Park’s Shelek representing W.Va. at nationals
WHEELING — Andrew Shelek has one goal as he enters his senior year at Wheeling Park High School … a West Virginia state wrestling championship.
To be the best, you’ve got to compete against, and even beat the best. He will do just that this weekend as a member of team West Virginia at the United States Marine Corp/USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D. He is the lone wrestler from the Northern Panhandle, but will be joined by two matmen from Parkersburg South, seniors-to-be Brayden Roberts and Braxton Amos whom are already both two-time national titlists, and his head coach at Wheeling Park, Brian Leggett.
“It’s awesome,” Shelek said of being able to represent his home state. “I’ve lived here all my life. It’s home.”
For the next 11 days, Shelek and his 10 teammates will call the FargoDome home. They boarded a van in Huntington today for the nearly 24-hour ride with hopes of securing “Stop Signs.” Competition begins Sunday and continues through the championship finals and medals matches on Friday, July 19.
According to reports, there’s an old saying in the wrestling community, “Place at Fargo and your phone will ring.” The top eight placers receive an octagon-shaped plaque known as a “Stop Sign” and are considered All-Americans. The statistics simply cannot be ignored, All-American status at Fargo is the best indicator of success at the NCAA level. College coaches love to chase, not only the All-Americans, but also the wrestlers who put on a good show.
“It’s heartbreaking to end the state tournament with a loss in the finals, especially when it happens two years in a row,” Shelek noted. “It’s crushing. It still crushes me to this day, but there are still obstacles that I have to overcome. I’m going to go out to Fargo, compete and give it my all. Hopefully, I can attain All-American status.”
Shelek qualified by winning the 138-pound Junior Men’s (17-and-over) weight class at the West Virginia Freestyle Tournament earlier this summer in Parkersburg.
“I went last year and didn’t compete as well as I wanted to, so I qualified again this year,” he noted. “I’ve been training really hard all summer.”
He said Freestyle wrestling is more like the Olympics.
“You’ll see a lot of throws. You’ll see leg laces and gut-wrenches,” he explained.
The event is generally regarded as the toughest high school tournament in the United States for the Olympic styles of wrestling (Freestyle and Greco-Roman). After a nearly 24-hour ride, Team West Virginia will hold a brief workout before the men’s cadet (16 years-and-under) weigh-ins for freestyle. The men’s juniors (17 years-old-through-high-school-graduates) weigh in and begin wrestling the following day. The women will wrestle throughout the week.
Freestyle is a grueling five-session marathon. Greco Roman is similar to Freestyle in rules and scoring with the big exception being that wrestlers are not permitted to grab their opponent’s legs. Both styles feature big throws, powerful slams, and a much faster pace than what fans are accustomed to seeing in traditional (Folkstyle) high school wrestling.
“The best kids in the country will be there,” he said of Fargo. “There’s probably 10 or so (nationally) ranked wrestlers in my weight class alone. My ultimate goal is to beat one or two of them and finish in the top 8 as an All-American.”
Team West Virginia is led by long-time Huntington High School assistant coaches Steve Riner and John Dempsey. Truly a statewide effort, training camps were held at West Liberty University, Parkersburg High School and University High School in Morgantown, featuring coaches and former wrestlers from all over the Mountain State, as well as guest appearances from multiple college coaches.
Leggett, the Class AAA Coach of the Year in 2018, decided to volunteer this summer “to help out one of my close friends, Steve Riner. I don’t think people realize what all he does for WV Freestyle/Greco, and it is a thankless job,” Leggett stressed. “I also love coming together and working with the top wrestlers from all over the state. It’s really special to see them all work together striving towards one goal under the national spotlight representing our great state.”
Riner, the head coach, is excited about this team.
“My goal for this year’s team is to reach their full potential on the national stage,” he said. “I think this team is capable of having multiple national champions and All-Americans. It has a lot of potential to make some noise in Fargo”.
Dalton Macri was the last Wheeling wrestler to reach All-American honors, placing fourth in Cadet Freestyle and fifth in Greco Roman in 2010. Former Wheeling Park standout John Nash nearly snagged a “Stop Sign” three years ago, narrowly losing in the blood round.
Leggett said Shelek will have something to say about ending the near decade drought.
“Andrew is always progressing. From a state finalist, to NHSCA All-American, to now competing at Fargo. He is bound to wrestle at the next level after high school and has been putting in the work this offseason,” Leggett advised. “His love and devotion for this sport is contagious. I am excited for Andrew. He is one of the reasons I decided to make the trip.”
Shelek’s familiarity and comfort with Leggett’s coaching style will be a huge advantage as he seeks to become the Mountain State’s 61st All-American and the 12th national champion.
“I’m very thankful for Coach Leggett and (former Wheeling Park head) Coach (Clay) Tucker,” Shelek added. “They have been working with me all summer. They’ve given time and effort in helping me to do my best in Fargo.”