By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- The 2012-13 high school wrestling season didn't quite go the way Zach Beckner wanted it to.
Beckner, currently a sophomore at Warren County High School, entered his freshman season last year as one of two contenders for the Wildcats' starting spot at the 106-pound weight class, along with then-junior Tyler Barisciano.
Beckner and Barisciano shared the spot -- and a pretty heated rivalry -- for a while, with the starter determined by the usual "wrestle-offs" in practice before meets. But Barisciano eventually earned the starting job permanently, and Beckner was relegated to the Wildcats' 'B' squad despite a sparkling 17-0 record in varsity matches.
"During our wrestle-offs everybody would be gathered around the walls and everything. You had basically Team Barisciano and Team Beckner like split across the walls," Beckner recalled after practice on Monday. "It was heartbreaking -- it sucked to lose. I went out, threw my headgear, kicked a couple walls. I was mad."
But Beckner didn't dwell on the disappointment of losing the starting spot, and instead focused all of his energy on improving for his sophomore season. Beckner put in hours upon hours of work in the wrestling room, and he even attended several national tournaments in the offseason, including the prestigious Super 32 Challenge held in Greensboro, N.C.
"I think that when you lose a spot, especially when he had shared it a little bit, I think that left him a little hungry," Warren County wrestling coach Matt Wadas said. "Tyler goes on and finishes fifth in the state [last season], and I feel like Zach thought he could do the same thing. And I think he probably could've.
"It was awful, him losing the spot last year. But it was also a positive thing. He used it as motivation."
Beckner returned to the mat for Warren County this season with no one in his way for sole possession of the 106-pound starting spot (Barisciano has bumped up to 113 this season), and the sophomore has made the most of his opportunity.
Beckner is currently 38-0 this year and has already accomplished several notable feats, including winning a Bull Run District title on Feb. 1.
Last Thursday, Beckner added a Conference 28 title to his resume, as he beat Skyline junior Justin Cornwell for the 106-pound championship. Beckner controlled the match from the start, as he rolled to a 16-2 major decision victory.
"I just went out there and just kept trying to keep pushing and pushing and pushing," said Beckner, The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for Feb. 2-8. "I tried to control the ties and just wrestled my match. It was just a good confidence booster going into regionals and everything."
Beckner, who beat Cornwell one other time earlier this season, scored a takedown with 40 seconds remaining in the first period against the Skyline junior and earned three points on a near-fall at the end of the frame to take a 5-0 lead. Cornwell chose the top position to begin the second period, and Beckner scored on a reversal one minute in and earned another near-fall a few seconds later.
In the final period, Beckner completed a pair of takedowns and earned his third near-fall of the match as the buzzer sounded.
"I wrestled pretty well," Beckner said. "I always make mistakes -- everybody makes mistakes when they wrestle. I analyzed the video after I wrestled and I've got some things that I need to smooth out and shape up before regionals... I've just got to smooth some things out because the little mistakes I made in that match won't be allowed in the big-time matches when it matters even more."
Wadas said Beckner's aggressive style has been a major reason for the sophomore's success, and it has helped Beckner become an effective trendsetter for the Wildcats in matches this season.
"I think that aggressiveness and that action really sets the tone," Wadas said. "We go out there and he puts up bonus points almost every single match he's wrestled this year. I don't think he's had very many decisions. He either puts up a major decision or a tech, and that sets the tone for the team, because those bonus points are what win matches."
Beckner is one of 10 Warren County wrestlers who qualified for this weekend's 3A East regional tournament at John Champe High School, and he said his goal now is to just continue the momentum that has been building since the offseason.
"Going to all of those national things and doing well there has just kept me on a roll and I'm just trying to keep it going all the way to Salem," Beckner said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD