HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Three different wrestlers. Three unique paths. One ultimate final destination.
Standing atop the platform as a state champion.
The Point Pleasant wrestling program added three more individual state champions this weekend at the 65th annual WVSSAC Wrestling Championships held at Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
The Big Blacks, aside from capturing their third consecutive Class AA-A team crown, matched a program record by having a trio of grapplers come away with weight class championships on Saturday night. Senior Josh Hereford and juniors Zach Nibert and Noah Searls became the 16th, 17th and 18th state champions in PPHS history, and also became the ninth, 10th and 11th individuals to ever win a state crown with the Big Blacks.
Each of the three state champions finished the weekend with unblemished 4-0 records in their respective weight classes, and each won their division by scoring a decision victory. The similarities to their winning treks, however, end there.
Nibert, the lone state finalist on the team from a year ago, won all four of his matches by decision en route to capturing his first state crown in the 132-pound weight class. Searls defeated Matt Griffin of Grafton in the championship match by an 8-4 margin, giving the Big Blacks their first individual title on the day.
Searls’ victory also extended Point’s streak to eight consecutive years with at least one state champion.
The junior spoke afterwards on joining such a prestigious group of grapplers this weekend, and also the manner in which the team went about handling its business this weekend.
“It feels amazing and it just keeps getting better,” Searls said. “We’d already locked it up as a team before we started the day, and now I have an individual title to finish it off. It’s truly remarkable.
“Everything that we do is as a family. We really stuck together this year, which is probably why we had a guy in all 14 weight classes this weekend. We couldn’t have written a better ending than what we’ve done this weekend.”
Searls concludes his 2012 campaign with an impressive 48-1 overall mark.
Nibert, on the other hand, recorded pinfall wins in his two of his first three matches — which landed him a spot in the 160-pound finals against a familiar foe in Josh Mack of Herbert Hoover. Mack had defeated Nibert in each of the last two weeks at the Cardinal Conference tournament and also at regionals.
But on Saturday night in the finale, Nibert was able to slow down his opponent — which ultimately forced an overtime period after a 1-all tie at the end of regulation. Nibert trailed 2-1 after the first extra session, but made a reversal with less than 20 seconds left for a 3-2 edge. Nibert made that lead stick, giving the junior his first state title.
Nibert admitted strategy had a lot to do with the final outcome, and he was glad — for at least one day — that things finally went his favor against an old nemesis. As he said, it was a dream come true.
“This is such a great feeling, especially since I just beat a guy that had whipped me the previous two weeks,” Nibert said. “Mack beat me 15-3 at league and 10-2 last weekend at regionals, but tonight I found a way to get a win — and this one is the only one that matters.
“As a little kid, I grew up wanting to be a state champion. Now, I am.”
Nibert finishes the 2012 campaign with a 40-8 overall mark.
The final piece of the puzzle came in the 170-pound division, where Josh Hereford secured his own place in PPHS history with a 7-2 decision over Jacob Summers of Roane County in the final. Hereford also won two of his first three matches by pinfall, and the senior also had the largest margin of victory of any of the three state champs.
Hereford’s win, however, was also significant in the fact that it gave Point Pleasant its first set of siblings to win state crowns. Josh’s older brother Brent won a state title during the 2006 state tournament.
Between leaving his own legacy and joining a brother on such a hallowed list, Hereford was practically blown away by emotions afterwards.
“I’ve wanted this since I was three years old. I’ve worked really hard over the years to get to this point, and right now … it feels really good,” Hereford said as tears of pride formed in his eyes. “It’s definitely a great way to end my high school career at Point Pleasant.”
Hereford completes his senior season with a 44-4 overall mark.
The 2006 group of Hereford, James Casto and Heath Shirley and the 2010 group of Rusty Maness, Casey Hogg and Caleb Duong join this year’s trio as the three campaigns that Point Pleasant won three individual crowns at the same tournament.
Other individual state champions at Point Pleasant include Anthony Jeffers, Derek Mitchell, Alex Reed and Heath Shirley.