Three Wildcats win conference wrestling titles

Zach Beckner

FRONT ROYAL – From the moment the 106-pound championship began at the Conference 28 wrestling tournament at Warren County High School on Saturday, Wildcats sophomore Nathan Johnson never left the side of the mat.

Eagerly awaiting his bout in the 285-pound championship, Johnson paced back and forth, sometimes slapping his thighs, sometimes practicing his hand fighting and shots against an invisible opponent. He served as an anxious spectator as each championship match passed, and he enthusiastically cheered each of his nine teammates who stepped into the circle for their chance at a conference title.

And he had a front row seat as Brentsville erased an 11.5-point deficit in the championship rounds en route to the team title.

By the time Johnson’s time to step onto the mat arrived, he was livid.

With nothing more than an individual championship now on the line, Johnson looked like a man on a mission when he squared off with William Monroe’s Austin Rath. Johnson secured a takedown 10 seconds into the match. Just 46 seconds into his heavyweight bout, Johnson walked off the mat a conference champ following his first-period pin.

Nathan Johnson

“The only thing I was thinking about was the team,” Johnson said. “I wanted to pin my guy for the team. I was really enraged. I wanted the team to win. Unfortunately we were that close.”

Johnson was one of three Wildcats to earn conference titles on Saturday, as senior Zach Beckner took home the 126-pound title – his third straight – and senior Jacob Schneider claimed the 182-pound crown.

But Warren County’s trio of victors wasn’t enough to overcome the experience of Brentsville, who claimed seven individual titles and the team championship with a total of 258 points. The Wildcats finished second with 254.

Warren County entered the championship round leading Brentsville 236-224.5, but saw that lead diminish as the Tigers won the first three title bouts, including two head-to-head matchups with the Wildcats.

Beckner briefly reclaimed the lead for Warren County when he pinned Brentsville’s John Townsend in 34 seconds before throwing up his hands in a three-finger salute to the home crowd.

“It was my last time wrestling at Warren County and I was like really pumped up before the match and stuff,” said Beckner, last year’s Group 3A 113-pound champ. “I went out there after (Brentsville) won the first three bouts in a row and I was just like I need to help maybe get some fire under our butts, get us back in gear. I just went out there with the same mindset as I always do, that I’m gonna try and dictate the pace and I just did what I normally do.”

The Wildcats, who sent 10 wrestlers into the championship round, wouldn’t win another bout until Schneider topped Joey Norman from cross-town rival Skyline for the 182-pound title by way of an injury default.

Schneider, last year’s conference runner-up at 170 pounds, scored a takedown with 30 seconds left in the first period and was attempting to turn Norman with an arm bar as the whistle sounded. Norman remained on the mat for a couple minutes before walking off favoring his left shoulder.

“Our team needed the pin, so I was going for a pin. Trying to get extra points for us,” Schneider said. “I got it anyway, but I wasn’t intentionally hurting him. He had a torn labrum, that’s why he didn’t wrestle last year. He had surgery.”

Schneider’s victory pulled Warren County within 10 points of Brentsville with three teammates still to wrestle, but Johnson was the lone Wildcat to emerge victorious.

Warren County senior Zach Smith fell to Manassas Park’s Jonathan Gonzalez, 4-1, in the 195-pound match, while junior Jack Kilgallen lost to William Monroe’s Greg Sizemore by major decision, 13-5, at 220 pounds.

Kilgallen, who was thrust into a prominent role with the Wildcats after starter D.J. Almarode was lost to a season-ending injury a couple weeks ago, entered Saturday’s tournament as a five-seed and notched two pins to reach the championship round.

“Obviously it sucks with D.J. being out because who knows how that match would’ve gone with D.J. out there but you’ve gotta credit Jack for stepping up,” Beckner said. “He was beating himself up in the locker room and I just walked over there and I was like, ‘You went out there and gave it your all.’ I know it’s the typical crap that people say to cheer him up, but he has not wrestled at all on varsity and the kid’s going out there and he’s putting up a fight. Got two pins for us today and then he goes out and puts up a helluva fight in the finals.”

Warren County, which qualified 13 for the Region 3A East tournament this weekend at Skyline, had seven runner-up finishers – Hunter Jost (106), Kevin Cruz (113), Connor Jost (145), Wyatt Gill (152), Seth Jacobs (170), Smith and Kilgallen.

The Wildcats went 1-5 in head-to-head matchups with Brenstville in the finals.

Skyline, which finished fourth (130.5 points) in the seven-team race, sent two wrestlers into the championship round. In addition to Norman, junior Curt Boswell finished as the 120-pound runner-up after losing 15-6 to Brentsville’s Tony Lattanze, last year’s Conference 27 champ and a third-place finisher in the Group 3A state tournament.

“Curt’s really a leader with his work ethic in the room,” Hawks coach Matt Keel said. “I mean he does everything. I’m really proud of him. And I’m excited. That loss really doesn’t really affect us too much. … I expect him to do really well in the next two weeks.”

Ian Brannock (120) and Michael White (160) finished third for Warren County, while Nick Herring (138) finished fourth to qualify for the regional tournament. The top four individuals in each weight class advanced.

Skyline will send nine wrestlers to the regional meet, including third-place finishers Anthony Robledo (132), Brandon Doffermire (138), Jacob Grady (145), Tyrelle Robinson (152) and Keith Sanker (160). Chandler Heard (220) and Joe Pingley (285) both finished fourth.

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