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University wrestling wins first state title since 1956; Martin, Felix, Kehler crowned champions

HUNTINGTON — For the first time since 1956 the University Hawks won a state wrestling team title as the 2024 WVSSAC state wrestling tournament concluded Saturday at Marshall Health Network Arena in Huntington. 

University entered the final day with 11 of its 12 wrestlers still in bracket and sat first in the overall team standings with 159.5 points, 11.5 points ahead of second-place Parkersburg South.

The Hawks held their lead through the final day and earned their first state title as a team since 1956.

“This team has worked hard, they really have. This means everything to us,” UHS head coach Ken Maisel said. “This is the goal we’ve worked toward all year. Personally, it hits home. It’s been a lot of years here and we weren’t always at the level we are at now. To see what it has become and see the hard work pay off is so special.”

Three Hawks earned spots in the state finals with junior Pepper Martin (106), senior Luca Felix (165) and junior Brock Kehler (285) who was aiming to complete his season undefeated with his third-straight state title.

University’s Pepper Martin celebrates his finals victory to become a state champion on Saturday night in Huntington. (Benjamin Powell/The Dominion Post)

Martin met Dallas Owens of Spring Mills in the finals and earned a thrilling 4-3 victory in an evenly-matched contest to earn his first state championship. He trailed the match 2-1 before earning two points with a crafty reversal with 20 seconds left in the final period and held on to earn the title. His win also helped boost the Hawks’ team score towards the team state championship.

“You have to go out there ready to wrestle all six minutes because you never know when the biggest moment of a match will come,” Maisel said. “We talk in the wrestling room a lot about when the most important time of a match is and the truth is you don’t know. It could come in the first period or the third with 20 seconds left. Pepper had to go hard for the full six minutes to get it done and that’s what he did.”

University’s Luca Felix gets locked up with his finals opponent during his state championship match on Saturday night in Huntington. (Benjamin Powell/The Dominion Post)

Felix captured the state title at 165 pounds with a 12-4 decision victory over Zachary Meisenzahl of Washington. The latest title is Felix’s third in his UHS career and he will join NC State in the fall.

“This means a lot, I do a lot of work behind the scenes and it means the world to go out on top,” he said. “It’s a weird feeling to do all of this for the last time in the UHS singlet and do all this stuff for the final time in high school. It felt a little odd walking into the arena today but then it was all about having fun.”

Felix said being able to bring a team title to UHS for the first time since 1956 in his final year was the goal all along.

“That’s what we’ve been working for all year and that was our goal,” Felix said. “Have to give credit to all the guys on the lower side of the brackets who continued to fight and get results for us. It shows so much character to stay focused at that point and that’s truly where these team titles are won.”

University’s Brock Kehler celebrates his finals victory to become a state champion on Saturday night in Huntington. (Benjamin Powell/The Dominion Post)

UHS junior Brock Kehler completed his undefeated season with a first-round pin of Anthony Williams of Spring Mills to capture the state title at 285 pounds. This is Kehler’s third straight state title. His career record is now 143-1 through three seasons.

Every wrestler that hit the mat on Saturday morning was guaranteed to medal with a spot on the podium, but the final placing was still to be determined. Winners of the opening matches moved into the third/fourth place matches, while the losers dropped into the fifth/sixth place bouts.

Four Hawks advanced to the 3rd/4th matches in their respective weight classes, while four others fell to the 5th/6th spots.

Sophomore Kaden Niemann (113), junior Carter Pauley (132), junior Rider Ludrosky (150) and sophomore Ryder Hastings (215) each finished fourth in the state in their weight class. 

Sophomores Colton Gillespie (126) and Emerson Murphy (175) each won their final match of the season to take fifth overall in the state. Murphy’s pinfall victory was a significant result for the UHS team score.

Sophomore Timothy Husk (120) and junior Jackson Pate (190) completed their season finishing sixth overall in their respective weight classes.

Preston’s Cole Turner (165) and Owen Kilmas (190) earned fourth in the state in Class AAA.

“I liked the effort from our guys this weekend,” Preston coach Brad Reed said. “I’m really proud of Owen and Cole for making the podium. They were on that trajectory all season long and it was awesome to see them reach that goal. We left no reason to hang our heads.”

University finished with 204.5 points to capture the Class AAA team state title, 11.5 points ahead of Parkersburg South which finished with 193 points. Woodrow Wilson finished third with 166.5.

Maisel was also voted Class AAA Coach of the Year.