By Brad Fauber
SALEM -- Strasburg junior Nic Campbell has had his eye one winning four straight state wrestling titles since he first stepped foot on the mat for the Rams during his eighth-grade season.
On Saturday evening, Campbell took the next step towards that goal.
Campbell, who won state titles at 113 and 120 pounds during his freshman and sophomore seasons in the old Group A format, stood atop the podium for the third straight time on Saturday at the Class 2A state tournament at the Salem Civic Center.
This time, the junior walked away with the 126-pound title and was one of two Rams -- along with fellow junior Hunter Dean -- to win championships en route to helping Strasburg to a second-place finish for the second straight season.
"It just feels great knowing that I can just continue to get one step closer at a time," Campbell, who is 142-1 in his Strasburg career, said of his quest for four straight titles. "It's been my goal since eighth grade. I worked hard that whole year just so that I could get that first win, and it just keeps on going. Knowing that you're just one more title away from making history at Strasburg High School, it feels great."
Campbell, who went 56-0 this season, may have gotten a little tougher test than he expected against Grundy's Austin Hurley in the 126-pound title match.
Campbell scored an early takedown 30 seconds into the match and never trailed in the bout, but Hurley chose to wrestle defensively throughout the match by dropping to one knee when both wrestlers were standing to limit Campbell's ability to shoot for takedowns.
Campbell led 2-0 after the first period and chose to start in the down position to begin the second period, but the Strasburg junior had to take a blood timeout several seconds in after a cut on his forehead -- which Campbell suffered at the regional tournament on Feb. 16 -- busted open. After getting his head wrapped, Campbell scored an escape point 20 seconds into the second period, but the junior had to take another blood timeout late in the frame to re-bandage his forehead.
Both wrestlers started in neutral position to start the third period, and Hurley earned a point with one minute remaining to cut Campbell's lead to 3-1. But Campbell scored a takedown eight seconds later and held on for a 5-2 decision.
"I expected to win by a little bit more, but I guess they watched me wrestle some. He was being really defensive the whole match," Campbell said.
"I had to change it up a little bit. Usually people are on their feet against me and I can get a really quick sweep. I had to take more time trying to get him up and I couldn't go in reaching. The second period my legs just started to go dead. Being that low just kind of burned me out."
Dean -- last year's Group A champion at 106 pounds -- followed Campbell's title with a win of his own in the 132-pound championship against James River's Luke Arney.
Dean started quickly against Arney by tallying five points in the first period to build a comfortable lead, and the junior was able to roll to an 11-2 major decision victory.
"I would've liked to have gotten more points, but for the most part it was pretty much how I wanted it to go," said Dean, who went 52-3 this season after making a significant jump in weight class.
"After I got the first five points I pretty much knew it was mine to lose. If I messed up then he'd be back in it, but as long as I wrestled good I pretty much had it."
Dean scored a takedown on Arney in the first 20 seconds of the match and he tallied three more points late in the first period to build a 5-0 lead. Arney scored two points on a takedown after both wrestlers started in the neutral position to begin the second period, but Dean answered with a takedown of his own. Four more points in the third period for Dean gave him the title.
"Arney, he's tough. He's probably best on his feet, so we knew that's where we'd have the hardest time," Strasburg first-year coach Mike Wood said. "Hunter's only been taken down maybe five times all year and he got caught in a dump there, and that's where we knew [Arney] was the strongest. But we pretty much controlled it on top, got a couple turns, caught him on that step-over on the second dump he tried on us."
Strasburg (104.5 points), which sent nine wrestlers to the state tournament, finished second in the 2A team standings behind defending champion Grundy (173.5) for the second straight year.
Rams senior Tyler Drummond finished in third place at 160 pounds, while junior Marco Gallagher (145) placed fourth and freshman Dylan Campbell (113) placed fifth. Eric Reynolds (120) and Thayer Norris (285) each finished in the sixth for the Rams, and freshmen Kyle Sisk (106) and Josh Pritchett (195) placed seventh.
"Unfortunately our last goal, we fell short," Wood said of winning the team title. "Grundy deserved it, they did what they had to. Hopefully next year it will be our time. I was hoping we could give them a good run this year, but we just fell short. Our youth and inexperience kind of showed there."
Stonewall Jackson sent five wrestlers to the state meet and got three sixth-place finishes from seniors Andrew Good (132), Philip Stauffer (138) and Mathias McCabe (160). Sophomore Kyle Cowart (152) finished seventh.
Senior Christopher Delaughter led the Generals with a third-place finish in the 145-pound weight class. Delaughter beat Strasburg's Gallagher, 6-5, in the third-place bout.
"He had a good tournament. He just got in a tough bracket and there wasn't a way to get away from Grundy," Stonewall coach Jerry Franklin said. "If he would've got in there I think he maybe had a chance to get into the finals, but he just got hooked up on the wrong side of the bracket. That loss last week [in the regional tournament] really hurt him."
Wood said Strasburg, which will return seven of its state qualifiers, could be in line for a special season next year.
"Next year is really going to be one of Strasburg's best, as long as everybody stays healthy and puts the work in," Wood said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org