The hay's in the barn: Regional wrestling tournaments take place Saturday

Feb. 16—The urgency of the weekend is obvious. Regional wrestling tournaments across the state will determine which individuals qualify for the state tournament and which teams might have a leg up on winning state championships.

When it comes to the atmosphere and mindset, that depends on who you ask. But perhaps Cliff Warden sums it up best.

"I guess the old-timers would say, the hay's in the barn," the veteran Independence coach said.

The march toward the ultimate goal gets its true start Saturday with regional tournaments. Two of those will take place in Raleigh County.The Class AAA Region 3 tournament will be held at Woodrow Wilson starting at 10 a.m. The host Flying Eagles and fellow local teams Oak Hill and Greenbrier East will be joined by Capital, George Washington, Princeton, Riverside, South Charleston and St. Albans.

Independence will host Class AA/A Region 3 beginning at 11:30 a.m. The original start time of 10:30 a.m. was pushed back to allow time for road clearance with predictions of up to three inches of snow falling overnight.

The top four finishers in each weight class will qualify for the state tournament Feb. 29 through March 2 at Mountain Health Arena in Huntington.

Independence is the defending champ and will be joined by Class A No. 1 and reigning state champion Greenbrier West and Class AA No. 6 Herbert Hoover. Also competing will be Shady Spring, Liberty, Bluefield, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail, Nicholas County, PikeView, Richwood, River View and Webster County.

Woodrow will be looking for its third straight regional championship. The Flying Eagles are ranked third in the state in Class AAA and goes in with nine ranked wrestlers, including 2023 state champions Garrett Johnson and Tyler Roark.

Head coach Matt Osborne said measures have been taken to get his wrestlers geared up.

"It's a slower paced practice at the beginning and a much higher paced practice at the end," he said. "We always split our practices up into thirds, or half, and always a cardio blast at the end. So it's different, and they're probably tired of hearing me talk. But I'm always talking about what's next and what's going on with the season and where we're at in the season."

Greenbrier East has four ranked wrestlers, and Oak Hill will go in with two.

Greenbrier West begins its journey for a repeat state championship and fourth in six seasons. The Cavaliers have ranked No. 1 in Class A most of the season and are coming off last week's second place overall finish to Woodrow at the Coalfield Conference Tournament.

West has seven ranked wrestlers, including reigning 215-pound champion Cole Vandall.

Head coach Jeremy Tincher says the mindset for his wrestlers going into the final two weekends should not be changed.

"Honestly, if you do it right it shouldn't be different," he said. "If you're goal is to be a state champion, then your mindset should be the same in February as it was in December. It should never change. It should only get better. You can't take December and January off and decide in February you're going to flip the switch and start doing it the right way.

"I call it being righteous. If your school work's right, things are good with your teachers, things are good at home. You're taking the trash out. You're washing the dishes. You're coming to practice, you're staying after practice, you're doing the early morning workouts. When all those things are right, your wrestling will be fine."

Independence has struggled to put a healthy team on the mat but had a strong showing at the Coalfield tournament, finishing as the Class AA champion and third place overall.

"You're still looking at individual performance and I guess you've got to curb to each of their needs a little more as far as who's healthy, who's got a little bit of grind left in them," Warden said. "More or less you're just fine tuning stuff and getting them feeling good going into that."

The bottom line is this is when it starts to count.

"We've been telling everybody from the get-go, the whole season's nothing but practice until the region," Nicholas County head coach Kevin Amick said. "Don't (worry about) a lot of your wins and losses. Take them and move on. But it's not for real until the region. So we'll come out to region, see what we've got and take it to Huntington."