Strasburg’s Swink captures first 2A state wrestling crown
SALEM – Strasburg High School wrestling coach Mike Wood has been saying since the beginning of the 2016-17 season that he considered Brandon Swink to be the favorite to win the 120-pound Virginia High School League state title among Group 2A competitors. The junior made his head coach look like a smart man on Saturday afternoon.
Swink, making his third trip to the state tournament at the Salem Civic Center this past weekend, captured his first championship by edging out Graham’s Tracy Hagerman, 2-1, for the 2A 120-pound crown. He was the only Ram to win a state title at the two-day event.
“Brandon’s tough. He’s been wrestling really well,” Wood said. “I think he was a little cautious. I think he was afraid to open up because of (the possibility of) making a mistake in the final. He wanted to win it so bad, so it was a tight match – I think tighter than it probably should’ve been but he got it. It doesn’t matter if you win one-nothing or you pin the kid in a second. It’s still a win. He did a good job and I figured him to be the best in double A, and he ran with some of the best in the other divisions too this year. He had a really, really solid year.”
Swink admitted moments after his victory that he was overly cautious in his first state tournament title match appearance. All three of the bout’s points were scored within the first 1:35 of the opening period before Hagerman and Swink took turns riding the other out over the next two frames.
“I’m happy. I’m not really excited because he wasn’t that hard of a match. I could’ve beat him a lot worse but I was nervous so I played it safe the whole time,” Swink said. “I knew I had it from the start. But I mean it’s nice.”
The two wrestlers opened the match with a heavy dose of hand fighting before Swink secured what would be the winning takedown with 40 seconds left in the first period. Hagerman, a sophomore, escaped 15 seconds later to cut Swink’s lead in half. Hagerman maintained control on top for the entire second period after deferring position choice to Swink. The Strasburg junior returned the favor in the third period to seal the win.
Swink was one of five Rams to reach the 2A championship finals, although neither Peyton Stickles (113 pounds), Austin Cooper (138), Dylan Campbell (145) nor Ethan Duckworth (195) could replicate their teammate’s success.
Strasburg as a team finished with 114.5 points to finish in second place behind Grundy (184), which claimed its VHSL record 20th state championship. Clarke County was third with 88 points.
“The kids wrestled well,” Wood said. “Of course you’re gonna have some tight matches that you win and lose, that’s just the sport. Some kids are more ready mentally than others and that’s a difference. But overall, I mean, we brought eight and medaled seven of them. We get four of them back (next season), so we have a bright future.”
Campbell, Cooper and Duckworth, all seniors, weren’t able to end their high school careers on a winning note.
Cooper, the 2015 state champ at 113 pounds, dropped a 6-3 decision to Grundy’s Gabe Fiser in the 138-pound championship. Cooper scored the match’s first points on a takedown in the first period but was nearly pinned in the second. He strained to keep his shoulders off the mat for nearly 30 seconds as Fiser gained the lead with 3 near-fall points in the second period, then fell behind 6-2 in the third before earning an escape with 50 seconds remaining.
It was Fiser’s second state title, as he beat Campbell for the 138-pound crown last season.
“I couldn’t give up backs and I did,” Cooper said. “I wrestled tough besides that, good on my feet but gave up backs.
“(Campbell) told me (Fiser) locks hands a lot on top and if I got moving I would get out. But he was slick on his feet.”
Campbell fell to Grundy’s Jacob McNutt, 12-4, in the 145-pound final a bout later. McNutt, now a three-time state champ, built a 4-0 lead through two periods before allowing Campbell four escapes in exchange for four takedowns in the third frame.
“It wasn’t really that he was strong, it’s just he knew what to do in every single position,” said Campbell, who ended his high school career with three consecutive state runner-up finishes. “His defense was perfect. His offense was perfect. There was really nothing I could do to even set him up or anything.”
Duckworth lost a close bout to Graham’s Alex Hicks, 4-3, in the 195-pound championship. Duckworth gained an early lead with a takedown in the first period that Hicks countered with an escape, and Hicks gained a 4-2 lead with another escape and a takedown in the second. Duckworth pulled within a point with his own escape 10 seconds into third period but Hicks held him off for the title.
Duckworth, who hadn’t won a high school tournament prior to last season’s Bull Run District tournament, ended his career with two Conference 35 titles and a pair of Region 2A East crowns and improved on last year’s third-place finish in the state tournament.
“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten a lot better. Definitely could’ve performed better but I can’t be upset with second,” Duckworth said.
“I didn’t even know if was gonna be able to wrestle this year with my knee being messed up but being able to tough through it and perform better than I did last year is huge for me.”
Stickles, a freshman making his first state tournament appearance, was pinned by Grundy’s Brandon Owens in 1:19 in the 113-pound championship after Stickles got locked in a cradle off a restart.
“It was pretty special just getting there as a freshman. It felt great,” said Stickles, who admitted he was nervous about competing in his first state final.
Strasburg senior Josh Pritchett ended his high school career with a win as he ended up in third place at 285 after pinning James River’s Travis Sisson in 3:48 in the consolation finals.
Rams junior Austin Miller (170) finished sixth, as did Central sophomores Jacob Scibelli (120) and Ezra Smith (285). Each picked up a win during the first round of consolations on Friday evening.
Strasburg’s Javian Moore (160) lost both of his day one matches and was eliminated from the tournament. Central senior David Spitler suffered the same fate.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org