By Brad Fauber
SALEM -- Justin Williams already possessed the physical ability necessary to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best wrestlers in the state of Virginia.
But after Williams finished fifth last season at the Group AA state wrestling tournament, the Skyline senior began to focus on improving other aspects of his technique in an effort to reach the top of the podium.
All of that hard work paid off, as Williams ended an impressive postseason run with a second-period pin over Waynesboro's Oliver McKenzie in the 220-pound championship match at the Group AA tournament Saturday at Salem Civic Center.
"I placed fifth last year, and I looked and saw that I was the only underclassman who placed," Williams said. "I just had in my mind that I was going to work all season and all offseason and all preseason to see if I could pull it out, and I did."
Williams and McKenzie battled to a 2-2 tie after the first period as each wrestler scored a reversal in the first two minutes of action.
Williams quickly gathered another point 10 seconds into the second period to take a 3-2 lead before he earned another two points on a takedown with 1:20 to go in the period.
Williams worked McKenzie on the ground over the next 20 seconds before he finally scored the pin with 58 seconds left in the second period.
"He caught me at first and I didn't let all of that go to my head. I came back and put him on his back and I pinned him," Williams said. "It's great. I worked hard for it. I couldn't have asked to end a season better than that. Winning district, region and state, and pinning your way all the way through it, it feels great."
The state championship victory ended an impressive 47-2 season for Williams, which also included Northwestern District and Region II titles. The postseason was one to remember for Williams, who won every match by pin beginning with the first round of the district tournament.
Skyline coach Matt Keel said it was the mental change in Williams that was the key to his success this season.
"One of the biggest changes for him has been just his level of maturity and allowing himself to be coached," Keel said. "He's a brawler, he wants to go out there and just stir it up. This year he really focused in on improving himself as a wrestler. He pinned everyone from the first round of district through state -- there aren't a whole lot of people out there who can do that."
Sherando junior Jacob Guthridge also advanced all the way to the 120-pound championship, where he met up with Christiansburg's nationally ranked junior Coy Ozias.
Ozias proved to be a handful for Guthridge, and Ozias was able to steadily work towards an 11-2 win.
"I had a great opponent, I wrestled tough," Guthridge said. "He's pretty good. I think he's No. 8 in the nation right now -- tough opponent, I feel like I wrestled fine. I'm actually disappointed, I would have liked to have won, but I felt good out there."
Ozias was one of four Christiansburg wrestlers to win state titles on Saturday, helping the Blue Demons (158 points) their 12th straight Group AA title. Brookville (92) finished second and Eastern View (81.5) was third.
Gurthridge said he had a strategy going into his final bout with Ozias, but Ozias was still able to control most of the match.
"I knew that he really liked to hit high crotches and dumps, so I tried to stay up tight," Gurthridge said. "I knew he was going to grind and come in strong, so I tried to avoid that and try to work my stuff as best as I could. It was a good match, he's a tough kid."
Sherando sent five wrestlers to the state tournament this season, and four left Salem with medals. Senior Dan Mullaney (160, sixth), Tyler Hamilton (195, seventh) and Kyle Vangel (138, eighth) joined Guthridge on Saturday.
Warren County's Jeff Budwash entered the 2012-13 season in hope of improving upon last year's seventh-place finish in the Group AA tournament, and he did that with a third-place finish in the 195-pound class.
Budwash ended his high school wrestling career with an 8-3 win over Potomac Falls' Zach Causey in the third-place match. Budwash said Saturday's performance was a nice rebound from last week's third-place finish in the Region II tournament.
"I lost in the first round [of regionals] last year, so I had to bounce back here last year, too. It kind of got the nerves out of my system," Budwash said. "I've just got to fix my mistakes from the match before and go out and wrestle my own match. Every match is different. I'm pretty satisfied."
Tyler Barisciano (106, fifth), Zach Poehler (220, sixth) and Terrance Thompson (113, seventh) also joined Budwash on the podium for the Wildcats.
Skyline sent a total of six wrestlers to the state tournament this season, with junior Dustin Santmyers finishing sixth in the 152-pound class in his first state tournament appearance.
"This is the first time we've brought six to states," Keel said. "Everyone won a match, it's the first time that we haven't had anyone go two and out, so that's awesome."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com