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WHEELING — Opening night of the 68th Annual Ron Mauck Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Wrestling Championships provided a bit of everything inside WesBanco Arena, including a lightning-fast pin that nearly tied a national record; a first-ranked wrestler who does not compete; and all but seven of the 168 seeds having their hands raised. However, one thing remained the same as the familiar schools rose to the top of the team’s scores.
Starting late due to nearly 70 scratches that shook a few brackets, the first session lasted just over 75 minutes as the wrestlers recorded 126 pins – half in less than a minute – a dozen decisions and six technical falls in the 144 bouts contested.
Eight of the fast falls occurred in less than 10 seconds, but none faster than the 4-second flattening recorded by Wheeling Park junior Erick Brothers Jr., two-time West Virginia State champion. The 220-pound seed got an ankle pick and a slap from the mat against Shadyside’s Nick Norris. It came with a tick of tying the national record set by Lewis Fernandez of Vorhees High School in 2019. He tied Jacob Munger of Alma, Michigan.
The pin was one of seven recorded by the Patriots, combined with a technical pinfall, which led the team run by 1.5 points over University High, 47-45.5.
The hotly contested team race has defending champion Parkersburg South and Steubenville tied for third at 36, with Indian Creek, John Marshall, Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville all recorded with 28.
The biggest shakeup of the tournament came when top seed Reese Stephen of Barnesville failed to weigh in at 120 and was scratched from the draw, which had to be redrawn.
“It’s a matter of weight. We knew he was going to struggle going into the season and it finally caught up with us,” Barnesville head coach and Reese’s father Jayson Stephen explained. “We went through it last year when he struggled at 106. His (growth) clock has hit him and he continues to grow.
“He can’t live on a water bottle and an egg every day,” coach Stephen said. “It stinks, whoever it is, but it hits a little closer to home, it’s him.”
The trainer said his other “top dogs” will now have to seek bonus points with technical drops or pins.
“We need those bonus points if we want to have a chance.”
Reese Stephen, a returning sophomore placer, becomes the second No. 1 seed in tournament history to not gain weight and be able to compete. The same thing happened to former Buckeye Local state champion and current Toronto head coach Willie Saxton in 2005.
“I feel for the kid. I was miserable,” Saxton said. “That doesn’t define his legacy. It’s only a tournament… It’s in March that it counts.
The selection committee should be proud of the work he has done this season. Of the 12 seeded wrestlers in each weight, only seven failed to move on, with one being a No. 8 and four of 10. There was also a pair of 12s that fell.
When it comes to team class runs, Park also holds the same lead over the Hawks at 5A, while Indian Creek and St. Clairsville are tied at the top of 4A. Martins Ferry had a six-point advantage over Barnesville in 3A and in 1A/2A Cameron holds a 20-15 margin over Southern Local.
The action resumes on eight mats today at noon with second round matches in the championship bracket and first and second round fights in the consolation bracket. The championship quarter-final bouts are scheduled for 6 p.m., as are the third- and fourth-round consolations. The championship semifinals will be played at 11 a.m. Saturday, with the finals scheduled for around 4 p.m.
* Coach of the Year awards went to Shawn Smith, Parkersburg South (5A); Joel Sansone, St Clairsville (4A); Jayson Stephen, Barnesville (3A) and Jessie Wells, Shenandoah (1A/2A).
* Wellsville’s Tim Sarge, Sr. was named OVAC Assistant Coach of the Year.