The road to mat glory will pass through Pawhuska this Friday and Saturday when many of the state’s best prep wrestlers compete at Oren Terrill Field House for berths in the upcoming Oklahoma high school championships.
It is the second time in four years that the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association has selected PHS to host the Class 3A East Regional. In 2011, the Huskies used the home-mat advantage to qualify six for the state tournament and finish fourth in the regional team standings.
The 2014 East Regional will involve members of the Pawhuska varsity squad and wrestlers from 24 other Class 3A schools. At the same time that the local wrestling event is being held, a similar tournament will be underway for wrestlers from schools representing the other side of the state. This year’s 3A West Regional site is Plainview High School in Ardmore.
First- through fourth-place regional finishers from 14 weight divisions advance to Oklahoma High School Wrestling Championships, which begin Feb. 28. and conclude March 1 at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City. The two-day tournament is part of an eight-mat extravaganza which also features finals for the 4A, 5A and 6A classifications.
Area squads taking part in the local wrestling event include the Barnsdall Panthers, Berryhill Chiefs, Blackwell Maroons, Hulbert Riders, Inola Longhorns and Jay Bulldogs, Keys (Parkhill) and Kiefer Trojans. Liberty Tigers, Morris Eagles, Morrison Wildcats and Newkirk Tigers.
Also competing will be grapplers for the Okmulgee Bulldogs, Parkview, Pawnee Black Bears, Perkins-Tryon Demons, Prague Red Devils, Salina Wildcats, Sperry Pirates, Tahlequah Sequoyah Indians, Tonkawa Buccaneers, Tulsa Rogers Ropers, Tulsa Webster Warriors and Vian Wolverines.
Latest OSSAA Class 3A wrestling rankings list perennial powerhouse Perry at No. 1. The top-rated Maroons will be contending in the West Regional with 25 teams, including the No. 3 Plainview Indians, No. 4 Chandler Lions and No. 8 Kingfisher Yellowjackets.
Another squad of Maroons, the one from Blackwell, is ranked second in the 3A poll and will be favored to win the team title at the PHS regional. East-region schools Tonkawa and Newkirk hold the No. 5 and 6 spots in the rankings, while eastside entry Jay is rated No. 7. Kingfisher in the West and Berryhill of the East are ranked as the eighth- and ninth-best 3A teams and Sperry is at No. 10.
Pawhuska’s wrestling squad is currently ranked No. 12 in the state after spending the last part of the regular season at No. 11 before being passed by Little Axe from the West. In the latest poll, Vian is the only other ranked school from the East — although earlier 3A lists included Pawnee and Barnsdall among the top 15.
The Huskies should send 12 wrestlers to the mat for the regional, with entries in all but the 182- and 225-pound weights.
"About half of our team has been banged up and several of the are still trying to get healthy," said third-year PHS coach Wade Rogers.
Regional bouts will begin at noon Friday, with championship semifinals slated for 7 p.m. Consolation action resumes at midday Saturday leading up to first-place and third-place matches that evening.
The prospective lineup for the Huskies is:
106 pounds — Daniel Nightengale
113 pounds — Levi Youngwolfe
120 pounds — Brycen Swan
126 pounds — Taylor Priest
132 pounds — Taylor Walker
138 pounds — Sean Valencia
145 pounds — Jayden Higgins
152 pounds — Caleb Bruce
160 pounds — Jonathan Moody
170 pounds — Zalin Edwards
195 pounds — John Bighorse
285 pounds — Dakota Jester
Edwards and Priest wrestled their way to the state championships last season. Priest also qualified for the event as a sophomore. Both of the PHS seniors posted wins in the 2013 tournament before being eliminated by top finishers. Another senior for the Huskies, Sean Valencia, came close to qualifying for state in last year’s regional at Inola and should be a solid contender on the home mat.
Freshmen comprise half of the Pawhuska squad, giving the Huskies hopes for the future (which begins over these next two weekends). A talented trio of high-performing, lower-weight grapplers — Nightengale, Youngwolfe and Swan — are counterbalanced by equally-promising upper middleweights Bruce, Moody and Bighorse.
"They’re a great bunch of kids who are looking at bright careers," Rogers said.
Moody, a raw-boned 160-pounder, blossomed at midseason and has claimed Carmen Classic and junior high conference titles. He sustained an injury in a recent match, however, and is questionable for this weekend.
"We’re hoping he’ll be able to get back out there," said the PHS coach, who hopes that each of the Huskies can score regional points.
The rest of the Pawhuska squad includes two juniors and a sophomore who have worked hard and improved throughout the current campaign. Jester is back in the starting lineup after waging a season-long battle with senior Grant Moore for the heavyweight spot.
The Huskies tuned up for the upcoming regional with exhibition matches last Thursday with their former rivals, the Cascia Hall Commandoes. Pawhuska traveled to the Tulsa private school to participate in the practice bouts. Cascia Hall moved up to Class 4A this season after previously competing in the Huskies’ 3A district. The Commandoes are coached by longtime Tulsa mat mentor Ernie Jones.
Corrections: The final team score of Pawhuska’s Feb. 3 dual at Caney, Kan., was Huskies, 37, and the Caney Valley Bullpups, 21 — not 61-39 as listed in last week’s edition. Points for several double forfeits were counted erroneously in the earlier totals. And, in a Feb. 10 home triumph over Tulsa Hale, PHS 132-pounder Taylor Walker claimed his bout by decision and freshman John BigHorse pinned 195-pound opponent. Their methods of victory were reversed in a prior report about the 57-24 Huskie dual win.
More recent events
In Saturday’s Oklahoma Dual State high school wrestling tournaments, Perry claimed another Class 3A title (its sixth in a row) by beating Blackwell, 47-19, in the championship match at Cushing. Chandler came closest to Perry on the scoreboard as they fell to the champion Maroons in the quarterfinals, 42-30. Blackwell won their quarterfinal over Tonkawa, 45-16, and defeated Kingfisher, 45-22, in the semis where Perry crushed Plainview, 59-9.
Tuttle earned its fifth straight dual crown by crushing all 4A opponents at Cushing. The Tigers downed Vinita for the championship, 55-12, after the Hornets reached the finals with a come-from-behind victory over Cushing, 31-30, in the semis. Tuttle’s road to the title included a 64-12 victory against Mannford followed by 59-9 thumping of Catoosa.
At Yukon, Collinsville took its fourth consecutive 5A dual title by winning the final four bouts in a 30-27 comeback against Lawton MacArthur. It was the third year in a row for the two schools to meet in the 5A finale. Broken Arrow escaped with a 33-32 semifinal victory over Edmond North en route to a 29-24 win versus Stillwater for the 6A championship.
Several Pawhuskans were among hundreds of qualifiers in the 36th-annual Oklahoma Kids Wrestling Association Championships held at the OKC Fairgrounds. Among those crowned as elementary school state champions at the event was Chase Eaves of Barnsdall, who finished first at 52 pounds in Division 1. Barnsdall freshman James Cole placed fourth at 140 pounds in the OKWA Division V for junior high wrestlers.
Peyton Buzbee of Bixby was the winner of the 110-pound class in Division IV. The grandson of Pawhuskans’ Jack and Cathy Buzbee, he competes for Roller’s R.A.W. team. A few weeks ago, Buzbee placed sixth in his class at the prestigious Tulsa Nationals event.