Grizzlies pressing on through "a different kind of year"

Feb. 13—Nicholas County wrestling coach Kevin Amick walked out of the Mountain Health Arena feeling good about his program.

It was the final day of the state tournament last March, and the Grizzlies finished eighth among Class AA teams and 10th overall. A top-10 state finish was viewed as a strong building block for the future.

With only one senior on that team and some talented underclassmen coming off accomplished seasons, there was certainly reason for optimism.

Fast forward a year later. It's not that the bottom fell out, but the coaches have been met with a new set of challenges.

"It's been a different kind of year," Amick said last Saturday at the Coalfield Conference Tournament. "I'm missing some of my guys that I had the year before. We still only have one senior this year so we're still a fairly young team."

Of course, one of the guys missing was not a surprise. Dalton Hanshaw left a big void as a leader in the mat room. Hanshaw, now redshirting at Fairmont State, was last season's state runner-up at 190 pounds.

"That's big shoes to fill," Amick said. "He was a really great athlete for us. He was a great leader. Now he's doing his stuff in college."

Joining Hanshaw in Huntington was a strong group of young wrestlers. Luke Kelly, now a sophomore, placed fifth at 113 pounds, and then-sophomores Sailor McKinney, Noah Hines and Caleb Burns were all state qualifiers.

But some wrestlers did not come back, and there were suddenly some new faces on the team.

"I've got a lot of new kids," Amick said. "They might be juniors, but they're first-year wrestlers. It's a different kind of coaching now. Before it's always plug and plug and you go. Now we're doing a lot of going back to the basics. It's really working all the coaching skills on everybody to get them caught up."

Like last year, the Grizzlies have just one senior. Preston Thomas, at 150 pounds, picked up his 100th career win earlier this season.

He advanced to the Coalfield Conference title match last weekend, where he fell to Greenbrier West's Joevan Robinson.

"He's (Thomas) had a pretty good season so far," Amick said.

Kelly has moved up to 120, where he is ranked third in the state, and won his first Coalfield championship. He was the Region 3 champion at 113 last year.

"He's been phenomenal this year," Amick said. "He's only got a couple of losses and those are to triple-A (wrestlers). He's been doing really well. Got a lot of high hopes with him."

Burns, last season's regional champ at 138, was one of the wrestlers who did not return.

"I hate not having him out. That's a big loss," Amick said.

"We just go with what we have and do the best we can."

Freshman Conner Tallamy (113, sixth) was also a Coalfield placer for the Grizzlies.

McKinney did not wrestle but will be with Nicholas County for the Class AA/A Region 3 tournament Saturday at Independence High School.

"Got a lot of hope with him, too," Amick said.

One area of growth has been in the girls program.

"We've got six girls. We doubled," Amick said with a laugh.

Among the top performers has been junior Mackenzie Hanshaw — Dalton's sister.

"She reminds you a little bit of Dalton," Amick said. "She's really tough."

Kelly's younger sister Jenna Kelly is also wrestling well.

Rounding out the girls team are junior Zoee Meadows, sophomore Rosa Hudkins and freshmen Journee Meadows and Saraia Lawson.

The dynamic may have been different that what was anticipated, but the optimism toward the future is unchanged.

"I don't have as many returning placers that I had from last year, but the trajectory is still not bad," Amick said. "It's still not bad at all."

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