Moving up to Class AAA in wrestling probably sounds like a tough assignment. Oak Hill coach David Vincent thinks his team is prepared.
“We were triple-A a couple years ago. It’s not as deep as double-A. You don’t have as many teams,” Vincent said. “But that doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park. When you’ve got the likes of (Region 3 teams) St. Albans and Riverside, Woodrow (Wilson) is an up-and-coming program, Greenbrier East. Princeton is up and coming as well. They’ve produced some hammers the last couple of years. So it’s no walk in the park.
“Frankly, double-A wasn’t a walk in the park, either. Twenty, 30 years ago some would argue that triple-A is much more difficult than double-A, and in some sports that is the case. But I tell you, what I see in wrestling is you’ve got hammers all the way around. If a kid wants to get better, they’ve got opportunities to do so.”
This season — provided the Covid-19 outbreak allows one — will be the Red Devils’ first in the state’s highest classification, but their second since Fayetteville High was closed and its students sent to Oak Hill. That will lead to a higher turnout than the Red Devils normally see.
They will have to move on without Ashby West, who graduated last year as the most successful wrestler in team history. He is Oak Hill’s all-time wins leader and is the Red Devils’ only four-time state place winner.
“Ashby was a lot of fun, a fun kid to be around,” Vincent said. “He was very competitive, and there’s some kids in the mat room who tried to stay right there with him last year. So I know that competitive spirit will be there with some kids, and I expect to see it this year, full force.”
Oak Hill lost nine seniors from last year’s team, but West (120 pounds) and Lucas Goff (195) were the only two who advanced to the state tournament. But there are several returning wrestlers who tasted success last season.
Senior Eli Sedlock (145) and juniors Sam Evans (160) and Dominique Johnson (182) all finished third at the Class AA/A Region 3 tournament to qualify for the state tournament. Sophomore Ethan Walker (126) and junior Max Underwood (170) both fell just short at fifth place. Vincent also expects big things from sophomore Mason Willis.
“Those kids spend time in the offseason going to tournaments, going to camps. They do things to try to get better,” Vincent said. “I know each of them are chomping at the bit to get back.”
Vincent said he expects leadership out of Sedlock and fellow seniors Scott Wilshire and Case Bryant.
In addition, Vincent is excited about some freshmen who are coming off impressive middle school performances. Aaron Higginbotham finished third at 110 at the WSAZ Invitational, and Colton Naylor was in the youth state finals last spring.
“We’ll be young and they will lack that high school experience that other kids have,” Vincent said. “It will be exciting to see.”
Another source of optimism will be derived from a new mat room for the Red Devils to hold practice. It is located in the old Rosedale Elementary School.
“The Fayette County Board of Education has provided us with an upgraded practice facility and attached strength and conditioning room to go with it,” Vincent said. “We’re very, very appreciative of the administration at Oak Hill High School, and the superintendent Gary Hough, and the maintenance director Tim Payton. We’re really excited about this facility we’re moving into.”
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