By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline sophomore Joey Huston knows the importance of offseason athletic competition, especially when it comes to the sport of wrestling.
Huston knows that the road to the ultimate destination of high school state wrestling champion is a long one, and a tremendous amount of work is required year round in order to obtain the rank as one of the state's best.
That's why Huston has devoted much of his time to hitting the weight room and seeking out various wrestling tournaments at both the state and national level this offseason, and the sophomore viewed his recent 160-pound championship at the Virginia Wrestling Association (VAWA) Cadet and Junior Freestyle Championship tournament as a significant leap to his ultimate goal.
"It felt like one step closer to being a state champion. That's what it felt like to me -- that much closer," Huston said. "That much closer to winning states ... that's what I think every time I win."
Huston was one of five Skyline wrestlers to make the trip to Richmond for this year's VAWA state freestyle tournament on May 19, and he qualified to represent Team Virginia in next week's USA Wrestling Cadet Freestyle National Duals in Daytona Beach, Fla., with his performance.
It's an opportunity that Huston can't wait to experience, especially since it will showcase some of the best wrestlers in the entire country.
"It's really cool as a sophomore to be able to go and do this. A lot of people don't get to do something this cool when they're this young," Huston said. "And I also get to wrestle for Team Virginia, so that's going to be a cool thing to do. It's what state champs do, and that's what I want to do -- win states."
Huston's run to the VAWA Cadet 160-pound title was a major confidence booster, but it began in a rather lackluster way as Huston was pinned by David Taylor in just his first match of the day.
But the sophomore responded by winning his next two matches in pool play before he "completely destroyed" Mason Woodall in the championship bout, winning the first period, 8-0, before completing the decision victory with a 2-1 advantage in the second period.
Dustin Santmyers, who wrestled in the junior division at 170 pounds, also advanced to the championship match after he won his first three matches in pool play, but the junior lost to Judah Bruce by tech fall in the title bout.
Skyline's participation in the state freestyle tournament was its first in a couple years, as Hawks wrestling coach Matt Keel approached his team during wrestling season about possibly participating in the event and received a strong interest from his squad.
Freestyle wrestling differs somewhat from the traditional folkstyle wrestling that is used in high school competition, and Keel said there are certain adjustments that a wrestler needs to make in order to be successful in freestyle competition.
"There's not really as much wrestling on the mat -- all you have to do is roll them over and you get two points," Keel said. "You get more points for throws, so it's worth taking the risk, and there's not as much control so the scrambles are a lot different."
The adjustment was something that both Huston and Santmyers were willing to make, especially since it provided them with an opportunity to enhance their skill levels in the sport.
Santmyers said he wasn't quite satisfied with his sixth-place finish at the Group AA state tournament in February, and he always tries to get into some competitions in the fall to help improve his wrestling. He hopes that developing his freestyle skill will provide him with a boost when the next high school wrestling season rolls around.
"I make my biggest gains every year from May to July -- going to camps and stuff while other people are sitting around," Santmyers said. "It should make a big difference in my senior year. I've done this the last couple years, but this is the first year that I've gotten really serious about freestyle and I think it's going to help me out a lot."
For Huston, the transition from folkstyle to freestyle seems almost natural, as Huston admits he isn't a fan of "rolling around" on the mat, and the sophomore said he has learned to combine techniques from both styles to help him be successful.
Huston said he has been practicing whenever he can while also seeking sponsorships to help pay for the estimated $775 in cost to attend the USAW Cadet Freestyle National Duals as he prepares for the start of competition on June 11.
Huston will look to keep his freestyle wrestling success going and he has his eye on another championship medal.
"I want to go undefeated. I want to go down there and beat every other freestyle state champ down there. I want to win," Huston said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org