By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The season doesn’t end this weekend for middle school wrestling teams in West Virginia, although it might feel that way.
High school teams build toward a big tournament in Huntington — the state tournament, of course. But that’s not until the last weekend of February.
Starting Friday, there will be a big event in Huntington — the annual WSAZ Tournament at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena. While the tournament remains important for high school teams, it’s even bigger for middle schools.
“This is our state tournament,” fourth-year Collins coach John Arthur said. “This is not officially the end of our season, but coming into the season, this what you look forward to, what you push for, what you prepare for.”
The event is easily the biggest of the season on the middle school level. Last year, there were 47 middle schools, compared to 28 high schools.
“It’s really our state tournament and then some, probably,” said Independence coach Jeremy Hart, a former state champion and All-American at Independence High. “You get a lot of Ohio teams that come and wrestle in it.
“It’s tough because it’s not separated into divisions. Every middle school wrestler in the state comes to it. If you go back and look at some of the past winners, you could probably pick out five or six (future high school) state champions in each weight class.”
Coaches understand the significance of the event, and so do the wrestlers.
“The ones who have been there understand the challenge,” Hart said. “I have preached all year, we started slow to build to this. Our goal is to win our conference and county (tournaments) locally. But as far as statewide and getting recognized, this is it.”
“They know this is our state tournament. It’s what we prepare for all year,” Arthur said. “On the schedule, this is the aiming point. They understand that when you place here, it shows where you are in the state.”
Area teams have made their presence felt at the tournament and promise to do so again this weekend. In the latest middle school rankings, four area schools are in the top 15: Independence (tied third), Collins (eighth), Eastern Greenbrier (12th) and Western Greenbrier (13th).
Thirty-eight local wrestlers are seeded, including Tanner Harris of Collins. He is first at 90 pounds and was the 78-pound runner-up a year ago.
“Every weight class is so loaded,” Hart said. “You just want your kids to try to do as good as they can, and the team stuff will take care of itself.”
Independence was sixth last year and Collins ninth. That continued a gradual progression for Collins, which was 16th in 2011 and 14th in 2012.
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The dual between Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East scheduled for tonight in Fairlea has been postponed. It has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 6 p.m.
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