(BRAG)ging rights: Area wrestlers enjoy first-time event; Lions take title

Jan. 31—CATLETTSBURG — It wasn't all that long ago when high school wrestling was a rarity in this area.

"When I started coaching, the closest teams were Johnson Central, Paintsville, or Pikeville," Ashland coach Butch Scarberry said. "We're building the sport now to where we have legitimate competition right here in our own backyard. I love it. I think it's awesome."

It's changed tremendously over the past few years with more and more local schools forming wrestling teams.

With that influx of area wrestling teams, Boyd County coach Clayton McClelland thought the time was right to put together an event for those teams.

"The great thing about our sport is we want everybody to be a part of it," McClelland said. "If we can help another school get going, we want to do it. and it seems like we've had an explosion over the past few years of new programs. East and West Carter, Raceland and Rowan County are getting one. We're just happy to be part of it and happy to be able to have this event."

McClelland put the first letter of each team together, and thus BRAG in the BURG came to be. The first BRAG wrestling meet took place Tuesday night at Catlettsburg Elementary's gym.

Boyd County came out on top in the event, winning all three duals on the night.

The Lions' night included several highlights. John Jackson scored pinfall victories in all three of his matches.

"Tonight's been good," Jackson said. "A lot of new programs coming out. It's good to get on the mat a little bit."

Jackson is the No. 6 ranked wrestler in the state for the 165lb weight class. He's a two-time region finalist and a four-time state qualifier.

He improved his season record to 42-4 with his three victories Tuesday. The junior has three simple goals as we head towards regions.

"Wrestle smooth, wrestle smart, and score points," Jackson said.

The only other Boyd County grappler to come away with pinfall wins in all three contests was Jack Hogsten.

"All night has been great," Hogsten said. "The first time doing BRAG is awesome."

The junior is ranked 19th in the state for the 190-pound class. Last season he was a region finalist who finished ranked in the top 10. He's been to State three times thus far in his career.

"I'm just taking it one match at a time," Hogsten said. "You show up to practice, put in the work, do what the coaches say, and then get on the mat and do the rest."

Boyd County proudly wore their Catlettsburg uniforms and tallied 17 pinfalls on the night. Tony Leader picked up his 100th career win.

The level of success is something that McClelland hopes to see continue as the schedule nears the postseason.

"It's definitely a process," McClelland said. "I remember what it was like our first few years. We try to do a good job of celebrating every success we have. We have a great group of kids right now and we have big expectations for us. Hopefully, it comes out in our favor."

Ashland finished in second place. The Matcats had dual wins over Russell and Greenup County. The latter was won via overtime.

"We wrestled well tonight," Scarberry said. "We've moved some guys around out of weight classes and seeing how they handle the pressure. They did well and stepped up to the challenge."

The Tomcats scored 11 pinfall victories during the BRAG meet, including a pair of pinfalls for senior standout Cole Christian.

"I feel good about tonight," Christian said. "I'm just happy that we have this competition. Normally, on a Tuesday night, there's no one to wrestle. So it's good to have competition at a fun event like this."

Christian, who is ranked 13th in the state for the 285-pound class, entered the BRAG coming off a big weekend in the WSAZ Invitational. The senior grappler placed third in the 285-pound class.

"I had such a great time there," Christian said. "It's a tournament I've heard about ever since I started wrestling, but I'd never competed in it. Being able to go out there, do my best, and show out meant a lot to me. It was big for me."

With state qualifiers rapidly approaching, Cole wants to keep the momentum moving forward to cap off his wrestling career in grand fashion.

"We have a few weeks left and that's it," Christian said. "I want to place at state, wrestle as hard as I can, and make the most of the time I got left."

His coach is right there with him. Scarberry wants to put his squad in a position to win, namely by winning the war of attrition.

"I hope we stay healthy," Scarberry said. "With regions coming up, we want everybody going in at their best. I want them to compete at a high level, so hopefully, illness and injury stay away. We look to get quite a few through to the state tournament."

