PRINCETON — A seventh-place finish at the Coalfield Conference Invitational did not dampen the expectations for the Princeton High wrestling team this season.
The Tigers head to the WVSSAC Class AA Region 3 tournament at Riverside High today looking to qualify a large portion of the team for the state tournament.
“We’ve got high expectations for these kids this year. They have high expectations the kids themselves. They work hard and it’s paying off at this point,” Princeton wrestling head coach Jeff Bowman said.
Along with everyone else the Tiger wrestlers have been battling sickness including sending only five to last weekend’s tournament. When at full strength Princeton has 13 wrestles of which only four are upperclassmen.
“We’re young and this is the biggest team we’ve had in quite a long time. We have 13 kids that compete when they’re not down with the flu,” Bowman said.
Bowman would like all of his wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament. Princeton has had wrestlers qualify for states eight of the last 10 years with its best finish as a team last tear placing 25th.
“I want to see all of them qualify but reasonably I think eight to nine of them should be able to qualify,” Bowman said.
The Tigers returned five wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament last year and a sixth who was an alternate. Those six have been the top wrestlers for Princeton this season.
“They’ve all been standing out all year and then the other guys are just freshman and they’re pretty much just trying to get the groove of it,” Bowman said.
Bowman was named the Coalfield Conference Coach of the Year for the second time in his career last weekend but this time was more special due to the circumstances.
“This is a lot more meaningful because of the fact that we only went with five kids,” Bowman said.
Senior Kyle Neal is the first wrestler in Princeton High history to have won at least 100 matches on the mat. He placed fourth at the Coalfield Conference Invitational after advancing to the state meet last year.
“He’s went through a lot of stuff and he’s just a hard worker, he just keeps getting better and we just hope that all of them peak at the right time which is this weekend,” Bowman said.
Bowman is hopeful that Neal is the first of many Princeton wrestlers that win over 100 matches on the mat.
“We should have quite a few more out of this group that do the same thing,” Bowman said.
The other senior that is wrestling for Princeton is Ali Abdelwahed who qualified for the state tournament last year. Abdelwahed has battled sickness the past three weeks including missing the tournament last weekend.
“This is the first time he’s been healthy probably in three weeks so he’s actually looking forward to it, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” Bowman said.
Sophomore Trace Hatfield got a taste of the state tournament last year where he wrestled in two matches as a freshman.
“It’s a big accomplishment to do it as a freshman,” Bowman said.
He has a 39-5 record this year and is looking to go deeper into the state tournament this year.
The other wrestler who qualified for states as a freshman last year is Conner Padgett and he won his first match in Charleston. He has had a strong sophomore campaign including a third-place finish last weekend and a 35-8 record this season.
Conner along with brother Eli have experience wrestling in Alabama which has helped them succeed with both of them going to the state tournament last year.
A junior, Eli placed second at the Coalfield Conference Invitational last week in the 145-pound weight class and has improved this year with a 32-12 record.
“Eli has really raised his game this year. He’s trying to get to the next level, Eli’s been in the finals of the past two tournaments,” Bowman said.
After being an alternate for the state tournament last year junior Montana Meachum went down two weight classes this year. He has improved by leaps and bounds finishing third at the Coalfield Conference Invitational last weekend in the 120-pound weight class.
“Montana is probably the most improved wrestler that we have this year. He’s worked really hard,” Bowman said.
A key to building continued success in wrestling for Princeton is the establishment of a youth program.
That would give the freshmen joining the team a chance to have experience before beginning their high school careers and be further along in their development.
“If we could get a youth program around here it would make all the difference in world and we’re working on that,” Bowman said.
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