Wildcats, Rams seeking district wrestling title

Warren County's Connor Jost controls Strasburg's Ben Rodriguez in the 145-pound match on Jan. 13 in Front Royal. Jost won the match 7-1. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Warren County High School’s wrestling team won all but one of its regular season duals this winter, but Wildcats head coach Matt Wadas would like to see that success in head-to-head matchups translate into success in a postseason, bracket-style tournament.

The Wildcats will get their first chance to carry that momentum over when they host the eight-team Bull Run District tournament Saturday beginning at 10 a.m.

“I think it all comes down to seeds,” Wadas said Wednesday. “If you’re seeded second, try to win it. If you’re seeded fourth, try to get that third. If you can improve on your seeds and wrestle back I think that’s a huge bonus and I think that’s how you win tournaments. I think Strasburg’s done a great job of that, wrestling back in the last couple years, and they’ve got a team that’s built for it.”

Strasburg is seeking its third straight Bull Run District team championship after having claimed the honor in each of the last two years, but third-year coach Mike Wood said Warren County is the “team to beat” in this year’s edition.

The Wildcats beat the Rams, 51-15, in a head-to-head dual at Warren County on Jan. 13 – a match in which Strasburg had three starters out due to injury – and finished 121 points better than Strasburg in a 16-team tournament at John Handley High School three days later.

“They’re well-coached and they beat us in a dual, no excuses,” Wood said. “I mean we had some guys out but they were a better team that night. I think we’re a better tournament team, so as long as I have everybody in, everybody’s healthy, which it looks like it’s gonna be that way … and we’re ready to roll I think we’ll give them a good run.

“Basically if we get a little help from somebody, Warren County has a little bit of an off day and we wrestle well, anything can happen, but it’s gonna be tough to get three (district titles in a row),” he continued.

Warren County, whose lone dual loss came by three points to Group 4A member Eastern View in a tournament at Sherando High School in mid-December, will head into Saturday’s district tournament led by senior Zach Beckner (126 pounds), last year’s Group 3A 113-pound state champion and a two-time state qualifier. Fellow senior Jacob Schneider (182) is also a two-time state qualifier for the Wildcats.

Warren County will be wrestling without one experienced grappler, as sophomore 220-pounder D.J. Almarode broke his foot during last week’s dual with cross-town rival Skyline and is done for the season, according to Wadas, who said the Wildcats will have to “rally a little bit together” to help overcome that absence.

“What I’m gonna try to preach to the kids is throw expectations out – you can’t expect to win – and just go one match at a time,” Wadas said. “That’s what we’re gonna try to do.”

Strasburg will bring four returning Group 2A state qualifiers to Front Royal, including reigning 113-pound state champ Austin Cooper (junior, 126), junior Kyle Sisk (113), sophomore Brandon Swink (120) and junior Dylan Campbell (138).

Clarke County, last year’s 2A state champion, returned five state qualifiers this season, including two-time 120-pound state title winner Bayne Gordon and defending 182-pound state champ Bryan Wallace (195).

Central’s lineup was cut in half by injuries and illness nearly two weeks ago, but the Falcons have been led this season by the trio of seniors Colton Lecraw (126) and Daniel George (152) and sophomore Tyler Hedrick. Lecraw qualified for the 3A state tournament last season.

The 126-pound bracket has the potential to be one of the most competitive at the district tournament, as it will likely feature Beckner, Cooper, Gordon and Lecraw – three state champions and a state qualifier.

“We can’t make any mistakes,” Wood said. “Our guys that I think can get to the finals have got to get there with bonus points. Our guys that are in the consolation have gotta battle back through, try to get as high as possible – third, fourth or fifth, somewhere in there – with some bonus points. We’re probably gonna have to place, you know, 10 guys pretty high, 10 guys in the top four or five to really have a shot because I think Warren County’s gonna do that.”

The region’s recent blast of winter weather that saw a storm drop nearly 3 feet of snow in some areas last weekend could impact some of the wrestling on Saturday. Most area school systems have been closed since Jan. 22, and athletic teams weren’t able to begin practicing again until Wednesday. Both Wood – whose squad hasn’t wrestled in a meet since the Handley Invitational on Jan. 16 – and Wadas said they encouraged their wrestlers to perform workouts at home to stay in shape. Wadas added he expects wrestlers to spend the early rounds Saturday “knocking the rust off.”

The Bull Run District tournament has no impact on next weekend’s conference tournaments, which officially mark the beginning of playoff wrestling next weekend.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Wadas said. “It’s been tough we don’t have school but we’ve got conference coming up next week and there isn’t a better warm-up tournament you could ask for than the Bull Run.”

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