WHEELING - The sport of wrestling is alive and well in the Ohio Valley.
Hours before the nation's largest high school conference tournament wrapped up Saturday night with the finals of the 61st annual Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament, a newly born college rivalry was just heating up.
For the first time, Ohio County rivals West Liberty and Wheeling Jesuit clashed on the mats.
And similar to other sports that the Hilltoppers and Cardinals meet in, both teams wanted to win in the worst way.
"I think Sean is doing a great job at Wheeling Jesuit and they have a nice, young team, but (dang) it felt good to beat them," said West Liberty head coach Brian Davis after his team's 28-11 victory. "I felt real confident going in that the match was going to go the way it did."
Wheeling Jesuit head coach Sean Doyle didn't come to downtown Wheeling Saturday seeking any kind of respect or moral victories.
"I am not happy at all," Doyle said. "Probably less than 10 percent of the people probably thought we had a chance, but we did. I expected to win the dual meet."
The Hilltoppers, who have a highly respected Division II mat program, jumped out early with a pin by Oak Glen product Zach Brown and never looked back en route to the victory.
"That was a huge (win)," Davis said of Brown's victory. "Our kids worked hard all week, we were prepared, they stuck to the gameplan and we got a nice (team) win."
While the Cardinals, who are in their first season of wrestling, had the entire week off to prepare, the Hilltoppers had two duals on their campus earlier in the week.
"We were taking it one match at a time, and I think we wrestled well all week," Davis said. "I am really impressed with how our guys kept it together all week because three duals in one week is tough. They didn't miss a beat today."
West Liberty picked up a 5-1 decision at 135 when Bryce Gainer decisioned Scott Lopez.
"In the lower weights, there might have been some individuals that the moment (of facing West Liberty) might have got to them a little bit because we saw some wrestling that we weren't expecting at all," Doyle said. "Give West Liberty credit for that, too. I think they wanted to come out and set the tone.
"Being very candid, Scott (Lopez) probably wrestled the poorest match of his season, but he's dealing with injury and didn't wrestle live all week, so that probably played a role in it, too."
Wheeling Jesuit got on the board when Martins Ferry product Damon Outward decisioned St. Clairsville product Dillon Nolte, 8-6 at 141 pounds.
"Damon's been great all year for us," Doyle said.
At 149, West Liberty's Daniel Carpenter recorded another pin. He held down Dominick Nania at the 3:12 mark.
Bridgeport product Bryan Skoff got into the winning act 157 with a 13-2 major decision against John Gershom. Cameron graduate David Schlieper followed with a 16-6 major of his own at 165.
Shadyside High product Aaron Silverio, who has been steady all season for the Hilltoppers at 285, earned his 18th victory by virtue of a 2-0 decision of Corey Siegfried.
"Bryan and Aaron are both tough kids, who are having solid seasons for us," Davis said.
Wheeling Jesuit recorded a victory at 174 when Cambridge product Sawyer Leppla prevailed by injury default against Indian Creek graduate Mike Emery. The Cardinals' other win came at 197 when Maxwell Lacey edged Wheeling Park product Danny Doyle, 9-7, in overtime.
"Our kids want to beat (West Liberty) badly because this is a true rivalry," Doyle said. "Individually, there's friendships between our teams, but we don't like them when we put the singlet on. Brian and I have known each other a long time and I like a lot of the guys on West Liberty's team, but I want to beat them. I think the rivalry will continue to grow and become even more intense."