MORGANTOWN — There were 41 teams and hundreds of wrestlers suited up, at WesBanco Arena, in Wheeling. University High’s Owen Zeiders was one of a handful to be crowned champion.
He wasn’t the favorite to win the Class 5A 145-pound weight class at the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (OVAC) tournament — that went to top seed Beau Smith, of Beaver Local (Ohio). Zeiders has become one of the favorites in the 145 class in West Virginia, but Smith was a different challenge.
Heading into the championship match, on Jan. 20, Zeiders knew what he had to do.
“I had to get my motion going and get to my shots,” he said. “I had to keep the pace up.”
Smith was able to lock up an arm bar, but Zeiders refused to go on his back and give Smith the points that could have been the deciding factor. Instead, Zeiders took home a win and OVAC trophy.
UHS head coach Ken Maisel lauded Zeiders’ toughness, not from a technique standpoint, but because he refused to give it when his back was against the wall. With the regional and state tournaments quickly approaching, winning a tournament the size of the OVAC, it’s given Zeiders an idea of where he stands heading into the most important time of the year.
“My confidence is high right now and I know I can wrestle with the best,” he said.
Last season was an interesting and unique experience for Zeiders at the state tournament. After traveling to Huntington as a state qualifier, Zeiders and the rest of the Class AAA 145-pound wrestlers had to wait three weeks following a scare from a contagious skin condition.
When Zeiders finally got a chance in Fairmont in mid-March, he went 2-1 and finished fourth. His final win of 2017 was his 100th win, adding to his decorated high school wrestling career.
But a state title has been out of reach so far, and that’s something that Zeiders desperately wants before his prep career comes to a close.
“It would mean everything to me,” he said.
Zeiders began working on the mat when he was in fourth grade and started to fall in love with the sport in middle school. With the help of his parents, Jeremy and Amy, and his coaches, Zeiders doesn’t know what he would do without wrestling.
“I just love the sport so much that I couldn’t ever not be associated with it,” he said. “I couldn’t have done any of this without their support.”
Three of Zeiders’ teammates also reached the OVAC finals, but fell short. Jace Stockett (106) lost 1-0, Jake Staud (120) lost 3-2, and Jacob Simpson lost 1-0.
Maisel wants his team to take the next step and get over the hump. Last season, the Hawks went 0-4 in the state tournament finals. While overcoming the likes of Parkersburg South and Parkersburg won’t be easy, Zeiders said the team needs to try and continue to get better.
“We need to get back in the room and get back to work,” he said. “It’s grind time for the season.”
The state tournament is set for Feb. 22-24, at the Huntington Civic Center.