By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The Coalfield Conference Tournament will provide a bit of a blast from the past, which is a good thing for Nicholas County coach Mike Hennessey.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Nicholas is again a member of the conference. The school left the league in 2004 when Woodrow Wilson, Greenbrier East and Princeton bolted for the Mountain State Athletic Conference.
Now that Nicholas has dropped from Class AAA to AA, the Grizzlies are back and will compete in the league’s 36th annual tournament Friday and Saturday at Greenbrier West.
“I think it’s great,” said Hennessey, who has been the team’s head coach since 2006. “We have been without a conference for a number of years now. We were in the Big 10 (a conference based in the north central portion of West Virginia) for a while, but the last five years we have been independent. It’s fun to be in a conference again after not being part of one for so long.”
Also for the first time since 2004, there will be a AAA champion crowned. That’s because Greenbrier East, which is no longer a member of the MSAC, will compete there, as well as Shady Spring and Oak Hill, both of which moved up to Class AAA but are not in a conference.
The Grizzlies, as they have all season, will bring a limited roster to the tournament. Only eight wrestlers will don the navy and old gold, with 182-pounder Drew Hicks and 160-pounder Wade Leggett the only returning competitors.
The lack of numbers certainly has had its adverse effects, but Hennessey isn’t discouraged.
“Nobody likes to start with not a lot of returners,” he said. “But at the same time it’s good to start from scratch sometimes. We only have eight kids, but they are eight of the hardest working kids I ever had. And we will have them all back next year, so that’s a good nucleus.”
Jake Tyler is the state’s second-ranked competitor at 170 pounds. He lost to undefeated Greenbrier West senior Tyler Parker in the championship match at the WSAZ Invitational, and placed seventh at the Winner’s Choice Tournament in Fairmont.
“He’s a great kid and has stepped in this year and has been real solid all year,” Hennessey said. “Hopefully he’s getting ready to peak for the regional and state tournaments.”
Hicks has had an up-and-down year at 182.
“He had to miss a few matches here and there so he has been a little bit behind,” Hennessey said. “But he is wrestling solid and is coming along.”
Leggett is holding his own at the 160 class that includes second-ranked Brandon Eldridge of Bluefield, fourth-ranked Austin Stewart of Richwood, fifth-ranked Marquis Frazier of Greenbrier West, seventh-ranked Matthew Bailey of Liberty and ninth-ranked Alex Daniels of Independence.
“That’s the toughest weight class in our region,” Hennessey said.
The Grizzlies were supposed to host a quad Thursday but it was canceled because of snow. They will travel to Woodrow Wilson for a tri-match with the Flying Eagles and Greenbrier West Feb. 7.
The Class AA/A Region 3 tournament will be held Feb. 15-16 at Independence.
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