Lecraw rising to prominence on mat for Falcons

Central High School wrestler Colton Lecraw spars with Wyatt Robinson during a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – The seed for Colton Lecraw’s high school wrestling career was planted nearly seven years ago.

Lecraw, now a senior at Central High School, had just finished up fifth-grade when he moved into a new house in nearby Edinburg. He knew little about the sport of wrestling at the time, but one of his new neighbors happened to be former Central wrestling coach Roger Barbee.

Taking a cool-down walk around Central’s gymnasium prior to the start of wrestling practice Thursday afternoon, Lecraw recalled Barbee approaching him one day and declaring, “You’re gonna be a wrestler.”

“I was a real small kid. I was about 80 pounds, 4-foot-nothing, and I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t think contact sports are really for me,'” Lecraw said Thursday. “Because I’d played football, you know, been on the bottom of piles and heck with that, I don’t like it.”

Then came Lecraw’s eighth-grade year, and Barbee again encouraged him to try out for the Falcons’ wrestling program. Lecraw obliged.

Central High School wrestler Colton Lecraw stretches during practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I went out, I tried it out, loved it. I wanted to go out there and wrestle everybody, no matter if they had 30, 40 pounds on me, I wanted to wrestle them,” Lecraw said. “Got my butt kicked almost every match. I won four matches my eighth-grade year. And I was like I could quit now or I can just keep going.”

Lecraw was persistent. By his freshman year at Central, Lecraw had grown a bit and began wrestling at 106 pounds. He started achieving victories on the mat with more regularity, and the hunger for more success began. His eyes constantly flashed to a plaque hanging on the outside of Central’s gymnasium that contained two names, Hunain Khawaja and Skylar Wolfe – the members of the school’s 100-win club – and imagined his name accompanying them.

The century mark would become his goal – one that he would eventually achieve one week ago in a tournament at King George High School, oddly enough, against Central teammate Tyler Hedrick – and he credits Barbee with teaching him the wrestling technique to help get him there. But midway through his varsity wrestling career, Lecraw still needed to develop the appropriate mindset if he wanted to continue his upward trend. In came Michael Sanders, who became the Falcons new wrestling coach last season.

Sanders, a former Division II collegiate wrestler at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, began pushing Lecraw harder in the practice room, often going one-on-one with Lecraw to give him some added competition.

“I can’t speak to his first couple years here but last year it was a lot of … building him mentally up and getting his mind right, wanting to wrestle the better kids,” Sanders said. “You might get beat, you might get taken down, things might happen, but it’s all learning experiences.”

With Sanders’ help, Lecraw said he started showing more aggression on the mat and developed the mindset that he wanted to go out each and every match and “just kick some butt.”

“With technique and mental toughness you can go places,” Lecraw said.

In fact, that combination took him all the way to Salem last season for his first Virginia High School League state tournament experience. But his mat time in the Group 3A competition was short. The threat of snow forced the VHSL to condense the usual two-day tournament into a one-day sprint to the top of the podium, and the accompanying single-elimination format meant no chance at a wrestle back for those wrestlers unfortunate enough to fall in the early rounds. Lecraw was one of those wrestlers – he got knocked out of the 120-pound competition with a first-round loss by pin to Christiansburg’s Marshall Keller, who would go on to win the 3A 120-pound title.

“Competing there, even though it was short-lived for him, was a good thing,” Sanders said, “but also just being in the atmosphere and knowing you’re a part of that gives you something to shoot for, especially when you get there and you’re watching somebody state place, you’re watching the finals take place. You’re watching those guys out there, some who you’ve probably wrestled against and had close matches or beaten, you just say I wanna be a part of that or I should be a part of that.”

Lecraw, wrestling at 126 pounds this season, has his sights set on a return to Salem in what would be the Group 2A state tournament after Central dropped a classification this school year, and he’s working hard to prepare himself for it. That means wrestling some of the best competition he can ahead of the postseason. It was for that reason Lecraw didn’t shy away from squaring off with Warren County’s Zach Beckner, last year’s 3A 113-pound state champion and a good friend of his, in a Bull Run District dual on Tuesday. Lecraw lost by tech fall.

“I’m 19-3 on the season with a loss to Zach and a couple other kids that are ranked in the state right now, so I’m doing fairly well,” said Lecraw, who added that he has 14 tech falls so far this winter.

Lecraw will get a good gauge of exactly where he stands among some of the best competition in the state in next Saturday’s Bull Run District tournament at Warren County High School. The 126-pound bracket should include Beckner, Clarke County’s Bayne Gordon and Strasburg’s Austin Cooper, all three of which won state titles last season.

“There’s potential that that’s the hardest weight class that’s gonna be there,” Lecraw said. “You’ve got three state champions and a state qualifier, so that’ll be a fun one.”

Lecraw is particularly looking forward to a potential matchup with Gordon, another good friend of his who he has never faced in a high school wrestling match. Gordon, a junior, has won back-to-back 120-pound state championships.

“I think he’s right there with both (Gordon and Cooper) if … he’s preparing right mentally and he’s doing the right things in the room,” Sanders said.

Lecraw said his ultimate goal is to be standing atop the 126-pound podium in Salem in late February, but he added that the sport he once was hesitant to try has meant more to him than trophies and medals.

“That’s always the goal of a wrestler, you wanna be a state champ. But wrestling has taken me more places than just on the wrestling mat in my lifetime,” Lecraw said. “There’s a lot of family things that you can work through. Even schoolwork, some kids don’t like school but you can teach yourself to just push through stuff. And sometimes you get in some tough positions on the wrestling mat that you don’t wanna be in, but you don’t have no choice. So you’ve just gotta learn to work through things in your life.”

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