By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
For all the positives of competing in the WSAZ Invitational, area coaches seem to agree on which is the biggest.
“All the kids are in the same building where they will be a month later for the state tournament,” Independence coach Cliff Warden said.
From the mat layout to the venue itself, the WSAZ, now in its 36th year, is a sort of precursor to the state tournament. There aren’t as many wrestlers and probably not as many fans, but no other tournament comes as close to capturing the atmosphere that the wrestlers will face the last weekend of February.
The tournament gets started at 2 p.m. today (5 p.m. for middle schools) at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. The action will resume at 9:45 a.m. Saturday, with championship finals starting at 8:15 p.m.
“It’s a big tournament, obviously,” Liberty coach Randy Daniel said. “It’s always good competition. The kids like it with some different wrestlers from around the state they haven’t seen before. It’s a challenge.
“That (the similarity to the state tournament) is definitely a plus.”
Most of the area teams competing in Huntington this weekend are veterans of the tournament. But Greenbrier West threw its name in over the summer.
The Class AA/A No. 2 Cavaliers normally compete in the Calhoun County Invitational during this weekend, but coach Jeremy Tincher felt it was the right time to make the change.
“We just decided that, with this group of kids, we probably needed to get there in that building, where they have the state tournament, and get in that atmosphere,” he said. “We just thought it would be beneficial to us in February.”
Some wrestlers who had been injured will get to use the WSAZ as a starting point. Independence 126-pounder Chris Clark has wrestled a few matches but has been largely inactive for the Patriots, ranked fourth in Class AA/A, but he will wrestle this weekend.
Also, Woodrow Wilson’s Jakob Cooper (126) and Cole Williams (152) will be back.
“We’re still not at 100 percent, but we’re getting some guys back,” Woodrow coach Street Sarrett said. “This is a good chance to be in the same building as the state tournament and get the guys ready for that atmosphere.”
Shady Spring, the No. 8 team in Class AAA, will be at the WSAZ for the first time in several years. The Tigers’ numbers went down so significantly that “it wasn’t worth going down there,” coach Larry Ransom said.
They eventually started competing in the West Virginia Army National Guard Duals in Summersville, which fell on the same weekend as the WSAZ. When the Guard Duals changed weekends, it finally freed the Tigers to go to Huntington.
“We knew that with us going back to triple-A, we needed to get back in a lot of those guys’ faces,” Ransom said.
Several area wrestlers are seeded going into the tournament, three of them No. 1. They are Colton Ward of Independence (132), Malik Boatwright of Greenbrier West (152) and Donovan Vance of Liberty (285).
Other local teams competing are Nicholas County and Richwood.
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