By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
At a glance, it was easy to declare Independence the preseason favorite in Class AA/A. The Patriots were the state runners-up last season and have several placewinners back from that team.
And, sure, several teams would be moving down from Class AAA, but the three-time reigning state champion, Point Pleasant, was ascending to the state’s highest classification.
Things haven’t seemed to work out for the Patriots to this point. There have been several outstanding individual performances, but the team itself has fallen a bit short of expectations. Indy slipped from fourth to seventh in this week’s state coaches rankings as released at wvmat.com.
“You know me. I’m not awfully thrilled with (the season),” coach Cliff Warden said.
“But we haven’t put all the pieces together yet.”
The Patriots, who will compete in the Bob Zide Rumble today in Williamstown, have been slowed by injuries to several key wrestlers. Senior Chris Clark, who was third in the state at 126 pounds last season, has barely wrestled. Sophomore Richie Miller, who was looking to follow a strong freshman season, hasn’t seen the mat since the opening weekend.
Another sophomore, Dustin Justice, won the 145-pound championship at Berkeley Springs Dec. 8 but also has battled injury.
It’s a problem that Warden has faced all season, but it seemed to really hit him at the WSAZ Invitational last weekend.
“I kept thinking, with (Teddy) Stover not having a good tournament, and with Clark and all his points up in the bleachers, and with Justice not in there … if we peak at the right time, we’ll be all right.”
Stover, a sophomore who is the state’s top-ranked 103-pounder, was unable to place at WSAZ. But that would appear to be an off-weekend for Stover, who placed third at the state tournament last February.
“If he’s on,” Warden said, “he can fulfill where he’s ranked.”
The constant for Indy has been junior Colton Ward (34-6), No. 1 in the state at 132 pounds. Ward has won championships at Braxton County and WSAZ in consecutive weekends.
“Strength and explosion,” Warden said of Ward’s strong points. “When he pulls the trigger on a double-leg, there are not many kids who can stop him.
“Those two (Stover and Ward) are our horses.”
The good news for Warden is that he hopes to have Clark (138) and Justice (145) back for the Williamstown tournament.
“If we get them both back, it will help solidify our lineup,” Warden said.
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