Bozek, Hall and Rea earn W.Va.wrestling titles

HUNTINGTON — Four northern panhandle wrestlers took home gold medals late Saturday night as the 70th-annual West Virginia State High School Tournament wrapped up three days of action inside the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Cabell County.

All of those titles came in the Class A/AA portion of the event as Oak Glen’s talented tandem of freshman Peyton Hall (120) and senior Robert Bozek (138), along with Weir junior Caleb Rea (126) and Magnolia senior Caleb Nice (195) proudly stood high atop the podium with exciting championship victories.

The third time was surely quite nice for Bozek as he secured his third state title with a thrilling 5-4 nod over Frankfort’s Austin Pumphrey. Trailing 4-3 with time winding down, the Golden Bear recorded a takedown with 10 seconds remaining and then held on for the win. He won at 126 as a sophomore and 132 a year ago.

“This feels awesome,” Bozek said after receiving congratulations from anyone and everyone wearing Columbia Blue-and-Gold. “Especially the way I did it.”

Tied at 3 after Bozek got a takedown with a little over a minute left, he opted to give Pumphrey an escape.

“I knew if I shot I could take him down,” Bozek explained of his late move. “I knew he would just base out.”

With the win, Bozek improved to 42-8 this season and 152-34 for his career. He also became the fifth Oak Glen wrestler to capture three state titles.

Hall, now a sparkling 43-3, had to work overtime in defeating East Fairmont’s two-time state titlist Cole Laya, 3-1, in overtime. The two battled into two OTs last week in the regional finals before Laya prevailed.

“Last week I held back a lot, so I knew I had to finish it (the match) in regulation or the first overtime,” Hall explained. “It definitely feels good.”

The two combatants were deadlocked at 1 after six minutes of action. Hall ended things with a takedown 17 seconds into the extra session.

“I had a lot of shots in the match, so I knew I could get the takedown.”

Laya ended this season 45-2 and is now 150-6 for his three-year career.

Rea, a third-place finisher the last two seasons, took the extra two steps to reach the top of the podium, but it didn’t come easy.

Matched with East Fairmont’s Brock Whorton for the second weekend in a row, Rea scored a reversal with eight seconds remaining to pull out a hard-earned 3-1 triumph over the Bees’ two-time defending state champion.

“It feels great. It’s not like I went out there and beat some scrub,” Rea said. “He’s a two-time state champion and an amazing wrestler. He had me in some trouble,but I was able to work out of it.”

Rea won 4-2 in overtime last week in the regional finals. He ended the season 46-1, with the lone loss being to Parkersburg South’s Luke Martin, who also won a state title Saturday night. Rea avenged that setback a week later.

“It’s hard to beat a kid two weekends in a row,” Rea allowed. “He knows what you like to work. He knows what you’re good at. You have to be able to adapt and I was able to do that at the end.

“I think it came down to a mental toughness thing at the end,” Rea continued.

Nice became the Blue Eagles first state champion since 1984 when Jim Stillwagoner won the heavyweight crown when he decisioned Nitro’s Paul Frampton, 7-2. It was the lone time he went the distance this weekend, having won his other three bouts by falls of 44 seconds, 1:43 and 2:49.

“It feels great, but it took longer than expected,” Nice said. “I’ve had a rough first three years down here. I could never get past the semifinals. I thought I was cursed, but this makes all of that go away.”

Nice, who improved to 44-3 on the season and 154-10 for his career, is a four-time state placer. He was fourth in 2014, sixth in 2015 and third a year ago.

Two other grapplers weren’t as fortunate as they finished as state runnerups.

In Class A/AA, Madonna sophomore Alex Cook dropped a 11-2 major decision to Independence junior Hunter Taylor.

Cook, now 49-7, is a two-time state qualifier.

In Class AAA, Wheeling Park junior Austin Loew saw his incredible postseason run come to an end against Parkersburg South senior Justin Allman in a 5:06 pin. Loew finished the season 30-14, while Allman becomes a four-time champion.

The team championships were decided early on in the tournament as Parkersburg South (AAA) and Independence (AA) ran away from their respective fields, while Wirt County (A) was crowned the small school champ in the first year of the three-division alignment.

Wheeling Park finished fourth in Class AAA with 86 points. Oak Glen was tied for fourth with Point Pleasant in Class AA with 74.

Magnolia was second in Class A with 45. Madonna finished fourth with 40.5.

Earlier in the day, a dozen individuals earned medals for finishing third through sixth.

In Class AAA, John Marshall had four of those grapplers. Two — sophomores Jordan Wood (120) and Austin Love (126) — placed fourth and another pair — freshman Ethan Gray (106) and junior Brandon Durrah (182) finished sixth.

“It was a rough start to the tournament with all the chaos, but the kids put that out of their minds and went out and wrestled really hard.”

Wheeling Park had a pair of third-place medalists in junior John Nash (160) and sophomore Dylan Wood (220). Nash, a two-time OVAC Ron Mauck Tournament champion, bounced back from a tough semifinal loss to defeat two OVAC opponents he had already beaten this season.

“A lot of guys would have let a (semifinal) loss like that wear on them, but not John,” Tucker said. “He had a 16-second pin and he dominated the third-place match.”

Wood rebounded after a opening-round setback by defeating that same opponent — Ripley’s B.J. Haynes — for his fifth consecutive consolation round win.

“To do what he did in any tournament is hard, physically and mentally,” Tucker said of Wood’s accomplishment. “He battled through and that just shows his work ethic.”

Freshman Canon Welker (113) finished sixth.

“For a freshman that has only been wrestling for three years, he has a very bright future,” Tucker said. “He just loves the sport.”

Brooke’s Alex Edgell (220) improved one spot from a year ago as he captured fifth place.

In Class A/AA, three individuals placed fourth and one sixth.

Oak Glen’s Ty Logston (106), Magnolia’s Riley Nice (126) and Madonna’s Phil Good (152) were all fourth. Tyler Consolidated’s Cory Chipps (285) was sixth.

TOURNAMENT NOTES

¯ Wheeling’s Dr. Dan Doyle and St. Clairsville’s Richard “Dick” Edge were honored prior to the championship finals as part of the 2016 National Wrestling Hall of Fame West Virginia State Chapter. Others were Aristotle Svingos, Joann Cullen, Dale Slack and Mike Contic.

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