Male Athlete of the Week: Beckner makes statement in final high school wrestling match

Zach Beckner

FRONT ROYAL – At one point during the 126-pound semifinal bout of last weekend’s Group 3A state wrestling tournament in Salem, Warren County wrestling coach Matt Wadas noticed senior Zach Beckner’s focus was aimed somewhere other than his ongoing match.

Beckner, on his way to a 16-1 tech fall (4:15) win over Broadway’s Sebastian Phillips that would put him in his third consecutive state tournament championship final, was simply taking advantage of a break in the action as Phillips was tended to during a blood timeout. On an adjacent mat, Cave Spring’s Sam Ring was taking on Tabb’s William Speight in the other 126-pound semifinal, and Wadas realized that’s where Beckner’s attention was focused.

“I’m like what are you doing?” Wadas recalled asking Beckner on Wednesday afternoon. “(He said) ‘I’m scouting, leave me alone.'”

Beckner had a statement he wanted to make in his final trip to Salem, and he eventually would.

Beckner, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for Feb. 15-21, followed up his two wins on Friday – which also included a second-period pin of Christiansburg’s Daniel Hoge in the quarterfinals – with a 12-3 major decision victory over Ring, giving Beckner his second straight VHSL state title.

Beckner is the only Warren County wrestler to win two state championships.

A highly decorated wrestler whose only losses this season came at the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in New Jersey, Beckner said he wanted to make a statement in Salem by “going out and doing what I normally do.” That approach had worked well for Beckner to that point, and he said he found a list of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the state that had him ranked third overall in 3A behind Christiansburg 160-pounder Hunter Bolen and Cave Spring’s Cody Amos (220 pounds), which boosted his confidence even more.

“I was like, ‘Well OK, they think I’m the third-best wrestler in this division, that’s kind of cool.’ But you can’t let those things get to your head,” Beckner said. “You can’t let those things be what defines you as a wrestler. … You’ve got to go out there and put on a show in the first place.”

Having never wrestled Ring previously, Beckner was able to do a little bit of personal scouting in Salem and was even provided some insight into Ring’s potential strategy against Beckner from Ring’s previous tournament opponents, Beckner said. But the Warren County senior said Cave Spring’s coaches and wrestlers knew – or at least thought they knew – a good bit about Beckner.

“They’re like, ‘Beckner gets frustrated if you stall a little bit and he can’t get you taken down, so if you frustrate him he’ll make a mistake,'” Beckner said. “And I was like, no, I’m not gonna get frustrated, I’m just gonna keep freaking coming at you.”

While Ring took a defensive approach, Beckner said, the Warren County senior was aggressive. Beckner scored a takedown 15 seconds into the championship bout, and added another just over a minute in after allowing Ring up on a restart.

“I try not to let their styles worry me too much and I didn’t think that he was gonna be able to hold it to a one takedown match or anything,” Beckner said. “I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and that was that.”

Beckner built that lead to 12-1 before Ring earned two points via penalty in the final three seconds of the match.

“In the state finals you never know what’s gonna happen and it was a great way to see him go out, put on a dominant performance,” Wadas said. “You could tell their goal was to try to slow him down, and to see him score – obviously he was hoping for a tech or a pin – but to see when a kid just doesn’t wanna get (beaten by tech fall) or pinned and (Beckner) puts on that performance. I’m proud of him, proud of the way he went out.”

Beckner’s performance did draw a chorus of boos from the Cave Spring crowd when he was penalized for pumping his fist in the air while riding Ring’s back as the final seconds ticked off the clock, but he insists he wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, although he admitted he didn’t make himself look like “the most graceful winner.”

Wadas said he understood the referee’s decision to slap Beckner with a taunting penalty that netted Ring one of his final two points, but he added that his star senior wasn’t trying to “show the kid up.”

“He really wasn’t and I hope that’s what people understand, that he was celebrating something that Warren County had never done,” Wadas said. “It wasn’t like this was just an ordinary state title. We’ve never had two. I’ve never had a kid do two, so this was a big moment for him and our program.”

Beckner’s high school success has opened the door to a possible college wrestling future, and he said he’s received interest from Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, as well as Division II and Division III schools. Beckner is still weighing his options, but he insists his wrestling days are not over.

“I wanna kick some more butt,” he said. “I’m not done yet.”

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