No. 1 East Fairmont, No. 5 Clay County and No. 8 Calhoun County with eight apiece.

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


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