Local Sports, Morgantown, Preston, Sports, University

University wrestling hopes to contend for team title at state tournament

Morgantown, Preston aiming for individual success

MORGANTOWN — The 2024 WVSSAC state wrestling tournament is set to be held this weekend at Marshall Health Network Arena in Huntington from Thursday, Feb. 29 through Saturday, March 2. 

Both Monongalia County schools in University and Morgantown, along with neighboring Preston High, have qualified multiple wrestlers for the three-day event. Thursday evening will host the opening round matches before making way for two separate sessions on both Friday and Saturday.

For the first time, the girls’ state wrestling tournament will be held in conjunction with the boys’ tournament. The girls will compete and finish the entire bracket on Saturday.

The University Hawks and head coach Ken Maisel have high hopes for this weekend from both a team and individual standpoint with 12 males and two females entering the state tournament.

UHS qualifiers are junior Pepper Martin (106, 37-3), sophomore Kaden Nieman (113, 36-9), sophomore Timmy Husk (120, 19-7), sophomore Colton Gillespie (126, 37-10), junior Carter Pauley (132, 44-5), junior Rider Ludrosky (150, 34-12), senior Jay McKenzie (157, 30-13), senior Luca Felix (165, 38-2), sophomore Emerson Murphy (175, 42-12), junior Jackson Pate (190, 34-17), sophomore Ryder Hastings (215, 35-9) and undefeated junior Brock Kehler (285, 48-0).

Kehler is the defending state champion from a year ago but won in the 215 weight class and moved up this season. Felix fell in the state championship bout last season and the NC State signee is looking to avenge himself this time around, while they both aim to help the Hawks earn the school’s first team state title since 1956.

Freshmen Shane Friend and Gabby Tennant will compete in the girls’ tournament.

“We have been talking about focusing on what you are doing individually and having intense effort,” Maisel said. “It sounds like coach talk, but control what you can control and forget about the rest. You can’t change where you are on the bracket, just go wrestle. Be grateful for the opportunity to compete.”

UHS has enjoyed a successful season as a team, capturing the WV state dual meet title, the WSAZ invitational team title and the Region I championship most recently.

“At OVAC’s, we didn’t perform that well in the consolation brackets, and in the state tournament that will make the difference for our team score,” Maisel said. “Guys that lose in the winners (bracket) will have to come right back and be ready to turn around and win to move on and place. If we go out and compete with intense effort, I think we will be fine.”

For the Knights and coach Brad Reed, six wrestlers will head to Huntington to battle for a state title.

Freshmen Levi Jennings (120, 37-16) and Hayden Lantz (132, 19-27) each qualified for the state tournament in their first year of high school wrestling. Junior Cole Turner (165, 40-7) enters the bracket with an impressive record thus far and will face sophomore Chayden Johnson from Riverside in the opening bout.

The remaining three are all seniors and the leaders for the team in Gavin Garlits, Owen Kilmas and Greyson Kuhn. 

Garlits (138) enters the tournament with a record of 39-12 on the season. Greyson Kuhn (285), a Glenville State football signee, comes in with a record of 41-9 on the year in the heavyweight division. Finally, Owen Kilmas (190, 49-1) enters the weekend with a single loss on the year, which came to his potential second-round opponent, Brycon Arthur from Parkersburg South, in overtime. The two could meet again to begin the day on Friday.

“My message to the guys is simple: Don’t leave Huntington with any regrets,” Reed said. “And don’t leave wishing you could have done more. Wrestle with a little chip on your shoulder and be loose on the mat.”

The Mohigans will send five student-athletes to Huntington, with four boys and one girl making the trip. 

Sophomore DeShawn Walcott (132, 10-14), junior Carter Jones (144, 18-13) and seniors Troy Andis (150, 18-17) and Michael Burkhart (215, 6-3) will compete for the boys. Freshman Layla Keener will be the lone female for MHS.

“All five of our wrestlers haven’t been to states before and naturally there will be some nerves,” MHS coach Joseph Abu-Ghannam said. “But they need to know that they’ve put in the work just to get this far and earned this moment and opportunity. Our female (Keener) will also need to realize she isn’t alone in this experience as this is the first time they’ve had the girls’ tournament in Huntington.”

The 2024 WVSSAC state high school wrestling tournament will begin Thursday evening and continue through Saturday night’s championship rounds from Marshall Health Network Arena in Huntington.

TWEET @DomPostSports