HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WVDN) – There are signature moments in the life of an athlete they all dream could come true. Imagine throwing the game-winning touchdown pass on the final play of the game to win the state title. Fancy yourself shooting a half-court buzzer-beater as the clock expires to claim the championship. Picture for a moment standing in the batter’s box facing a full count, two outs, your team down by three runs, and blasting a grand slam to propel your team to a title. Nothing could be more exhilarating or satisfying than to deliver in that moment that your team needs you the most.
On Saturday night in Huntington, Cole Vandall delivered one of the most magical moments in Greenbrier West sports history. As the last man standing for the Cavaliers, Vandall had two opportunities in front of him.
He could win himself a 215-pound individual state championship, incentive enough to go out and perform well. With Greenbrier West trailing Cameron 76-71 for the team title, Vandall could also claim a championship for his team if he could not only win but win by fall. Was that so much to ask?
Turns out it was not. Not for Vandall. Not on this night.
Standing in Vandall’s way would be Clay County’s Noah Casto. Casto loomed large as the state-runner up at 220 pounds in both the 2021 and 2022 state tournaments. Casto was ranked No. 1 by the West Virginia Coaches Assocation/wvmat.com individual polls all but one week of the 2023 season. Casto rolled into the championship bout with a career record of 162-14. Impressive credentials for sure.
Vandall, though, was right on his heels in every single poll and was hungry for the win. The two finalists had met once during the season at the West Virginia Army National Guard Duals in Summersville. Casto had won by decision.
“He got me in the National Guard Duals. I can’t remember the score, but I remember he won by decision” said Vandall.
Wrestling coaches will tell you that takedowns win championships, and Vandall wasted no time taking control with a single-leg 6 seconds into the match. Vandall worked top on both sides of Casto to keep him on the mat, but the senior scored on an escape with 1:30 left in the opening period.
Vandall reset and tried to shoot the single again, but Casto was able to block his advance and drive Vandall out of bounds, resetting the battle to the center of the circle. The two grapplers locked up in a battle of loose collar ties to end the first period with Vandall leading 2-1.
“I was trying to get an early takedown. I talked to coach Tincher and (coach) Currence all week. Our plan was to ride him as long as we could and cut him if needed and not get in a bad position. We felt like we could cut him and take him down, so that was what we did” stated Vandall.
Casto won the flip and chose to take the down position. Vandall chose to give Casto the escape, scoring Casto the point for an escape while putting both wrestlers on their feet. As the period progressed, both wrestlers remained locked up with Casto trying to bull Vandall around the mat. Vandall took a token swipe at Casto’s leg near the halfway point of the period. Vandall once again made a shot attempt, momentarily clutching the back of Casto’s knee before losing his grip. Casto received a warning for stalling at the :40 mark of the second period.
“The plan was to put him on his feet and wrestle on his feet,” Vandall explained. “I weighed in at a little over 195 pounds, so we knew we were under weight. We weren’t going to get under him too much if we could stay away from it.”
The warning escalated the match quickly, with Casto becoming extremely aggressive. Casto backed Vandall to the edge of the circle, snatched him into a front headlock with his left arm and tried to throw him with his right. Vandall, the taller of the two combatants, kept his balance and drove into the shorter, stockier Casto. With both wrestlers on the line, Casto bobbled as Vandal dropped to his left knee. Vandall slipped his hand behind Casto’s ankle and dumped the senior to his back, locking up a reverse half.
“He felt heavy on his right foot, and I just picked him. I knew he was going to his back at the point. I just made sure my feet were in bounds,” Vandall said.
Casto’s body rested out of bounds, but Vandall had both feet well within the circle. Vandall squeezed Casto’s left arm and head together. Referee Steve Stoffle Jr. slapped the mat with 15 seconds remaining in the second period.
When asked about the idea of winning a team title, Vandall said Tincher told him to not worry.
“We knew going in if what would happen if I won by pin, but he (Tincher) told me to go win my state title. It was a surreal feeling. At first, I didn’t realize I had won it for the team. I won my match and saw Tincher’s face and realized what happened. My teammates ran out and it was the best feeling ever,” Vandall said.
The win capped a 58-3 season for Vandall and vaulted Greenbrier West over the defending-Class A champion Cameron Dragons 77-76. It was a special ending for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers had three other place winners over the weekend. Tucker Lilly wrestled back from a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss in the championship semi-finals to finish third at 120 lbs. Austin McKenzie stumbled in his opening match of the tournament but battled back with a 5-2 record to secure a fifth-place finish at 106 lbs. Moses Gray was the final Cavalier place-winner. Gray posted a 4-2 mark and claimed fifth place in the 144 lb. weight class.
West had four other state qualifiers in the tournament. Clayton Robinson entered the tourney as the Region III champion at 132 lbs. Robinson battled to a 2-2 record in Huntington, one match away from placing. Joevan Robinson got his first taste of state tournament experience in the 138 lb. division. Evan Vandall earned a consolation round win in the 150 lb. weight class. and freshman Trey Franklin scored a win in the 285 lb. consolations.
The 2023 Class A championship is Greenbrier West’s fourth state title in wrestling, all coming in the last 11 seasons. The Cavalier’s won the 2013 Class AA/A tournament and claimed the Class A titles in 2019 and 2020. The WVSSAC began awarding a Class A championship to the highest finishing small school in the AA/A tournament in 2017.
Vandall claimed the 17th individual state championship in school history. Head coach Jeremy Tincher has coached 13 of those individual state champions during his tenure.