By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg junior Hunter Dean and his father, Troy, have a little friendly rivalry going these days.
Troy Dean, a former standout wrestler for Strasburg in the mid-1980s, won three straight high school state championships between the 98- and 112-pound weight classes from 1984-86.
His son is now trying to follow suit.
After falling just short of a state championship with a runner-up finish during his freshman season two years ago, Hunter Dean claimed his first state wrestling title for the Rams at 106 pounds in the old Group A state tournament format last year. The junior added a second plaque to his collection last Saturday with a 132-pound title in the 2A state tournament in Salem, and now his full attention is focused on joining his father as one of the few Strasburg wrestlers to win three individual state championships.
"A lot of the weight got off of my shoulders last year. I just wanted to win one so that I could be up on the wall with him," Hunter Dean said on Wednesday. "But now it's more of a competition between me and him to see who can do more. I've got to get one more. I hope I can do that."
Hunter Dean's second state championship capped a phenomenal season for the junior, who made a rare jump up four weight classes during the offseason and didn't seem to miss a beat. Dean finished the year with a 52-3 record, which culminated with an 11-2 major decision win over James River's Luke Arney in the 132-pound championship match.
To reach the finals, Dean picked up two wins on day one of the tournament last Friday, first beating Chatham's Kyle Hylton by first-round pin before topping Lebanon's Peyton Watson, 18-4, in the semifinals.
Dean admitted that it took him a while to get accustomed to the large jump in weight at the start of the 2013-14 season, but he seemed to grow into the new weight class quite nicely as the season wore on.
"It took a couple tournaments for me to get used to it," said Dean, The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for Feb. 16-22. "My first tournament [at Orange County High School on Dec. 7], I was not in as good of shape -- we hadn't peaked in shape yet. In my second match, the kid was really strong and I was like, 'Wow, this might be harder than I thought.' But I got more accustomed to it as the year went on."
Dean said he had to convince Strasburg first-year coach Mike Wood that he was capable of making the bump to 132 over the summer, and from there Dean began working on becoming a more aggressive wrestler on the mat and spent a lot of time in the weight room preparing for the physicality he knew he would see from opposing wrestlers this season.
"You've got to be a lot more physical at the upper weight classes," Dean said. "You have to do a lot more hand fighting, a lot more movement from neutral. Top and bottom, I didn't really have to change much up because that's just more of a technical area."
Though Dean is now competing with his father for family bragging rights, he has Troy Dean to thank for helping push him in the right direction on the wrestling mat.
When Hunter was about 9 years old, Troy began a youth wrestling program to help give his son and some of his classmates an early introduction to the sport. Hunter was one of a handful of current Rams -- including fellow junior and three-time state champ Nic Campbell -- to participate, and from there Hunter's passion for the sport began to grow.
"He got me started at a really young age," Hunter Dean said of his father. "He got a youth program going when I was 8 or 9, so we got to work there. Then he got a middle school team -- he and the principal worked that out."
Dean said he and his father don't discuss wrestling technique as much as they used to, as most of the coaching is now left up to Wood, but father and son still share knowledge of the sport from time to time and occasionally butt heads about who is the better wrestler.
"It gets kind of annoying sometimes, but I know he's just trying to help me out," Hunter Dean said with a smile.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org