HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Big Blacks come in wearing a rather large bull’s eye. By the end of Saturday night, they hope to trade that big circular mark in for an even brighter spotlight.
The Point Pleasant wrestling team enters the 73rd annual WVSSAC championship as overwhelming favorites in the Class AA-A field, and the defending state champs are aiming for a repeat performance of historical proportions this weekend at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Cabell County.
The Big Blacks have an entrant in every weight class and account for 14 of the 16 Mason County representatives competing this weekend, with Wahama also sending a pair of grapplers into the Class AA-A brackets.
PPHS, however, has collectively dominated almost all of its competition this winter, winning 574-of-706 head-to-head bouts for an incredible winning percentage of 81.3 percent.
The Red and Black set a school record with a perfect 35-0 mark in dual meets, plus brought home tournament titles in every event that they competed in this year — except for a 5.5-point runner-up finish to Aurora (OH) at the Alliance Top Gun Tournament.
The Big Blacks kept their historical march surging into the Region IV tournament after setting school records with a dozen regional champions to go along with 14 weight class finalists en route to 359 points … a total that was 197.5 points better than that of runner-up Winfield.
Overall, the Red and Black have 11 state qualifiers making repeat trips to Big Sandy Superstore Arena — including a trio of defending state champions to go along with six other podium finishers last winter.
The Big Blacks have three grapplers making their second career appearances at the state meet, and all three just happen to be defending champions that are looking to add to their resume.
Sophomores Derek Raike (48-0) and Justin Bartee (47-3) are respectively aiming for state titles in the 132- and 138-pound divisions after winning championships as freshmen at 120 and 126 pounds.
Junior Isaac Short (47-3) is also gunning for a repeat championship at 120 pounds after winning the 106-pound title last winter.
Juniors Christopher Smith (47-3) and Mitchell Freeman (46-5) were runners-up in the 113- and 138-pound divisions last year. Smith and Freeman — both of whom are making their third trips to state — are respectively competing at 126 and 145 pounds this weekend.
Seniors Zac Samson (42-9), Logan Southall (44-7), Juan Marquez (39-9), Wyatt Stanley (19-8) and Jacob Muncy (34-11) are all making at least their third appearances at the state meet.
Samson, Southall and Muncy were all fifth a year ago and are respectively competing at 160, 170 and 285 pounds this weekend. Marquez and Stanley are competing in the 195- and 220-pound divisions.
Junior Wyatt Wilson (41-11) — who placed fourth at 145 pounds last postseason — is gunning for another podium finish this weekend in the 152-pound division.
Junior Parker Henderson (45-4) is making his state debut at 106 pounds, while sophomores Mackandle Freeman (39-6) and Brayden Connolly (22-15) enter their first respective state tournaments in the 113- and 182-pound weight classes.
Point Pleasant has double-digit entrants in the state tournament for the 12th time in 13 years. PPHS also has all 14 weight classes filled headed into state for the third time in program history.
The Big Blacks have previously come away from the Class AA-A tournament with multiple individual champions on seven occasions, including five times with a program-best three divisional champions.
The White Falcons finished fifth a year ago in the Class A portion of the AA-A meet, scoring 32 points and a pair of podium finishes.
This winter, the Red and White have the same number of entrants — but one is making his last of four appearances at state while the other is a freshman embarking on something entirely new.
Senior Trevor Hunt (36-7) placed sixth at 145 pounds a year ago and has won at least one match at the state level in each of his previous three weekends at the state level.
Kase Stewart (36-11) is the first WHS freshman since Hunt to qualify for state after placing fourth at 132 pounds last weekend during the Region IV meet.
The White Falcons have scored at least one point in 10 of the last dozen state tournaments overall.
The three-day event at Big Sandy Superstore Arena starts Thursday with opening round matches at 6:30 p.m.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.