Highlanders claim first title
HUNTINGTON -- The sequel "Validation II" made its debut Saturday night at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
The original "Validation" came out Feb. 7 when Huntington High, ranked No. 1 in Class AAA wrestling in the West Virginia Coaches Association poll, beat four-time defending state champion Parkersburg South, 37-24, in a highly-anticipated dual at Huntington's Lucas-Archer Gymnasium Complex. The then No. 2 Patriots had come up short in an attempt to unseat the team that started the 2012-13 season No. 1 for the first time in school history and stayed there. They had two weeks to stew about it.
The Highlanders knew to make a sequel possible, they'd have to take down the Patriots again in the 66th West Virginia High School State Tournament at Big Sandy Superstore Arena, thus denying them a Class AAA record fifth straight championship and 19th in school history.
Huntington cranked out quite the sequel. No votes this time. Teams make their case on the mats. The Highlanders did just that over a three-night period. By Saturday night's championship round, they had produced three champions, had 10 wrestlers out of 14 place and racked up 200 points to secure the first state title in school history.
The Highlanders indeed validated the faith the coaches had shown in them back in November. They are the first southern team to win since Shady Spring in 1964. Since the two-class system began in 1976, they are the first champion from Region 4. Until this year, Region 1 ruled with all the victories except for 1998 when Region 2 winner North Marion prevailed.
Parkersburg, which has 21 state titles on its resume, wound up second with 160.5 points and two champions. Parkersburg South, which had no one in the finals for the first time since 1993, settled for third with 138.
"It's one of the things you keep believing is going to happen and then it finally does," said Huntington's Justin Arthur, who won at 145 to finish with three state titles.
"Words can't explain how I feel right now. I've been wanting to do this for a long time for Robbie (coach Rob Archer) and Bill (tournament director and former Huntington High coach Bill Archer)."
Arthur shared Class AAA outstanding wrestler with Jake Martin of Ripley, champ at 138. Archer was voted coach of the year.
"I'm glad Justin ended it with a pin," Archer said. "No kids care more about this program than him. He's so unselfish, motivated. He's wise beyond his years." Arthur will continue his wrestling career at Clarion University.
Huntington's other champs were Logan Grass at 106 and Jordan Allen at 113. For Allen, it's No. 2.
"A solid three days," Allen said of the effort by the squad.
This marks the third time Huntington beat Parkersburg this season. The Highlanders won a dual and the Mountain State Athletic Conference crown. They obviously went 2-0 against Parkersburg South. Archer said that's not an easy thing to do.
"They're an amazing community," Archer said. "They put wrestling on a pedestal. That makes them so tough to beat. You admire what they've done."
Before Saturday's breakthrough, Huntington's best state finish was second twice.
Bill Archer watched the action intently from his seat on the front row at the head scorer's table. He more than enjoyed the outcome, but left center stage to his son and the current Highlanders.
"This shows I'm a better coach's father than coach," he said. "I'm very proud of him and the team."
In Class AA/A, there was a first-time champion as well. Greenbrier West, voted No. 1 in the final coaches poll, won with 131.5 points. The Cavaliers had three champs and six placers overall. The champs were Dustin Yoakum at 132, Malik Boatwright at 152 and Tyler Parker at 172. Independence was second with 119.5 points.
"We worked our butts off to get here," coach Jeremy Tincher, who was voted coach of the year, said of his Cavaliers. "No stage fright. We were ready to wrestle." Earlier this season, Greenbrier West won the Class AA/A division in the WSAZ Invitational at Big Sandy.
Yoakum's win at 132 locked up the state title.
"When you put the pressure on, Dustin figures it out," Tincher said. "That's the kind of kid he is. We did what we had to do in the finals."
Before Saturday, Greenbrier West had five previous state champs.