The top of the Bull Run District wrestling race has been as competitive as they come this season, and the district’s best will meet for one final time this weekend before true postseason competition starts up in the coming weeks.
Strasburg, Warren County and Clarke County have taken turns topping each other on the wrestling mat this winter, making Saturday’s Bull Run District tournament, hosted by Warren County, all the more intriguing as teams prepare for their respective conference meets next week.
“It’s always good to see, if they beat us or we beat them, what we need to do to improve the next weekend to beat them or stay ahead of them,” Strasburg head coach Mike Wood said earlier this week. “So it will be exciting to see how we perform.”
Strasburg enters Saturday looking to repeat as the Bull Run District champ a year after edging Warren County for the title. The Rams topped the Wildcats by 1½ points for the district championship last season and if this year has been any indication, Saturday’s tournament could be equally as competitive.
Warren County and Clarke County are responsible for two of Strasburg’s three dual losses this season, while the Rams beat both teams in the Judges Invitational at John Handley High School on Jan. 17. The Rams also beat Clarke County head-to-head at the Strasburg Duals earlier this month.
Strasburg and Warren County will part ways after Saturday’s tournament but the Rams will see plenty of Clarke County throughout the postseason, as both are members of Conference 35 and Region 2A East.
“We have some matches where they beat us by a point or two, then we beat them back at that weight class,” Wood said. “Now we’ve got to be able to see if maybe we can win that weight class again or maybe open up and win by a few more points. There have been spots where they have just been beating us solid in certain weight classes and we want to improve on that. Maybe go from getting pinned to maybe losing a decision. There’s always room for improvement.”
Strasburg, last season’s Group 2A state runner-up, returns two district champions from last season in seniors Nic Campbell (132 pounds) and Hunter Dean (145). Campbell (38-7) will be seeking his fourth straight district title, while Dean (47-2) is looking for his third straight.
The Wildcats return one district champ in junior 113-pounder Zach Beckner (35-1), who won the 106-pound title over Clarke County’s Bayne Gordon in 2014. Warren County also returns two district second-place finishers in Tristan Ward (152 pounds) and Jacob Schneider (170 pounds).
Warren County head coach Matt Wadas said he wants the Wildcats to focus on performing well in the semifinal rounds this weekend in preparation for next weekend’s Conference 28 tournament and beyond.
“Whether it’s the championship semis or the consolation semis, I think we really want to focus on those rounds, winning those rounds and how important those are because that can end a season or end a career in those rounds,” Wadas said. “I think it’s really important to learn now so you have that good base.”
Central, also a member of Conference 28, has struggled on the mat as a team this season – a short-handed lineup further trimmed down by injury hasn’t helped – but first-year head coach Michael Sanders said he expects to have a couple wrestlers “vying for a top finish in the district” on Saturday.
Junior 120-pounder Colton Lecraw has led the Falcons on the mat, as he was 17-5 prior to Wednesday’s district quad match at Rappahannock County.
“I’d like to see them go out and be aggressive. Get after it and try to put points on the board quickly and often,” Sanders said in an email. “It is something the coaching staff has been pushing since day one. It has been a process, but we see flashes of that mentality.
“I think Colton always has a chance. He just has to believe that the work he is putting in will pay dividends in the end. … He is building on both the positives and negatives from his previous matches. That’s what he needs to continue to do. This will be a good test for his and our team’s focus for the conference tournament next week.”
The area’s recent bout with winter weather has limited the mat time available for many teams in the Bull Run District. Warren County hasn’t competed since its dual against rival Skyline on Jan. 20, while Strasburg hasn’t faced an opponent since the Shenandoah County championship on Jan. 21. Most practices during that span were canceled as well, although Wadas said the impact of the layoff has been lessened by the fact that nearly all of the district’s teams are facing the same situation.
“It’s pretty easy to shake off the rust at this point in the season,” Wadas said. “It’s more about conditioning. Is everybody in the right amount of shape?”
Wadas and Wood both noted that the time off has been beneficial in the fact that it has allowed their teams to heal up. Wood said he expects the Rams to be at nearly full strength on Saturday, as senior heavyweight Ty Lang is still working his way back from a shoulder injury that has sidelined him for several weeks and will likely sit out the district tournament.
Wadas expects Zach Smith (195 pounds) and D.J. Almarode (220) to return to action for the Wildcats this weekend after missing Warren County’s last few matches.
“This is funny to say but this might be the first time we have our full lineup in the entire season,” Wadas said.
The Falcons will continue to be without 106-pounder Hayden Shifflett – who is done for the season – and Sanders said he expects junior Ben Rodriguez (145) to remain out at least until next weekend’s conference tournament.
The Bull Run District tournament is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, with doors opening for admission at 8:30 a.m. The championship finals are scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com