Wildcats’ Beckner ends career with second title

Warren County senior Zach Beckner celebrates after beating Cave Spring's Sam Ring for the 126-pound state championship in Saturday's Group 3A tournament in Salem. Brad Fauber/Daily

SALEM – Warren County senior Zach Beckner wanted to drown out the atmosphere at the VHSL Group 3A state wrestling tournament at the Salem Civic Center this past weekend, doing so to the point where he said after Saturday’s championship round that it felt just like any other tournament.

And just like every other tournament in which Beckner competed this season, outside of the Beast of the East, he was dominant.

Seeking his second state wrestling title in as many seasons, Beckner cruised the 126-pound championship Saturday evening by beating Cave Spring’s Sam Ring by a 12-3 major decision.

“I didn’t want the atmosphere to get to me,” said Beckner, who admitted his first state championship, the 113-pound title last season, actually meant more than his encore performance. “I was just zoned into what I was doing and took control of the match early and just stayed in control.”

Eager to get a quick jump in his high school match underway, Beckner (51-2) stepped early prior to the starting whistle of his title bout with Ring and was given a caution by the referee. Quickly resetting, Beckner scored a takedown 15 seconds in and another a minute later to build a 4-1 lead after the first period.

Warren County senior Zach Beckner glances at the clock while controlling Cave Spring's Sam Ring during the 126-pound championship in the Group 3A state tournament Saturday in Salem. Brad Fauber/Daily

He extended that lead to 10-1 with an escape, a takedown and three back points in the second period before another takedown early in the third period gave Beckner a 12-1 advantage. Beckner gave up a pair of penalty points while riding out Ring in the waning seconds of the bout when he turned toward the Warren County crowd and began pumping his fist in the air, drawing boos from the Cave Spring faithful and a taunting penalty from the referee.

“Some people think I was being disrespectful out there. I was just celebrating, I mean like any other kid would do,” said Beckner, who had a pin and a tech fall on Friday to reach the tournament finals.

“I wanted to come out here and make a statement that I want to be on another level,” he continued. “I don’t want to be on the same level as these guys. And then when I get to D1 (college) I’m gonna start out at the bottom of the fish tank and I’m gonna work my way up until I’m the best in D1. That’s what I want.”

Beckner’s title victory lacked drama, but there was plenty of that in the 3A 285-pound championship final that pitted Warren County sophomore Nathan Johnson against Lord Botetourt’s J.T. Turner.

After jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the opening period, Johnson found his advantage trimmed to 5-4 heading into the final frame. A quick escape gave Johnson a 2-point lead early in the third period before Turner was awarded a penalty point when Johnson was called for stalling with one minute remaining. Johnson scored another takedown with 40 seconds left but a Turner escape and another stalling call on Johnson as he backed out of the circle cut the Wildcat sophomore’s lead back to 8-7 with 18 seconds showing on the clock.

Warren County's Nathan Johnson, right, attempts to spin out of the grasp of Lord Botetourt's J.T. Turner during the 285-pound championship match of the Group 3A state wrestling tournament last season in Salem. Johnson is seeking redemption this winter after losing the state title in controversial fashion. Brad Fauber/Daily file

Following a restart, the match continued for several long moments before referees were made aware that the clock never restarted. Ten seconds were eventually put on the clock and the match restarted. Johnson and Turner tied up for the entirety of those 10 seconds before the referee slapped Johnson with a third stalling penalty, awarding Turner 2 points and a 9-8 win, drawing the ire of Warren County head coach Matt Wadas, Wildcat fans and Johnson’s teammates crowded against the fence separating the wrestling mats from the spectator bleachers.

“Obviously we didn’t feel that the stall calls were right. The biggest thing was Track Wrestling says four seconds on the clock,” said Wadas, referring to the computer software used to digitally record tournament data. “… When we went over to argue (the time remaining) Track Wrestling said four seconds – it had worked. The ref for some reason put on 10 seconds. And then we kept hand fighting and we stayed aggressive and we were hit with stalling. These calls were not explained to us.”

Wadas went on to say that Johnson, a third seed who put himself into position for his first state championship with two victories over higher seeds on Friday, wrestled a great match and had “nothing to be sad about.”

Wildcats freshman Hunter Jost (106 pounds) also saw his shot at his first state championship slip away Saturday, although the disappointment from Jost’s 3-1 overtime loss to Brenstville’s Jonathan Walker was lessened by his day one performance. To reach the championship finals Jost, a No. 4 seed, toppled top-seeded Andrew Morgan of Christiansburg, 3-2, and No. 2 Suliman Pady of Phoebus.

“I was very happy on day one. I had two upsets on Christiansburg’s one seed and then the kid that beat me last week at regionals,” Jost said. “And then I knew I was gonna have a tough one in the finals. … To go into overtime with Jonnie, I was really hoping for the win. Once I got into overtime I was hoping for the takedown. I mean as a freshman I’m happy I took second but in my head I wanted the state title.”

Warren County freshman Hunter Jost grimaces as Brentsville's Jonathan Walker controls him from the top during the 106-pound state championship match in Saturday's Group 3A tournament in Salem. Brad Fauber/Daily

Warren County senior Jacob Schneider also had a bittersweet ending Saturday. Though he had aspirations of reaching the 182-pound title match, Schneider ended up third after beating New Kent’s Trent Ragland, 4-3. Still, Schneider said he was happy to win his final high school match, and he admitted afterward that he’s excited for wrestling season to be over so he can focus his full attention on preparing for his future in the United States Marine Corps.

“Wrestling kind of helps but it doesn’t give me exactly what I need,” said Schneider, a three-time state qualifier. “I need to start swimming and running and stuff like that.

“And I get to do jiu-jitsu full time now. That’s more fun than wrestling,” he added with a laugh.

Warren County junior Kevin Cruz (113) and senior Zach Smith (195) each placed fifth to reach the podium in their first state tournament appearances, while sophomore Connor Jost (145) lost both of his day one bouts and was eliminated from the tournament.

Skyline’s Brandon Doffermire claimed the final spot on the 138-pound podium with his sixth-place finish, while senior Joey Norman went two and out on Friday in his first state appearance.

Christiansburg (168.5 points) as a team won its 14th straight state championship. Warren County (87.5) finished fifth.

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