The Next Step

Warren County junior Zach Beckner, left, spars with teammate Brett Binnix practice on Monday afternoon. Beckner, last season's runner-up in the 106-pound weight class at the Group 3A state tournament, returns to lead the Wildcats this season. Brad Fauber/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County High School junior Zach Beckner reflects back on the 2013-14 high school wrestling season quite a bit.

He doesn’t dwell so much on his loss to Brookville’s Reid Stewart in the 106-pound championship match of the Virginia High School League Group 3A state tournament at last season, Beckner’s only loss of his sophomore campaign. Instead, Beckner finds himself thinking about all of the valuable experience he gained on the mat inside the Salem Civic Center.

Last season was something of a storybook experience for Beckner, who was relegated to a spot on the junior varsity squad his freshman year only to rise up, win his first 44 matches his sophomore season and reach the state championship round, winning Bull Run District, Conference 28 and Region 3A East titles along the way.

But it was his lack of experience at the state tournament that had Beckner admittedly feeling nervous throughout the two-day event.

“I guess you have to be out there and you have to actually wrestle that match in order to understand your mental game,” Becker said on Monday before practice, “and understand what you need to think about in order to get you prepared for a certain match.”

Beckner believes that experience he gained last season will help him handle the pressure this year, if he’s fortunate enough to make a return trip to Salem. But just in case, Beckner made some changes to his offseason routine, as well.

Beckner, who placed 16th in the Group 3A state cross country meet as a sophomore in 2013, decided to drop cross country this fall — much to the chagrin of his mother, Beckner admits — in order to focus all of his attention on wrestling. And he attended more national wrestling tournaments, participating in events such as the Super 32 Challenge, the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Wrestling Championships and the Middle Atlantic Wrestling Association (MAWA) Southern Regional Tournament.

“I went to some of those tournaments the year before but I don’t think I really had that mindset yet — the mental game,” said Beckner, who had 18 pins during the 2013-14 high school season.

“This offseason, every match I go out there I’m thinking ‘I’m going to win. No matter what, I’m going to win.’ It works sometimes. Other times it doesn’t, but whatever losses I take in the offseason I take as fuel to hopefully win as many matches this season as possible.”

Beckner also represented Team Virginia at a freestyle/Greco Roman national tournament held in Fargo, North Dakota.

“He was lucky enough to be the Virginia freestyle champ this summer. He went to Fargo, North Dakota, with the Virginia team and since he’s come back with that it’s like … his mental game has changed a little bit,” Warren County head coach Matt Wadas said. “When he was in Fargo, there were no bad kids. Everybody was a state champ or a state runner-up. The margin of victory came by winning in close matches, and he’s come back from that with a very strong, not just will to win, but everything is a strategy to him.”

Beckner is now hoping all of that work helps him become the first state champion at Warren County in nearly 15 years.

Beckner, who wrestled at 106 pounds in each of his first two seasons while amassing a 60-1 career record in high school varsity matches, plans to bump up to 120 pounds this season, at least initially.

Wadas said Beckner’s move to 120 pounds — which is being made in an effort to get the junior more competition this winter — could be temporary depending on how well his body responds, and Beckner could end up wrestling at 113 pounds by season’s end if that’s deemed the healthier option.

But Beckner, who said he wrestled at 120 pounds in a few events this summer, insists his body is responding well to the added weight.

“My body’s not as sore. I feel better. I feel stronger, faster. And I look better. I’m not all sunk in, pale and feeling like crap,” Beckner said. “It definitely feels better, but the decision whether I’m going to go 20 or 13 will occur later in the season. As of right now it’s about working hard in the practice room and trying to get crisp with my technique and stay moving.”

Beckner said he’s been watching film from his matches last season in order to sharpen his technique in certain areas, and he said has been improving “nonstop” since the end of his sophomore year.

“Going to these high level tournaments that he has, you can just tell he’s sort of a notch above,” said Wadas.

Beckner said he’s also focused on taking a bigger leadership role this season, which will be important for a Warren County squad that features a good mix of youth and experience this winter.

Though the Wildcats graduated six seniors from last season’s team, Warren County does return four of its six state qualifiers. The Wildcats lost two third-place finishers in Tyler Barisciano and Terrace Thompson, but junior Jacob Schneider (third place at 170 pounds last year), senior Tyler Shanholtz (six place at 138 pounds) and senior Tristan Ward (seventh place at 152 pounds) return valuable state tournament experience to Warren County.

Shanholtz and Schneider join Beckner as team captains this year, as does senior Brett Binnix, who is finally getting his shot at the starting 106-pound spot after serving as the backup to Beckner, Barisciano and Thompson over the last three years.

Warren County begins its 2014-15 season with a benefit match at home against Handley on Dec. 2 before hosting its annual duals tournament on Dec. 6, and Beckner is eager to put his newfound mental approach to work as he hopes to become Warren County’s first state champ since Eric Hawes in 2001.

“I just use the fuel of there’s only been one state champion in Warren County history and I want to be the next one,” Beckner said. “So I put in as much work as possible. I work as hard as I can day in and day out and hopefully things will pay off for me.”

<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or <a href=’mailto:bfauber@nvdaily.com’>bfauber@nvdaily.com</a></p>