Local wrestlers set for state tournament

Strasburg wrestling coach Mike Wood knows the Rams will need some help if they hope to contend for the Virginia High School League Group 2A state championship this weekend in Salem.

To do so, the Rams would have to upend Bull Run District rival and defending state champ Clarke County – which beat Strasburg for the Region 2A East title last weekend and qualified nine for the state level – as well as traditional powerhouse Grundy, which is sending 12 wrestlers to Salem this weekend.

Grundy, which nearly doubled up second-place Graham at the Region 2A West meet, figures to be the favorite heading into the state tournament, and Wood said the key to toppling the Golden Wave likely rests on a joint effort among the rest of the state’s contenders.

“With us and Clarke and maybe a few teams kind of working together, Grundy’s got some pretty tough matches,” Wood said earlier this week.

“I mean let’s face it, the best we can do is put seven in the finals,” he continued. “Will that happen? If all the stars align we might do that. Realistically it’s gonna be tough. But if we do six or five we’re gonna be in the mix depending on if Grundy gets, you know, only half of their guys are left in the finals and they take some lumps, anything can happen. But they definitely have numbers on their side.”

Strasburg qualified seven wrestlers for the state tournament, tied with Warren County (3A) for the most among the six local public high schools. Stonewall Jackson (1A), Central (2A), Skyline (3A) and Sherando (4A) each qualified two wrestlers for this weekend’s event, which will simultaneously include the Group 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A state tournaments at Salem Civic Center.

Wrestling begins today with the quarterfinal (10 a.m.) and semifinal (6 p.m.) rounds, while the tournament will continue Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. The championship finals are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Among the 22 local wrestlers qualified to compete at this year’s event, three are seeking their second straight state championship – Warren County’s Zach Beckner, Sherando’s John Borst and Strasburg’s Austin Cooper. Fourteen wrestlers are making their first trip to Salem.

Strasburg is sending the most experience, as Kyle Sisk (113 pounds), Brandon Swink (120), Cooper (126) and Dylan Campbell (138) return after reaching the state tournament last season. Sisk and Campbell, who won regional titles last weekend, are each making their third state appearance. Ethan Duckworth (160) and Josh Pritchett (220) also won regional championships last weekend and are making their first state trip, as is Ben Rodriguez.

Of Warren County’s seven state qualifiers, only Beckner (126) and fellow senior Jacob Schneider (182) have been to Salem before, and each are making their third appearance. Hunter Jost (106), Kevin Cruz (113), Connor Jost (145), Zach Smith (195) and Nathan Johnson (285) also qualified with their performances in the Region 3A East tournament for the Wildcats.

“Our quarterfinal matches right away are gonna be tough,” Warren County coach Matt Wadas said. “For some kids they’re gonna be right away looking up the road, so I think we’ve gotta have that mentality coming into this thing that right away we’ve got tough kids and this isn’t just any tournament, this is the state tournament and we’re gonna have to be fighting for our lives from the first second if we wanna have that goal of placing.”

Warren County placed third in the regional tournament behind Brentsville and Poquoson last weekend, during which Beckner won his third straight regional title. Wadas said he’s been telling Beckner to “keep a little perspective and enjoy this time” at the state tournament, a message he’s been giving to all his wrestlers.

Also in the 3A tournament, Skyline will send Brandon Doffermire (138) and Joey Norman (182) for the first time after each finished fourth at the regional tournament.

In the Group 1A tournament, Stonewall Jackson qualified senior Brandon Garcia (132) and sophomore Dakota Bush (285). Garcia, a midseason transfer from Turner Ashby, is making his fourth state tournament appearance after reaching the 3A competition each of the last three seasons.

Central (2A) qualified Jacob Scibelli (106) and Corwin Gonzalez (285) for the first time after each finished fourth at the Region 2A East tournament.

In the 4A competition, Sherando will send senior Mike Duffy (126) – a first-time qualifier – in addition to Borst (182), last year’s 170-pound state champ fresh off his second regional championship.

Warriors head coach Pepper Martin said he expected to send four to the state tournament, but senior Ben Avery – last year’s state runner-up at heavyweight – broke his fibula in practice last week and senior Curtis Guthridge came up one place short of qualifying in a competitive 145-pound class at the Region 4A West tournament.

Martin said Borst’s quest to defend his state title won’t be an easy one, as he will likely have to go through last year’s 182-pound state champ, Hanover’s T.J. Allen, to do so.

“He’s number one ranked in the state,” Martin said of Allen. “But John has had a great mental approach so far in the postseason. He’s just focused on his next opponent. He hasn’t looked ahead or projected ahead to who he’s gonna meet in the finals or anything like that because at this point in the season you can’t afford to do that.”

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