Union County is the favorite to win their 17th straight region wrestling title Saturday at Trigg County, but there are several matchups that could present themselves as a state tournament preview.
The Braves have eight wrestlers ranked No. 1 in their weight class statewide and two others ranked in the top three by Kentuckywrestling.com.
While Union County is the favorite, Christian County has been closing the gap in recent years in finishing as runner-up. The Colonels finished 128 points behind Union in finishing second in 2017. Last year, the difference was 46 points.
Christian County has two wrestlers ranked No. 1 statewide in their class and one other in the top three. The Braves and Colonels are ranked 1-2 in the state in the team rankings. Paducah Tilghman is ranked third in the region and 15th in the state.
The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the Kentucky State Wrestling Tournament Feb. 14-15 at Alltech Arena in Lexington.
Here is a breakdown of the ranked wrestlers in the region in each class.
Three wrestlers in the region are ranked in the top 25 in the state in the weight class. Caldwell County freshman Collin Teutsch is the highest-ranked wrestler in the region and will be challenged by Christian County freshman JaRi Campbell and Hopkinsville freshman Trushawn Matt.
Two defending region champions are in this class. Union County sophomore Trayce Eckman, who won the region title at 106 last year, is ranked No. 1 statewide. Christian County junior Gage Fowler won the 113 title last year and has finished in the top three each of the last three years. Fowler is ranked No. 2 in the state.
Caldwell County’s Riley Johnson and Fort Campbell’s Brock Sharp will also challenge for the top spot and a state tourney berth.
Union County’s Gavin Ricketts, who finished fourth at 113 last year, is the top-ranked wrestler in what is a wide-open weight class. McCracken County’s Parker McKee and Ohio County’s Easton Givens will challenge Ricketts for the region title.
A single letter separates the last names of Christian County’s Ethan Wells and Caldwell County’s Dylan Walls, and very little has separated them on the mat in the past two years. Walls is ranked No. 4 in the state at 126, and Wells is No. 6. Wells beat Walls for the region title last year, but Walls got his revenge with a win over Wells at the state tournament last year.
Union County’s Glenn Mayes will have a strong shot at qualifying for the state tourney.
Union County’s Gabe Adams finished runner-up to Christian County’s Jakerion Merritt at region last year. Merritt moved up to 140 last year, while Adams remained at 132.
Adams will get a challenge from Calloway County’s Keaton Elliott, who finished fourth at 120 in 2018; Christian County’s Mason Kellett, who was fourth at 126 last year; and Ohio County’s Jack Probus who was third at 126 last year.
Paducah Tilghman’s Malachai Rider, the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the state, and third-ranked Jake Insko of Union County are the favorites in this class. However, Christian County’s Austin Grant-Hall and Ohio County’s Caige Clark could surprise and finish in the top two.
Christian County’s Jakerion Merritt won the region at 132 last year and went on to claim the state title. The Colonel senior is unbeaten against Kentucky wrestlers this year and is ranked No. 1 in the state.
Union County’s Trevor Pogue, who won the 132-pound class last year and finished second at 145 two years ago, will be Merritt’s top challenger Saturday.
Calloway County’s Ethan Futrell, who wrestled at Trigg County last year, and Ohio County’s Stephen Everly are also looking to qualify for the state tournament.
Union County’s Payne Carr, who finished runner-up to Jakerion Merritt last year at 132, moves up to 152 where he is the top-ranked wrestler. He faces stiff competition from third-ranked David Conner of Paducah Tilghman.
Caldwell County’s Colin Walls, Hopkinsville’s Kevonni Young, and Christian County’s Timmie Dunham will also likely challenge for the final two qualifying spots.
This class is stacked much like 152. Union County’s Dalton Russelburg moves up a class after winning 152 last year and finds himself ranked No. 1 in the state.
Christian County’s Neal Aldridge finished third at 145 last year, and Caldwell County’s John Paredes has a pair of sixth place region finishes the past two seasons.
The wrestler to watch is Hopkinsville’s Zlatko Skuljan. He won the 152-pound class at region two years ago and finished second at 145 as a freshman. Last year, he was disqualified in the region meet and admits to working hard to get back to state this year.
Trigg County’s Colin Stevens is looking to win his third straight region title in a third different weight class. However, he is ranked second statewide behind Union County’s Stephen Little, who won the 160-pound region title last year.
Christian County’s J.T. Adams is looking to play spoiler and grab a state qualifying spot.
Two-time defending state champion Micah Ervin is the heavy favorite to win the 182-pound class, but Christian County’s Cameron Coleman (5th) and Ohio County’s Klemmer Nicodemus (6th) are also ranked in the top 10 in the state.
There is no overwhelming favorite in this class. Paducah Tilghman’s Uriah Virizi is ranked seventh in the state, and Fort Campbell’s Jesus Avila (8th) are the highest-ranked wrestlers.
Christian County’s A.J. Harvey and Union County’s Corinthian Seales-Portee could surprise and win a title.
Christian County senior Niko Bussell has three straight second place finishes at region. The last two years, he finished runner-up to Union County’s Matthias Ervin who has moved up to 285.
Union County’s Darius Moore is the only other wrestler ranked in the top 25.
Union County’s Matthias Ervin is looking to win a fourth straight region title and is the heavy favorite to do so at 285.
Christian County’s TyDarius Kelly is looking for a top three finish and another state qualifier.