Greenup County finished in third, picking up a dual win over Russell.

The Musketeers are still a new program, competing in just their third season.

"Ever since I've been involved in this sport it's been a blessing," Greenup County coach T.J. Stephenson said. "We've gone from five kids my first year to now having 20 in the room and a bunch in our middle school program. Our youth program has 60. Slowly but surely they're coming through the pipes. and this event is awesome. I hope we do each and every year."

Christian Wheeler and David Craig are two Greenup County grapplers who gained more experience on the mat during the event.

Wheeler had a pair of pinfall wins against Ashland and Russell after losing a hard-fought match against Hogsten.

Craig had a win by both pinfall and forfeit, after starting the night in a closely-contested match with Boyd County's Kaiden Nottingham via an 8-6 decision.

Both wrestlers were happy with their performance.

"We had our ups and downs, but I feel good," Wheeler said. "We've only been at it for a few years now, so we've come a long way."

"My first match had its ups and downs too," Craig added. "But to come back and get two wins after that felt good."

Both guys have their sights set on having a good showing in the postseason.

"I just want to have fun and compete," Craig said. "I'm looking forward to the competition and hope I can win it all."

"Just dominate... just win," Wheeler succinctly put it.

Stephenson is happy with the growth his program has seen and is excited about what the future holds.

"Since Day 1 we've gotten better and that's all I ask for," Stephenson said. "It's that last push now. It's a long, grueling season. A lot of tough matches. It's hard on our wrestlers and their bodies. The goal is to rest up a bit and get ready for region. We want to get a couple of matches in, but at the same time, stay healthy."

Russell rounded out the event, losing a close dual to the Musketeers via a tiebreaker.

It's the first season Russell has fielded a wrestling team in school history.

"We've had more and more wrestling pop up in the area, and now we have it at Russell." Russell coach Josh Willis said. "I feel like wrestling is going to blow up in this area. and with the BRAG, it's given a foundation for us. This meet is great. It's exactly what our area needed."

One major highlight for the Red Devils crew came via exhibitions after their third-round dual.

Gabby Williams scored a pinfall win against Boyd County, marking the first female pinfall win in school history.

"It felt great," Williams said. "I was holding on for dear life. She kept wiggling out and knew how to play defense. I was just trying to get her pinned, which is something I struggle with this being my first year."

Williams, who played keeper on the 16th Region champion soccer team, said the physicality of wrestling is a welcome change from being on the pitch.

"It's different from soccer, but I love the physicality," Williams said. "It's just something that I thrive on. I joined the team with some friends; they quit but I kept going to practices and just loved it."

The Red Devils program might not exist if not for the persistence of those pushing for the school to give the green light.

One of those people is senior Trey Proffitt.

"I've loved so much of the practices and meets and all that," Proffitt said. "I've been pushing for this team for years. I'm a senior so it'll be my first and last season. I went to the AD last year all the time trying to get a team. We finally got one and it's just been so great experiencing it, even if it is my only year. It's just something I always wanted to do."

"We're kind of looking at our roster and seeing who our number ones are," he added. "But more than anything, it's about going out and wrestling your guts out. It's not always about winning. We're a first-year program, we're not going to win a lot, but we have a foundation we can build off of for the future."

At the end of the night, Boyd County was presented with a custom-made metal trophy created by the Boyd County High School welding program.

For McClelland, it capped off a great night not just for his program, but all area programs and the community at large.

"I'm really proud of the turnout tonight," McClelland said. "The community has been great. and that was really our goal. We wanted to grow the sport of wrestling and spread it within our community."

Team scores:

Round 1- Boyd County 72, Greenup 6. Ashland 48, Russell 24.

Round 2- Ashland 30, Greenup 30. Boyd County 66, Russell 12.

Round 3- Greenup 30, Russell 30. Boyd County 63, Ashland 18.