MORGANTOWN — The postseason has come early for the University High School wrestling team.
One week from the regional meet, at Brooke, the Hawks will play host to Huntington on Feb. 2, for Senior Night. It promises to be a thrilling match-up between two of Class AAA’s top programs.
“We have not seen them, and we want to see them,” UHS head coach Ken Maisel said. “They’re a good program, and we’re a good program. It’s always a pretty darn good dual meet.”
On top of being a big showdown to close out the regular season, this meet brings with it a chance at revenge for University.
A year ago, the Hawks entered their match with the Highlanders hoping to close out an unbeaten season. Huntington had other plans.
This time around, the roles seem to be reversed.
“There might be a little extra in it for us,” Maisel said. “We were ranked above Huntington last year, and they beat us. Now, this year, they’re favored.”
The latest statewide poll bumped University up to second, while Huntington dropped to fourth following conference championships. Even still, Maisel insists tonight’s opponent should be revered.
“Although we’re flattered to be second, I don’t think it was the right ranking,” he said. “That’s just plain stupid. Huntington lost their league championship and had three guys out of their lineup. All three probably would have won the tournament.”
UHS has had its ups-and-downs since a strong showing at the OVAC meet, two weeks ago.
The Hawks followed up their success there with a sweep at the hands of East Fairmont and Point Pleasant, two Class AA powerhouses. UHS rebounded with a win over Wheeling Park and a sweep of North Marion and Oak Glen.
No matter how you look at it, this is a big match to close out the year. These two are among the top contenders to unseat Parkersburg South on its quest for a fourth straight state championship.
In fact, the Highlanders were the last team before the Patriots’ run to claim the title, winning back-to-back in 2013 and 2014.
Tonight will be a great test for the Hawks’ four individual title contenders in Jace Stockett, Jake Staud, Jacob Simpson and Owen Zeiders.
It may also be a great chance to build momentum for the likes of Braeden Pauley and Ben Gribble, who could prove pivotal to any team success at this year’s state meet.
“I think Pauley is kind of a sleeper. Gribble is another,” Maisel said. “He’s been wrestling two months of his life and all of a sudden he has over 30 wins.
“We’ve got high expectations. We expect to place a lot of these guys high at the state tournament.”
There certainly will be a tournament atmosphere at this postseason preview.