Dean’s developing sense of confidence

Hunter Dean

Hunter Dean and his Strasburg wrestling teammates had a busy few days on the mat last week.

On Dec. 29 and 30, Strasburg took its first trip to the two-day Powerade Christmas Wrestling Tournament in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, an event widely regarded as one of the most prestigious high school wrestling tournaments in the entire country. Several days later, the Rams participated in the 12-team Mayhem at Millbrook tournament.

By week’s end, Dean had welcomed in the new year quite nicely. He’d placed seventh in a national tournament, won the 145-pound championship at Millbrook and had become the all-time leader in career wins at Strasburg along the way.

Perhaps most importantly for the Rams and Dean, who is working for his third straight Virginia High School League state wrestling championship this season, the success the senior had during that six-day span helped Dean develop a different degree of confidence in the eyes of Strasburg second-year coach Mike Wood.

“With placing at the Powerade, winning Millbrook and getting the wins record and a few other things all within a week, that’s really kind of given him a different feel for the sport,” Wood said on Tuesday of Dean, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for Dec. 28-Jan. 3.

Dean’s memorable week of work on the wrestling mat began in Pennsylvania, where he navigated a 145-pound field of 41 wrestlers to become the only Ram to medal at the 48th edition of the Powerade tournament.

As a team, Strasburg placed last among the 48 teams — which included schools from all over the nation — but Dean did plenty to garner himself some attention in the national spotlight. The senior went 4-2 with a pin in the two-day event en route to his seventh-place finish. Dean’s two losses came to Jarod Verkleeren of Belle Vernon (Pennsylvania) and Nick Monico of Saegertown (Pennsylvania), the fourth- and fifth-place finishers at 145 pounds, respectively.

“[Dean’s performance] kind of now puts him on the national map,” Wood said.

Wood, who spent most of his 25-year high school wrestling coaching career in Pennsylvania before coming to Strasburg in 2013, made a determined push to get the Rams into the annual Powerade tournament since taking over Strasburg’s head coaching job, and Dean realized last week why Wood was so eager to give the Rams that experience.

“Basically it was [another whole] level up there,” Dean said. “It’s a different lifestyle. They’re more in your face. They go hard the whole time. They always work for the better position. We were almost in awe when we were watching the finals matches. It was just amazing to see some of the kids ranked number one in the country wrestling out there.

“It was just a great experience,” Dean added. “The wrestling was great, but being able to watch some of those guys wrestle was even better.”

Riding the momentum he built in Pennsylvania, Dean went on a dominating run through the 145-pound bracket in the Mayhem at Millbrook tournament this past Saturday. Dean, utilizing some new moves he had learned at the Powerade tournament only a few days before, went 5-0 at Millbrook en route to the championship, with four of his wins coming via pin.

All of Dean’s wins at Millbrook came against wrestlers from schools that compete at a higher VHSL classification than Strasburg (2A), including a first-round pin over Gabriel Charlifue of Group 6A James Robinson and a 6-3 decision in the championship round over David Reeves of 5A Freedom (South Riding).

“I think he believes now he can wrestle at a national level and it kind of carried over to Millbrook,” Wood said. “He was more confident in his ability. He’s faster and just even more dominating at his weight. Before he was winning some matches close there, now he’s just pretty much controlling his opponents.”

Dean’s championship win over Reeves was even more special for the senior in that it made him the Rams’ all-time career wins leader. The victory gave Dean his 178th win at Strasburg, eclipsing the previous record set by Sean Hall six seasons ago.

Dean, who was 178-11 in his career heading into Strasburg’s tri-match with Madison County and Warren County on Wednesday, said he’d lost track of his progress toward the record mark on Saturday until his father reminded him before the championship match.

“Going into the finals match I knew that if I won that one I was going to get the record. I was excited about that, but it wasn’t my main focus at the time,” said Dean, who was 27-2 with 18 pins this season heading into Wednesday. “Afterwards, I was happy about it. It felt great afterwards, but I was more focused on the match beforehand.”

Should he remain healthy, Dean will have plenty of chances to extend his record win total this winter while he pursues his third state title with Strasburg in as many seasons.

“I feel like it’s going a lot faster than the other seasons,” said Dean, who won state titles at 106 pounds (Group A) and 132 pounds (Group 2A) his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. “I’m already looking to the postseason. It’s flying by. I kind of want to slow down a little bit.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com