By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Throughout the regular season, Skyline's wrestling team proved it had formidable depth.
The Hawks blazed through the Northwestern District in head-to-head matchups, ending with a perfect mark in duals against district rivals to earn the regular-season championship.
Good in duals, no doubt -- but how would that depth translate in a bracket tournament, specifically Wednesday night's Northwestern District Wrestling Tournament at Sherando High School?
Just fine, as the Hawks proved by winning the tournament championship by piling up 183 points to hold off runner-up Handley (165) for the title.
"Depth is a big deal," Skyline coach Matt Keel said. "We made a lot of big changes to our program two years ago, and that depth has helped us a lot since then. We kind of revamped the whole program."
The Hawks showed off that depth in the early rounds, but the Judges still hung tough as they trailed Skyline by just eight points heading into the championship round. Skyline's 152-pounder, Dustin Santmyers, knew Handley was still close in the team standings.
"We knew if we didn't win the matches we were meant to win and maybe get a few upsets, Handley could walk away with our district title," Santmyers said. "We didn't want that to happen."
They didn't, as Noah Goss put more points on the board for the Hawks by holding off Millbrook's Issac Meadows for a 1-0 decision in the 126-pound championship. It might have lacked in style points -- or any points, for that matter -- but the win was the main thing.
"I'd like to have scored more points, but that one point was all I could get," Goss said. "I just took it and trusted my skills on top and it led me to a district championship."
Three matches later, the Hawks put together a mini pin parade as Josiah Huston (145) pinned Sherando's Jordan Dalton in 1:23, and Santmyers followed by pinning James Wood's Logan Bauserman in 3:30 to give Skyline some breathing room.
"That's a big deal," Keel said.
Santmyers said watching Huston's match provided a little extra motivation.
"It's good when we can get some momentum rolling as a team like that," Santmyers said. "Momentum like that carries and helps us win those close matches."
Skyline's dominating 220-pounder, Justin Williams, wrapped up the individual titles for his team by pinning Handley's Tommy Shea-Ropp in 2:40.
The host Warriors couldn't match Skyline's depth, but Sherando did equal Skyline in wrestlers reaching the top of the podium.
"Our kids wrestled their hearts out," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "Our problem with depth had an effect once again. We had as many champions as Skyline did, but depth-wise we didn't get as many thirds as we needed to get."
Jacob Guthridge picked up the Warriors' first individual district title win an 8-1 decision over Skyline's Caleb VanDoren at 120, and Colton Simmons made Sherando 2-0 in head-to-head matchups with the Hawks in the finals by beating Garrett Maddox, 5-1. Just a week earlier, Maddox had pushed Simmons to overtime in a match. This time, Simmons had a different plan.
"I knew he was tough on his feet," Simmons said. "I knew I could ride him out and not let him get up when I was on top. So pretty much I just tried to execute the take-down and ride him out from the top, try to turn him but if I couldn't at least hold him down so he couldn't score."
Sherando's Kyle Vangel followed with an 8-1 win over Handley's Anthony Andriola at 138, and 195-pounder Tyler Hamilton added more points for the Warriors with a 3-0 win over Handley's Skylar Wotring in the championship.
Also for Skyline, Tyler Ritter fell short in the title match in a 6-3 loss to Millbrook's Dylan Wisman.
Other district champions were James Wood's Jimmy Wosnak (106), Handley's Leo Quezada (113), Millbrook's Michael Keeler (170), Handley's Coby Pitcock (182) and Handley's Jordan Dowrey (285).
"We never really separated a lot from Handley," Keel said. "They were right there with us in every round. We did well in finals, so we pulled away a little bit."
Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at 540-465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org