By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The season went on, and the wins continued to mount for Greenbrier West.
It started modestly, with a win at the Lindsey Raines Memorial Duals on the Cavaliers’ home mats. A week later, it got more serious — much more serious — with a win at the West Virginia National Guard Duals in Summersville, a tournament that annually attracts some of the best teams from Kentucky and Virginia, in addition to big names from the Mountain State.
One by one, the wins kept coming. Braxton County Invitational. WSAZ Invitational. Coalfield Conference Tournament.
Fans looking from the outside were probably wondering: Is this Greenbrier West’s year?
Coach Jeremy Tincher tried to keep things in perspective.
“I maybe flirted with that (thinking) a little bit when we won the Summersville tournament,” Tincher said. “When we won that, I flirted with that a little bit. I thought: Are we really that good? Because we’re so young. We’ve got 10 sophomores starting. And we beat last year’s Virginia state champions (Grundy) and beat last year’s Kentucky state champions (Johnson Central).
“Then we went to Braxton County and I kind of expected to win it. I knew we’d be there in the hunt. It was close. Wirt County was right behind us. Then we came here and won the WSAZs (Class AA championship).”
Tincher was resisting the urge to believe that his team could emerge as the state champion. He had himself convinced that the Class AA/A field was too competitive, that any of the other teams consistently ranked among the top seven in West Virginia was as capable of making a run as his Cavaliers.
“I just knew the state tournament was going to be so close,” he said. “I knew there was going to be the Wirts and the Independences and the Clay Countys. I knew they were all going to be right there.”
As it turned out, it wound up being a two-horse race between the Cavs and Independence. The top two teams out of Region 3 took their battle to Huntington, and by the middle of the second day, it was obvious one of the two would emerge as state champion.
The teams flip-flopped three times Friday, and Independence was leading going into that night’s semifinal round. That’s where the turning point came.
The Patriots had six semifinalists to West’s four. Only two Indy wrestlers — Chris Clark and Colton Ward — won their matches, while all four of West’s moved on to the finals.
A 20-point Cavalier lead was whittled to four after Saturday’s consolation finals, but Dustin Yoakum’s win over Ward in the 132-pound title match locked up West’s first state championship.
“I didn’t have any idea,” Tincher said. “I guess it was just hard for me to believe that it was going to happen for us.”
Lost in the Cavs’ success was how far Independence had come. The Patriots battled injury all season long, but seemed to have things rolling toward what would have been viewed by many as a surprise championship.
They fell just short and finished as the state runner-up for the second year in a row.
On what was a stellar weekend for Region 3 — six individual champions, a state team champion, coach of the year in Tincher and co-Most Outstanding Wrestler in Greenbrier West’s Tyler Parker — it may have served notice to the rest of the state that this could be the start of a big run for the region.
The Cavs’ graduate just two seniors — Parker, the state champ at 170 and heavyweight Zach Johnson — and Independence three — Clark, the 138 state champion, Dylon McBride and Zach Fleshman.
“It’s 365 days until the next (state tournament),” Independence coach Cliff Warden said.
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Liberty senior heavyweight Donovan Vance came up a little shy in his quest for a state title. He lost to eventual state champion Isaiah Holyfield of Robert C. Byrd in the semifinals, but was able to win both his consolation matches and Saturday to place third.
That does nothing to diminish the postseason Vance was able to put together. He went a combined 9-1 in the regional and state tournaments, and all nine of his wins came via pinfall.
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Shady Spring’s first year in Class AAA was a positive experience, first-year head coach Larry Ransom said.
“It was good. I mean, we came down and took our thumpings,” Ransom said. “When we get here (to the state tournament), it’s more real and it’s physical. Big kids. That’s probably one of the big things we saw this year was the size. ... Overall, we had a pretty good tournament.”
The Tigers team finished 11th at the state tournament with 63 points and had four placewinners, including 120-pound champion Johnny Forren. Logan Robertson was fifth at 106, Nick Farley sixth at 138 and Brandon Stump sixth at 145.
Forren’s state title was Shady’s first since Derek Scarbro won the 125-pound championship in 2005.
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