There’s an old saying in the wrestling community: “Place at Fargo and your phone will ring.”
Maybe that saying should be changed to reflect modern teenagers’ communication habits: “Place at Fargo and your Snapchap/Twitter/Insta/Facebook will light up.”
The top eight placers at the United States Marine Corps/USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Championships receive an octagon shaped plaque known as a “Stop Sign” and are considered All-Americans. The statistics simply cannot be ignored — All-America status at Fargo is the best indicator of success at the NCAA level.
College Coaches love to chase not only the All-Americans but also the wrestlers who put on a good show.
A group of West Virginia high school wrestlers will board a van in Huntington today en route to the 2019 nationals in Fargo, S.D., with the dream of returning 11 days later holding a coveted “Stop Sign.” Two of those wrestlers will be local — Independence’s John Sanders and Oak Hill’s Ashby West.
“This is my first time going,” said Sanders, a rising junior. “I’m looking forward to the good competition from wrestling kids from other states.”
Sanders is a two-time Region 3 champion at 106 pounds. He placed fourth at the state tournament both years.
“We are really excited for John to get an opportunity to compete in Fargo,” said Sanders’ high school coach, Jeremy Hart.
“There is no other tournament that brings together all of the best kids in the country. He has worked really hard coming back from a pretty serious injury and we are looking forward to seeing him compete against elite competition.
“If you want to be the best wrestler you can be, you have to chase the very best competition in the offseason. I’m glad John is taking that opportunity.”
West, who will be a senior for Oak Hill this winter, is a three-time state placewinner. He was Region 3 champion at 120 and was the state runner-up in February.
“Ashby has a drive this year that I’ve not seen in him in the past. As Oak Hill’s first state finalist (as an underclassman) in school history, he sees that he is part of a program that is improving each year and he wants to contribute,” said David Vincent, West’s coach at Oak Hill. “He is taking advantage of any offseason wrestling he can get in. I feel his time training and competing in freestyle and Greco (along with Fargo) will help him achieve his goals for his senior season.
“I personally like the pace of freestyle. I feel it is tremendously helpful (especially in neutral in folkstyle). I also like the hand fighting in Greco and how it correlates into scholastic.”
Also representing West Virginia will be Colton White (Jefferson), Andrew Shelek (Wheeling Park), Brayden Roberts (Parkersburg South), John Martin Best (Parkersburg), Justin Bartee (Point Pleasant), Braxton Amos (Parkersburg South) and Austin Chapman (Riverside).
Team West Virginia is led by longtime Huntington High School assistant coaches Steve Riner and John Dempsey. When asked why he spends nearly two weeks away from home with kids, many of whom will actually wrestle against his Huntington wrestlers later in the year, Riner said, “I help with (the) team because I want to give back to our state. Also, I want our kids to get national exposure. We live in a small state and there is more than just the state tournament. Plus, I want to show the country that we have quality kids in West Virginia.”
Fargo is generally regarded as the toughest high school tournament in the United States for the Olympic styles of wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman). After a nearly 24-hour ride, Team West Virginia will have a brief workout before the Men’s Cadet (16 years and under) weigh-ins for freestyle. The men’s juniors (17 years old through high school graduates) weigh in and begin wrestling the following day. There will also be women’s divisions throughout the week.
Freestyle is a grueling five-session marathon. Greco-Roman is similar to freestyle in rules and scoring, with the big exception being that wrestlers are not permitted to grab their opponents’ legs. Both styles feature big throws, powerful slams and a much faster pace than what we are accustomed to seeing in traditional folkstyle high school wrestling.
Independence graduate Noah Adams was a Fargo All-American in 2015, placing fourth in Cadet Greco and freestyle. The 2017 Dutton Award Winner originally committed to Virginia Tech before ultimately landing at West Virginia. He wrestled in the NCAA Tournament in March as a redshirt freshman.
“Ashby definitely wants to compete at the collegiate level so it only makes sense to participate in Fargo,” Vincent said. “The exposure to collegiate coaches is far greater at this tournament than anywhere else.”
Matches from Fargo will be streamed live on flowrestling.com, where you can set alerts to let you know that your favorite wrestlers are getting ready to wrestle. Match results can be found on Twitter @WVusawrestling and on the high school message board at wvmat.com.