It was probably the closest thing to a normal school year — at least sports-wise — that anyone at the high school level has been part of since the start of the 2019 summer.
With that said, there was hardly anything normal about the 2021-22 prep sports calendar regarding schools within the Ohio Valley Publishing area … particularly on the southern side of the Ohio River.
Many league and sectional championships made their ways to both Gallia and Meigs counties over the course of 10 months worth of athletic endeavors, and each of the three counties produced a single playoff qualifier on the gridiron.
However, the only state crowns that made their way back to the tri-county region came from Mason County … particularly a handful of programs from either Point Pleasant or Wahama.
After losing all of spring and some of winter back in 2020 due to the initial outbreak and concerns regarding COVID, the 2020-21 school year ended up resulting in resumed games … albeit with the risk that games could be cancelled at a moment’s notice.
And sometimes that was exactly what happened.
Add in staggered and later-than-usual seasonal schedules to last year’s lineup in West Virginia, and one can only begin to understand how ‘weird’ it was to endure the first normal high school sports calendar in the past three years.
Mason County didn’t exactly suffer in its first full year back after COVID as the Wahama Lady Falcons captured the school’s first-ever Class A softball title last spring, while the Black Knights came away with the 2021 Class AA state title in boys track and field.
PPHS also secured its fifth and sixth state championships in wrestling just before COVID hit in 2020 and returned for a triumphant 3-peat in Class AA in 2021.
There were also individual champions from both wrestling and track and field as the 2021 campaigns eventually ended in early April and mid-June.
This past year, however, saw Mason County take gigantic strides in history as the traditional ways of high school athletics started to reappear at local stadiums, gymnasiums and ball diamonds.
Point Pleasant wrestling, for a third year in a row, captured titles in six of the 14 weight classes at the Class AA level while recording the program’s first-ever 4-peat as state champions at Mountain Health Arena.
The Big Blacks — in securing the school’s seventh overall state crown — also produced two of the three 4-time individual state champions in school history in Derek Raike and Justin Bartee.
Freshmen Gunner Andrick and Josh Woyan, as well as sophomores Nathan Wood and Conner Blessing, also came away with the first individual championships of their respective wrestling careers.
PPHS followed that success with a pair of historic efforts at the Class AA track and field championships held at Laidley Field as the Lady Knights and Black Knights combined for 11 state championships en route to third place and second place efforts in the final team standings.
Of the five state titles secured by the Lady Knights, either Elicia Wood or Addi Cottrill — a pair of seniors in their prep finales — were involved in each of the victories.
Cottrill won the shot put for a third time — the school is crediting her with an additional state title in this event due to the cancelled 2020 state meet her sophomore year — and also repeated as the discus champion for her school-best sixth state crown in her final competition.
Wood — who won the high jump as a junior — became the first 3-time champion at one meet for the Lady Knights as she repeated as high jump champion by setting a school record.
Wood won the 100-meter hurdles crown and also joined Gabriella Hunt, McKenna Young and Katelynn Smith atop the podium after claiming the 4×102.5m shuttle hurdles relay title.
The Point Pleasant boys didn’t disappoint in trying to defend its team championship, but the half-dozen victories the Big Blacks managed just wasn’t enough to keep Winfield from sneaking away with a 6-point win.
Junior Cody Schultz was the lone repeat champion for the PPHS boys after he just missed Cody Mitchell’s school record in the discus final. Schultz’s final mark was still more than 20 feet longer than the next competitor this spring.
Junior Ian Wood, however, ended up stealing the show after taking part in three state titles for the Big Blacks. Ian is also the younger brother of Elicia, and the Wood clan collectively accounted for a half-dozen championships themselves.
Ian won both the 110m hurdles and 300m hurdles finals, then joined Reece Hunt, Luke Derenberger and Trey Peck in coming away with gold in the 4x110m shuttle hurdles relay.
Seniors Jonathan Griffin and Preston Taylor also ended their prep careers on a high note as they respectively won the 400m dash and 100m dash events.
The Class AA tournament started on a Wednesday night and ended Thursday afternoon, then Wahama and Hannan both took their shots on Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Class A meet held at Laidley Field.
By the end of the weekend, Rowen Gerlach had made the rarest of history at Wahama as the junior became the first male athlete to ever win two state titles in a career and as many state crowns in one weekend after claiming wins in both the shot put and discus competitions.
Gerlach joins only Kelsey Zuspan as WHS athletes to win multiple event championships at the same state tournament.
And then there were the Lady Falcons, who actually lost two games over the course of the regular season before marching through another unbeaten postseason en route to a second straight Class A softball crown.
Junior Mikie Lieving was named the state’s top player in single-A while pitching Wahama to a 29-2 final mark that included road losses to 2021 Class AAA champion Cabell Midland and 2022 Class AA runner-up Winfield.
The Lady Falcons, for the record, are 56-2 overall during their 2-year reign as single-A champions. The Red and White are also unbeaten at home during that stretch.
The unfortunate thing is that Mason County was real close to adding a few more titles. Schultz was the shot put runner-up in Class AA, while the White Falcons came up short to Charleston Catholic in the Class A baseball championship game at Appalachian Power Park.
Not wanting to compare apples and oranges, but the closest thing to a state championship that either Gallia County or Meigs County saw was a tie for second place in the Division II pole vault final by Gallia Academy junior Callie Wilson.
Meigs junior Ethan Stewart struck out all 21 batters he faced in a 7-inning game against Athens in April. River Valley had four wrestlers get to state and South Gallia sent the program’s first-ever as well in junior Reece Butler.
In looking back at the 2021-22 high school sports year, there were just too many champions to mention to even think about doing a top-5 stories from the area.
All of the best stories were in Mason County this year, same as the last … primarily due to the vast number of state title-winners.
But the beautiful thing about sports is this … next year presents a chance to change all of that.
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.