By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- For some local wrestlers, the Region II wrestling tournament at James Wood on Sunday marked the culmination of a long, long wait.
For James Wood senior Gage Swartz (119 pounds), Sunday was the one year anniversary -- if anniversary is the appropriate term -- since he broke his left elbow in the 2009 regional tournament, costing him a tournament championship and a run at states.
It has also been about a year since Skyline's Matt Huffstickler (152 pounds) was kept out of the postseason because a knee infection left him confined to a hospital bed for five days.
After boiling over with 52 weeks worth of anticipation, both Swartz and Huffstickler are 2010 Region II champions, and are headed to the state tournament at the Salem Civic Center for the first time in two years.
"[I feel] accomplished, I feel good," said Huffstickler, who pinned Van Grimes of Fauquier in just 1:39 in the 152- pound title bout. "All my team's helping me, I've been working my [tail] off during the offseason -- it feels good, I'm ready for a state title.
"I'm not worried about this, I'm ready for a state title."
Swartz, a pink scar lining the inside of his left elbow, expressed a similar feeling: one that a region title is not enough. In fact, it's just a small piece of a grand puzzle that's taken a year to put together.
"I didn't come into the season training for a regional title," Swartz said. "I came in training for a state title, and [regionals is] one of those stepping stones toward the goal."
Swartz romped through his championship match against Freedom's Chuong Lee, racking up 13 points before pinning Lee in 4:56.
The pin pushed James Wood half a point ahead of Freedom to take fourth in the tournament with 132.5 points. Sherando (180 points) took second and Millbrook (161.5) took third. Tournament-winning Fauquier (223.5) was untouchable, having sent seven wrestlers to a region title bout, and seeing four of them walk away with championships.
James Wood coach Greg Walker said that though this season hasn't been James Wood's finest, he believes the six wrestlers he's sending to the state tournament is the most the school has ever sent.
"Six out of nine [wrestlers] is not bad for our region," Walker said. "I mean ... Fauquier and Sherando are just loaded, and you got Millbrook, who's not bad.
"To finish fourth out of 24 teams this week, I'll take it for what we have -- I mean, we're very young."
And Walker had his own waiting to do. With recent snowstorms pushing the tournament from a two-day affair scheduled for Friday and Saturday, to an 18-hour marathon on Sunday, it was well after 2:30 a.m. before Walker could even think about calling it a night.
What's worse, he spent Saturday's practice, not coaching his team, but shoveling three-feet of snow off the roof of the James Wood gym to prevent leaking through the vents.
Sherando's 171-pound regional champion, Nick Bakos, admitted that starting his title bout after 1:30 in the morning was not only a new experience for him, it was also a draining one. The senior said that the problem with getting started so late had less to do with warming up his body, and more to do with preparing his mind.
"You can just tell I'm tired," Bakos said after pinning Fauquier's Jake Fahlfeder in 3:44. "I mean, it's no excuse -- I don't want to say it's an excuse, because everyone's going through this."
Bakos said that after shedding more than two pounds since Saturday to make weight, and being up since 5:30 in the morning Sunday, his head was pounding and his body was achy.
Baxter Newman (215 pounds) was Sherando's other regional champion, having beaten Skyline's Zach Wooddell for the third time this year with a 2-1 decision, which came Wooddell was called for stalling in the match's closing seconds.
"When you get to the regional finals, you do what you need to do to win," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "[Newman's] goal was just to win and he wrestled a good match against a very good wrestler.
"That's the third time we beat him, and it's hard to beat a good wrestler three times."
Skyline finished eighth in the tournament with 93.5 points, and Warren County took 11th place with 62.5 points. Handley ended the night with 42.5 points.
Tanner Sine (102-pounds), of Millbrook, was the only other area wrestler to win a regional title.
Sherando qualified eight wrestlers for the state tournament and Millbrook qualified seven. Skyline and Handley will send four and one wrestlers to Salem, respectively.