SPARKS AND RECREATION: Wrestling has plenty to BRAG about

Jan. 18—Boyd County wrestling coach Clayton McClelland could not pin down just one reason or one competitor for his team's success this season.

He's had so many to choose from inside the circle.

The Lions have collected a 16-0 record in dual events—team vs. team—and are poised to make a serious challenge in the Region 8 field next month after finishing third in 2023.

"We are still what I consider a young team," McClelland said. "We only have one senior. We have many guys that are having a good season. We are doing everything we can to get ready for the postseason in a few weeks."

Wrestlers in the 285-pound division have had their hands full dealing with Ashland's Cole Christian. The senior keeps adding championship medals to his trophy case and he feels the entire team has grown over the last two months.

"(The season) has been very successful," Christian said. "From my standpoint, I've had a good year. I believe my record is 33-3. As a team, we are very young but we keep improving every week. Everybody has a great shot of doing well at region and State."

"It's important to me to be a leader," he added. "I'm the only senior and we have two juniors. They look up to me. It means a lot to be somebody they can learn from and to set an example for them. I try to lean on that and make sure we do the right thing."

The Lions have a similar roster that includes improving and talented younger players. McClelland has several wrestlers that are ranked statewide in their respective weight divisions.

John Jackson currently boasts a 35-3 record and is No. 7 at 165 pounds. Tony Leader is also 35-3 and sits at No. 13 in the 157-pound division. Chase Gillium's record is 34-6.

Senior Jack Hogsten has a No. 19 ranking at 190 pounds. He just celebrated his 100th career win at the Greenup County Duals last weekend. He does so much more for the team than just win, according to his coach.

"Jack is getting to the point in the season where we look back on all the accomplishments he's had and the ones that are still ahead of him," McClelland said. "He's been a part of that core group over the last few years that has brought in to our program. We are starting to see other guys that are having similar success. They are also getting recognition across the state."

Christian has seen the Matcats program and programs at other schools increase in popularity as more kids recognize what the sport entails.

"It's definitely getting a lot more popular," Christian said. "Teams have sprung up in Greenup, Raceland and Russell in the last few years. We are trying to get more guys to wrestle here at Ashland. It's definitely gotten a lot bigger in the area. It's really good to see and it's a great sport. It's one of the oldest sports that there is in history. It shows who you are and it's a great individual and team sport."

Christian's level of play hasn't been the only thing to increase this year. The size has improved for the senior who is an All-Area lineman on the football team and a member of the KHSFCA District 6 First Team. The move to the 285-pound division from 215 has paid dividends. He still can display his quickness and technique against bigger competitors.

"It changed things," Christian said. "At 215, guys are a lot smaller. They are still strong but a little quicker. Moving up to 285, and I'm about 245, I am giving up a little bit of weight. It's different. I have to use more speed and athleticism against those guys that are big and strong. It's been fun. I've had to great creative on my takedowns."

McClelland said the youth leagues are prospering and he has seen his girls team record strong performances in their third season.

Freshman Lexie Dingess and Destiny Jackson (14-0) have been with the program since its inception and keep making strides. Jackson is ranked No. 9 at 235. Alissa Nolen is No. 7 at 165.

"We have six girls competing at the high school level this year," McClelland said. "A couple of them are having some great seasons. We are really young but they are finding their success too."

Boyd County will host the first BRAG (Boyd County, Russell, Ashland, Greenup County) wrestling meet at Catlettsburg Elementary on Jan. 30. Teams compete at events across the commonwealth but the meet will feature a local flare.

Check The Daily Independent for coverage from the BRAG meet during that week.

Big-Time Ballers—Newly-crowned Kentucky 2A state champ Boyd County was well-represented on the girls All-Tournament team. All five starters received trophies. There were three that you probably know but the other two players are just as valuable. Bella Opell embraces her role as a defensive-stopper and raises the toughness level of her team. Jada Ray has become the new long-range threat for the Lions. She was the only Boyd County player to score double figures in all three games at the state tournament. The Lions travel to Ashland tonight weather permitting.

—East Carter's Blake Hall and Fairview's Steven "Bubba" Day reached scoring milestones. Hall's relentless motor can be a difference maker but he can also put the ball in the basket. He became the newest member of the Raiders' 1,000-point club. Day has been a model of consistency for the Eagles. He recently recorded his 1,500th career point.

—Zander Carter cemented his name in the Ashland record books and looks like his scoring numbers will remain firmly at the top. The junior reached 2,000 points, the first time for a Tomcats player, against Madison Central on Saturday, and with another season and a half remaining, the milestone will be tough to reach.

Reach MATTHEW SPARKS at or (606) 326-2671. Follow @SparksWillFly35 on Twitter. (X).