High school wrestling: Cougars ready to take stage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coach Mike Wheeling will have five wrestlers representing Capital at the 66th annual State Tournament this week, the most he has had during his eight seasons guiding the Cougars.
The most Capital had qualified under Wheeling prior to this season was four in 2011. The Cougars qualified three wrestlers in 2008 and '09.
Three freshmen - Christian Price, Kavin Kincaid and Tyler Burke - will make their debuts at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington for the three-day event, which begins with the first round at 6:30 p.m. today and continues through Saturday. But the Capital coach believes his rookies are ready to take the big stage.
"These kids have faced upperclassmen all year," Wheeling said. "We call it BFS: Bigger, faster, stronger. It's been hard getting them to understand that upperclassmen are bigger, faster and stronger and you have to get your kids to believe 'I belong here in this position.' "
Price (37-14) finished fourth at 113 pounds at the Class AAA Region 3 championship last weekend at Ripley. His first-round opponent will be Musselman junior P.J. Dolan (38-10), the Region 2 champion.
A fourth-place finisher at 126 pounds in his region, Kincaid (32-18) will face Region 4 champ and Winfield sophomore Bryce Humphreys (42-2).
Burke (27-14) finished fourth at 285 pounds last weekend and will face Region 2 champion and Jefferson senior Lane Harder (27-2).
"Tyler gives up at least 60 pounds every time he walks onto the mat. Guys are a lot bigger than him, but he's done a good job handling it," Wheeling said. "It may take him a while, but he has the potential to become a state champion."
Wheeling said his freshmen have done a good job of transitioning from the middle school level to the high school ranks.
"They were the studs of the class last year in eighth grade and next thing you know they go to the bottom of the food chain and it's up to them on how long they want to be down there," he said.
"They just have to go out there and give it their best. They're underclassmen and this is a big stage; walking into the arena is a different atmosphere. They have to go out there and do what they have done all season and hope that's good enough."
Other qualifiers include junior Pat Vance and sophomore Desean Reed.
Vance is the only Capital wrestler with State Tournament experience, when he qualified at 171 pounds in 2011. Vance (46-3) was runner-up at 182 pounds last week and opens the tournament against Jefferson junior A.J. Pierson (23-11), a third-place finisher in Region 2.
A fourth-place finisher at 145 pounds in the region tournament, Reed (34-14) will face Region 4 champion and Huntington senior Justin Arthur (26-2).
"I call Desean the computer," Wheeling said. "He sorts out everything you tell him and takes in the information he wants and applies it. He's a totally coachable kid, a good quality athlete and a hard worker."
With five qualifiers, Capital matched George Washington, Hurricane and Winfield in Class AAA and Herbert Hoover in Class AA/A with having the most wrestlers from the Kanawha Valley competing this week.
"When you can take established programs like George Washington and others in the Kanawha Valley and none of them qualified more than us, it's unbelievable," Wheeling said. "One thing is, you've got to have the athletes and Capital High has more athletes by accident than most schools get on purpose."
Wheeling said Vance has the best chance of placing, but he wouldn't be surprised if any of his other wrestlers reach the podium.
"I hope our guys do the best they can," he said. "I'm very proud of them for getting there and that's a big accomplishment in itself, but they still have work to do.
"If you wake up Saturday and you're still in Huntington, you did a good job."
Contact sportswriter Jay Fankhauser at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4871.