By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Midland Trail’s nickname is the Patriots, but on Friday night, Trisha Lee became a pioneer.
Lee’s second-round win over William Conley of Webster County did much more than put her into the 113-pound semifinals at the Class AA/A Region 3 tournament. It guaranteed her a spot in next week’s state tournament in Huntington.
No other female wrestler has ever represented Midland Trail at the state tournament, but forget school history. It’s a first for all of Fayette County.
“It’s a great honor. I am so thankful,” Lee, a sophomore, said after her 12-6 decision. “I owe it all to the Lord. He helps me through it all.”
Lee accomplished the groundbreaking feat in just her second year as a wrestler.
“I wanted to be there last year, but this year I am finally there,” she said. “It’s like heaven on earth. It’s great.”
Lee comes by her skills naturally — her brother, Adam, a 2008 Trail graduate, was also a state qualifier for the Patriots.
“I decided when I was young that I wanted to (wrestle), because my brother did and he inspires me,” Lee said. “He helps me and gives me tips. He watches me wrestle and tells me things that I can do to improve.”
Third-year Trail coach Charlie Pritt says Lee gives her teammates all they can handle in practice.
“She wears us out at practice,” Pritt said. “You can’t get away from her. She’s a good listener.”
Lee, who raised her record to 19-16, will take on Independence freshman Will Cox (34-7), the top seed at 113, in the semifinals today.
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To say it has been one of those years for Liberty probably would not do justice to how frustrating the season has been for coach Randy Daniel.
Injuries have plagued the Raiders all season, but the pain was really felt Friday. Only five Liberty wrestlers are healthy enough to compete in the regional tournament.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster,” Daniel said. “Between the weather and things getting canceled and people getting hurt. ... The five that I’ve got, they are good wrestlers. They’re fine. I really anticipate all five of them to qualify (for the state tournament).”
Senior heavyweight Donavan Vance got things off to a good start for Liberty, pinning Webster County’s Roger Cogar in the first period of the first match of the entire tournament.
Vance is the state’s second-ranked 285-pounder. The four other Raiders still standing are also ranked: Tristan Harvey (10th, 120), Cody Clifton (second, 138), R.J. Elam (sixth, 152) and Matthew Bailey (seventh, 160).
Senior Charles Ayers is ranked first at 182, but opted not to wrestle because of an injury suffered last month at the WSAZ Invitational.
Daniel said he can’t remember a season being so frustrating.
“It just seems like it started at the state tournament last season and never let up,” he said. “We’re just going to keep our fingers crossed and keep going at it the way we always do. I feel pretty good about the kids we’ve got. They all have reasonable opportunity here. They put in a lot of time, a lot of hard work. I hope everything works out well for them.”
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The way things are working out for Zach Johnson this year, it would be no surprise if he’s standing on a podium next weekend.
Johnson, a senior at Greenbrier West, is wrestling and playing basketball this season. Pulling double duty was wrestling coach Jeremy Tincher’s idea, one supported by basketball coach Joey Fitzwater.
Johnson is enjoying it all, but admits it keeps him busy.
“You’re always doing something and you never have any free time,” Johnson said. “My legs are dead a lot, but other than that I’m good.”
“This is the first year I have ever wrestled, so it’s all kind of new to me,” Johnson added. “I think I’m learning all right.”
Tincher said Johnson is actually a fast learner, making this one-and-done season a successful one.
“Zach’s a smart kid. We are able to show him stuff and he catches on pretty quick,” Tincher said. “That’s been a plus. He’s not a guy who has to do (something) 25 or 30 times. You show it to him and he picks it up.”
It’s shaping up as a memorable senior year for Johnson. He was a first-team all-state offensive lineman for the Cavaliers, who advanced to the Class A quarterfinals, and he recently signed to be an invited walk-on at WVU.
“I’ve always wanted to go to WVU, and having a good year in both of these sports is just great,” he said.
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Greenbrier West took the lead after the first day with XX total points, eight points ahead of second-place Independence (XX). Bluefield is third with XX.
West advanced 13 of its 14 wrestlers into the semifinal round, while the Patriots have 11 in the final four.
Wrestling will pick back up at 10 a.m. today. The championship finals will start at about 5 p.m.
The top four wrestlers in each weight class qualify for the state tournament, set for Feb. 21-23 at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.
— E-mail: gfauber