HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — It never gets old, regardless of how many times you do it.
The Point Pleasant wrestling program added a sixth state title, another half-dozen individual champs and four more state placers to its vaunted record books last week at the 74th annual WVSSAC Class AA-A Championships held at Mountain Health Arena in Cabell County.
The Big Blacks secured their second 3-peat crown in school history, matching the same efforts of the 2010-12 squads that brought home the first half of Point Pleasant’s six titles over the past 12 postseasons. PPHS also extended its list of state champions from 30 to 36 and added a 22nd different athlete to that list as well.
The Red and Black are now tied with Independence for the second most Class AA-A titles in state history, trailing only Oak Glen’s incredible 13-year reign from 1997 through 2009.
Senior Isaac Short (126), junior Derek Raike (145) and junior Justin Bartee (160) all solidified their respective résumés by joining only Rusty Maness (2008-11) as 3-time state champions. Both Raike and Bartee will both have shot to join Maness in the very rare 4-time champions club next year.
Seniors Parker Henderson (113) and Mitchell Freeman (152) both repeated as state champions, becoming the eighth and ninth grapplers in PPHS history to accomplish the feat.
The duo joins Short, Raike, Bartee, Maness, James Casto (2005-06), Anthony Jeffers (2007-08) and Casey Hogg (2009-10) as multi-time champions.
Senior Chris Smith — after back-to-back runner-up efforts at the state tournament his sophomore and junior campaigns — finally broke into the elusive championship club by not allowing a single point in four matches while bringing home the 132 pound title.
The half-dozen title-winners spoke about their accomplishments afterwards, both individually and collectively. Some spoke of ending their prep careers on top, others spoke about getting ready for another historic quest next winter.
Yet, in all of the excitement, each one of them had a very common theme … taking care of business for the betterment of the family.
Henderson — who recorded three pinfall wins — completed his career with a 124-20 overall mark and ended up unbeaten in two years of competition at the state level after not being on the primary varsity roster as a freshman and sophomore.
“It really don’t think it could be better than this. Getting to be part of this team and the 3-peat, that is huge,” Henderson said. “We’ve always been compared to that first 3-peat group, and that’s always been quite a compliment to get. To take our place beside them truly is a great feeling.
“I’ve been to Huntington twice and won state titles both times, but those titles didn’t come from the two trips to state. They came from being in the wrestling room and training with state champions and quality teammates that get the best out of each other. More than anything, that’s what makes this so special … and it’s the part I’ll miss too. I’ll miss being part of that family, but the family is also sending me out as a 2-time state champion.”
Freeman scored pinfall wins in all four of his final matches, allowing him to end his career with a 165-22 overall mark. Freeman is the eighth grappler in PPHS history to be a 4-time state placer and the 14th wrestler to surpass the 150-win total in a career.
“All I ever wanted to be when I was younger was a state champion. Now, after all of the hard work, the sweat and the blood, I’m finishing my career as a 2-time state champion on a team that won three straight titles,” Freeman said. “It’s an awesome feeling to know that I’m going out the way I wanted to. It’s even better to know that my efforts helped make the family better today and over the last four years. It’s just an incredible feeling right now, one that I know will always be with me.”
Short joined Maness, Raike and Bartee as the only Point wrestlers to ever go through a season unbeaten. Short — with his two pinfall wins and a 4-0 mark at state — ended the year with a 25-0 mark and completes his career with a 155-11 overall record.
Short was also the 15th Big Black grappler to surpass 150 wins in his career.
“It just kind of all hit me this past summer that this was my senior year, the last time that I’d be competing in high school as a wrestler,” Short said. “My freshman year didn’t end the way I wanted it to, so I had to come back and show these guys that I belonged to the family. Three years and three state titles later, it’s been an experience that I’ll never forget.
“The family has been a blessing to be a part of. I didn’t know anybody when I started here as a freshman, and they took me in and made me one of their own. Being a wrestler at Point Pleasant is something that I will always cherish, especially in going out on top.”
Smith — the lone newcomer to the state champion group — found the third time to be a charm after falling in divisional finals the previous two seasons.
Smith and his older brother George — who won the 106-pound title in Class AAA as a freshman — are only the second set of brothers to win state titles at PPHS, joining Brent Hereford (2006) and Josh Hereford (2012) in that elusive club.
Smith also became the 16th grappler in school history to surpass 150 career wins after stringing together a 153-16 mark over the past four years.
“It’s a really good feeling to finally be a champion after competing in three state championship finals. It’s about time,” Smith said. “It’s tough to know that this was my final match as a wrestler at Point Pleasant because I’m going to miss everybody and everything about it, but I am going out on top … so it’s hard to be too down about it. I’m just thankful for all of the experiences and all the people along the way that helped get me here.”
Bartee became the first Point wrestler to put together two unbeaten seasons in a career after going 27-0 this year. With one more season to compete at the prep level, Bartee is already focused on finishing his prep career in a similar manner as the previous three campaigns.
“It never gets old, being a champion,” Bartee said. “We set our goal as a team to win the state title and we set goals as individuals to get here and win state titles. For the most part, we did that again this week. It’s always good to reach your goals.
“For myself, for Derek, and for the guys coming back, we can’t afford to settle for what we’ve done. Nobody is going to give us any special treatment next year, so we’ll have to work just as hard or even harder to get back to where we are right now.”
Raike agreed in a lot of way with Bartee about being prepared for next year, mainly because of the history that is there to be made.
The last time Point Pleasant 3-peated as state champs, it was bumped up to the Class AAA ranks and never had a chance to go for four in a row.
Some of the newcomers might have had a few jitters this week, but Raike believes that this experience will make the group better as it prepares for the 2021-22 campaign.
“I’m definitely happy about the way the week has gone for the team and for myself, but I do think it could have been a better week for us,” Raike said. “Everybody wrestled well and did their part, but there were a few areas that we could have been better in. It’s a state tournament though, and it’s the best of the best. Sometimes things don’t always go how you hope at this point.
“We have a chance to be the first Point Pleasant team to win four straight state titles next year and we have plenty of talent coming back to be able to do that, plus some incoming eighth-graders that can help us too. We have a lot of work to do between now and then, but for now … I’m just going to take some time and enjoy what we’ve done. It was just a very special week.”
Since the tournament split into two divisions in 1976, PPHS is one of only four programs to 3-peat as AA-A champs. Oak Glen, Cameron (91-94) and Independence (2014-18) are the only schools to win at least four in a row.
Point Pleasant is joined by the 2001 Oak Glen squad and the 2017 Independence squad as the only programs to produce six state champions at a single Class AA-A tournament. The Big Blacks have now accomplished that feat twice in as many years.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.