HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — One showed the strength of discipline. Another demonstrated the power of self-confidence.
The third just took a normal business-like approach … and ended up being the most surprised of them all.
And what do all three of these things have in common?
They are the qualities that led to a trio of individual state titles for Point Pleasant this past weekend during the 72nd annual WVSSAC Wrestling Championships held at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Cabell County.
The Big Blacks led wire-to-wire over the course of the three-day tournament and secured the program’s fourth Class AA-A championship trophy as a team. It was also the first team title for PPHS since its three-peat run from 2010 through 2012.
The Red and Black, however, had suffered a bit of a dry spell recently as far as individual titles went. Point Pleasant had gone just 3-5 in championship bouts since moving up to Class AAA in 2013, not mention going without a title since the 2016 campaign.
The Big Blacks hadn’t won a state championship since returning to the Class AA-A ranks in 2017, and also didn’t have anyone competing in a state final just one year ago — snapping a 14-year run with at least one finalist.
All of that went away in record-tying fashion this weekend as freshmen Derek Raike and Justin Bartee, as well as sophomore Isaac Short, added their names to the program’s illustrious list of state champions.
Short — who was disqualified from postseason competition last year because of an in-match fight during the regular season — was cooler and calmer this winter, and the results ended up showing themselves.
Short — appearing in his first WVSSAC state tournament — recorded three straight pinfall wins en route to the 106-pound final, where he faced East Fairmont junior Geno Casuccio.
Both grapplers went scoreless in the first period, but Short was able to work himself free from the bottom position in the second period — allowing him to take a 1-0 lead into the finale. Short ultimately managed to keep Casuccio down in the final two-minute period, giving Short a hard-fought 1-0 decision.
Short finished the year with a 42-1 overall mark and became the 16th different champion in Point Pleasant history.
Afterward, Short spoke about the difference that a year can make — especially with a more-disciplined approach.
“The coaching staff has been supportive of me and they have made a big difference in me this year,” Short said. “Last season, I was sort of a head case after trying to punch somebody in the face during a match. The coaches disciplined me, I learned from it, and I became better because of it. Now I’m a state champion, and the discipline has a whole lot to do with it. It’s an awesome feeling to be both a champion and a team champion. It’s truly a dream come true.”
Point’s second title of the night came from Raike, who scored a second period pinfall win over Oak Hill junior Ashby West with 58 seconds remaining. Raike led the match 3-0 at the time of the pinfall, with all of those points coming in the second period.
Raike earned two pinfalls and an 11-3 major decision en route to the 120-pound final and also completed his first varsity season with a 46-1 overall record.
Afterward, Raike briefly acknowledged his individual accomplishment — but the first-time state qualifier and 17th different state champion in program history was more empowered by being part of a team title.
“It’s awesome. The team has worked so hard to get to this point, and those guys have helped me out through all of this — being my first year at the varsity level,” Raike said. “I believed in my abilities and we believed in one another to get where we are. This what we all set out to do, to win a state title … and we succeeded.”
Bartee captured Point’s final championship of the evening in the 126-pound division after pinning Wirt County senior Wyatt Powell with 19 seconds left in the second period. Bartee led the match 9-2 at the time of the pinfall and was ahead 2-0 at the end of the first period.
Bartee earned two pinfalls and an 8-3 decision en route to the championship round and also completed his first varsity season with a perfect 36-0 mark while becoming the
Bartee — the 18th different state champion in Point history — also joined Rusty Maness (2011) as the only grapplers in PPHS history to go unbeaten over the course of a season.
Perhaps it was because he was the last champion to wrestle on Saturday night, but Bartee was overcome with emotion after winning his first career state crown. Regardless of his unbeaten status, Bartee was still humble about reaching this sort of summit.
“I have a lot of emotions and adrenaline built up right now, but I’m very excited about being a state champion. I do owe a lot of this to my coaches and my parents, because I wouldn’t be here without either of those groups of special people,” Bartee said. “This was the goal, to do my part to help the team. I’m really proud of everyone for doing their part too. It was a great weekend.”
The Big Blacks secured the program’s 22nd, 23rd and 24th overall titles with those trio of state final victories, and Point also was within striking distance of adding two more by night’s end.
Sophomore Christopher Smith dropped a heartbreaking 1-0 decision to East Fairmont sophomore Blake Boyers in the 113-pound final. Smith was a third place finisher at 106 last season, while Boyers was the 2018 champion at 106 pounds.
Sophomore Mitchell Freeman trailed 2-0 less than 15 seconds into his 138-pound final against Oak Glen junior Peyton Hall and ultimately lost by pinfall with 18 seconds left in the third period.
Smith ended the 2019 campaign with a 41-6 overall record, while Freeman — who was third at 126 pounds last year — finished this winter with a 44-7 mark.
It was the seventh time in school history that Point Pleasant had multiple champions at the same state tournament, as well as a record-tying fifth occasion of having three state champions at one meet.
The Big Blacks had three champions apiece at the 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012 Class AA-A meets, as well as two champions each at the 2008 and 2016 tournaments.
Raike and Bartee join the likes of Maness (2008) and current senior teammate George Smith (2016) as the only freshmen in program history to win a state championship. Maness is the only four-time champion in school history.
George Smith and Grant Safford were the last state champions at Point Pleasant prior to this past weekend, with both winning Class AAA titles in 2016.
Alex Reed won the first state title for PPHS back in 1998. Brent Hereford and Heath Shirley (2006), Derek Mitchell (2009), Caleb Duong (2010), Noah Searls, Zach Nibert and Josh Hereford (2012), and Trevor Hill (2013) also have a single title apiece among themselves.
Maness (2008-11), James Casto (2005-06), Anthony Jeffers (2007-08) and Casey Hogg (2009-10) are the only grapplers in PPHS history to win multiple titles.
John Bonecutter, now completing his 10th season as head coach at Point Pleasant, has accounted for all four of the Big Blacks’ team championships.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.