FAIRMONT — Just a month after this tightly-compacted wrestling season began, it’s now officially do-or-die time on the calendar for grapplers across the state as regional tournaments get underway today, including the Class AA/A Region I Tournament at the FSHS Field House.
The Class AA/A Region I Tournament, which will feature 17 teams, including the Marion County trio of East Fairmont, North Marion and host Fairmont Senior, will take on the usual two-day format it has had in years past, with the layout relatively unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s session, which begins at 3 p.m., will run through the championship bracket quarterfinals and the second round of consolations, while tomorrow’s session begins with the consolation quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. and run through the championship title bouts, which are slated for 2 p.m.
The top four finishers in each respective weight class will earn bids to the Class AA/A state tournament April 19-22 in Huntington.
At the Big 10 Conference Tournament two weekends ago at Preston High School, weight classes 106-145 wrestled Friday from the first round through the conference championship bouts, while weight classes 152-285 wrestled the next day on Saturday, again completing the entire bracket, first round through championships, in one day.
Fairmont Senior took home that Big 10 Conference crown two weekends ago for a conference title repeat, and the Polar Bears did so in quite the authoritative fashion, as they defeated runners-up Buckhannon-Upshur by 62.5 points and had four wrestlers earn individual conference titles and another four take conference runners-up.
“This was the goal, and we got a good goal done today, but we have to move forward now with regionals coming up in two weeks,” Fairmont Senior coach Vincent Delligatti said two weeks ago. “That’s the playoffs, so it’s time to rev it up a little bit.”
The Polar Bears will enter today’s regional tournament as the defending regional runners-up after Oak Glen beat them out for the regional title 212 points to 210.5 points. East Fairmont and North Marion, meanwhile, placed third and sixth, respectively, at last year’s regionals, and the Bees and Huskies finished fifth and seventh, respectively, out of 12 teams at Big 10s two weeks ago.
“We’re a solid team, and we got a lot of promise coming up here in the next few years,” Delligatti said, “and while we have a ton of individual state titles (this program) hasn’t won a team title since the ‘60s. So that’s our main goal and we’re trying to work towards it.”
Fairmont Senior will enter today’s regional tournament with eight returning regional place finishers, including 2020 Class AA/A Region I champs Kolbie Hamilton and Mikey Jones. East Fairmont, meanwhile, has four returning regional place finishers, which includes its own pair of reigning champions in senior Blake Boyers and sophomore Levi Carpenter.
North Marion has its two tentpole standouts in Brody Hess and Hunter Kuhn back after the duo placed second and third, respectively, at regionals in 2020. Huskies senior star Garrett Conaway would have made for a third returning place finisher, and NMHS’s lone reigning regional champ, but Conaway was declared out for the remainder of the year earlier this season by North Marion coach Brooks Russell.
Out of those 14 total place finishers from 2020, only the select trio of FSHS’s Jones and EFHS’s Boyers and Carpenter enter today’s tournament as both the 2020 reigning regional champ and a 2021 Big 10 Conference champion from two weeks ago.
Jones won his regional title last year at 132 pounds by a 7-1 decision, but at Big 10s, Jones dropped down to the 120-pound class and secured his conference title by a 12-3 major decision over North Marion’s Hess.
Boyers, meanwhile — who year in and year out has a lot bigger things on his resume than conference and regional crowns — won last year’s regional at 126 pounds with a thrilling 2-0 overtime decision victory against Petersburg’s Thomas Ours, and two weeks ago at the Big 10 Tournament, he won the 138-pound title in dominant fashion with a win by technical fall. And Carpenter has split his 2020 regional championship and 2021 Big 10 title between the 113 and 106 weight classes; he won last year’s regional at 113 with a 4-1 decision, and then he dipped down to 106 two weeks ago at Big 10 to win by a close 3-2 decision.
For Fairmont Senior, 2020 regional champs Jones and Hamilton will be surrounded by returning regional place finishers in Nick Scott (2nd-170), Zach Anderson (2nd-160), Iain Campbell (4th-220), Dominic Armistead (5th-106), Angelo Manzo (5th-145), and Michael Kruzel (6th-152).
Kruzel and Anderson each delivered huge breakthrough moments at Big 10s two weeks ago, however, by capturing conference crowns in the 152 and 182 classes, respectively, while FSHS freshman Hunter Spitznogle also comes into regionals after a conference championship at 126 pounds.
For East Fairmont, Boyers and Carpenter are no doubt the headliners, but the Bees also bring back 2020 regional place finishers Conner Konya (6th-120) and Evan Helm (6th-182).
And for North Marion, Hess and Kuhn are the lone returning place finishers from last year’s regionals, while the Huskies’ prominent duo is also each coming off Big 10 Conference runners-up performances, with Hess taking second at 120 pounds and Kuhn finishing second at 145 pounds.