MORGANTOWN — At this point last season, the University High School wrestling team was trying to close out an unbeaten season.
The Hawks concluded the regular season against Huntington, only to be upset by the Highlanders.
This time around, on Senior Night at UHS, that was not the case, as the second-ranked Hawks held on through some tense moments to secure a 40-26 team victory on Feb. 2, against No. 4 Huntington.
The Hawks built a big lead early on. UHS won its matches in five of the first six weight classes and six of the first eight.
University pulled ahead,
34-11, before the night started to get a bit interesting.
After UHS senior Hayden Starcher held on late for an 8-7 decision, Huntington’s Zane Lanham pinned UHS’s Paul Harwood in the 182-pound weight class, keeping the Highlanders alive.
University’s Josh Sanders fought off a furious attempt at a pin in the closing moments from his opponent, Tanner Ball, to ensure victory.
“There were some places where I feel we could have wrestled better,” UHS head coach Ken Maisel said. “Overall, though, I was satisfied. In their defense, they had some people out of the lineup.
“I was 100 percent nervous there late. At that point, although the lead looked good, if everyone gets pinned we lose. I know they weren’t strong in 220, so I had penciled that in. I had it in my head that we could still lose this.”
The 220-pound match ended up being University’s best performance of the night.
Junior Ben Gribble improved to 33-14 on the season after he pinned Xavier Creamens in just 10 seconds.
Another junior posted the Hawks only other pin, when Braeden Pauley (31-10) bested Gabe Dempsey in 4:47, in the 138-pound weight class.
Jace Stockett put UHS on the board with a decision right out of the gate. A pair of Huntington forfeits and a major decision by Brise Bennett helped the Hawks amass a 19-4 lead before the Pauley pin.
With that, the regular season comes to an end for UHS. In one week, the Hawks will begin their push to the state podium with the regional meet Saturday at Brooke.
“It’s a new season,” Maisel said. “Everybody is 0-0. Forget about what you did in the regular season.”
University has realistic hopes of improving on last year’s third-place finish at states, its best since winning the title in 1956, and there would be no better way to start that run than with a repeat performance at regionals.
Last season, the Hawks claimed a team championship, four individual titles, and had a wrestler in the final bout in 11 of 14 weight classes at regionals.
Pulling that off again will not be an easy task, but, for the moment, University can rest easy knowing its team is in good shape on the brink of the “new season.”