Wildcats off to another hot start

Warren County's Bobby Hunger wrestles John Champe's Kelton Roney during a match at 138 pounds during the Andrew Kenney Memorial Tournament at Sherando High School on Friday. Hunger won 12-0. Warren County claimed the team championship for the second straight year and is 10-0 in duals this season. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County High School’s wrestling team enjoyed one of the most – if not the most – successful seasons on the mat last season, and the Wildcats have picked up right where they left off.

The 2017-18 season is barely a week old, and yet Warren County already has two tournament titles to its credit after Friday night’s marathon run through the Andrew Kenney Memorial Tournament at Sherando High School.

The Wildcats, who won all seven of their major tournaments last winter, are 10-0 in duals this season after sweeping their home tournament on Dec. 2. Warren County head coach Matt Wadas said on Saturday morning he’s not keen on comparing his Wildcat teams, but he agreed this year’s team has a familiar feel.

“I try to stay away from comparisons but I have to say the vibe of being unselfish, the vibe of being a team (is the same as last year),” he said. “We had to pick an MVP (Friday) night and we couldn’t do it. The vote kept splitting because we have a lot of kids with the same records doing the same things. That’s also a good feeling.”

It’s hardly surprising that this year’s Wildcat squad has many of the same characteristics of last year’s team, which won its first regional championship in 14 years. Warren County lost only four seniors from that team, and many on the current roster have multiple years of experience at the varsity level.

Skyline's Taja Showers pins Millbrook's James Nelson in the second period of their match on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

That experience, Wadas said, is showing in the Wildcats’ success early this season.

“I have to credit my seniors, a lot of leadership I have on the mat,” Wadas said. “I haven’t had to put anything new into practices. They’re kind of putting the young kids under their wing. That’s a big credit to them. We got on a run (Friday) night with pins and I could see the kids talking about it. The seniors were talking to the young guys and being like, ‘Hey, just keep wrestling, keep wrestling, keep wrestling. Keep going for that pin even if you’re winning.’ That stuff kind of breeds a little bit, you know? And it’s great. I’m a lucky coach, I’ll say that.”

Luck had little to do with the Wildcats’ success on Friday night, as they ran roughshod through a 16-team field en route to their second straight Andrew Kenney Memorial championship trophy. Warren County went 5-0 in the tournament that was originally planned as a two-day event but was condensed to a single day of wrestling due to weather, starting with a trio of victories in pool play over Oakton (70-10), John Champe (65-7) and Briar Woods (66-9).

The Wildcats’ closest match of the night came in a 42-31 win over Brooke Point in the championship semifinals, and they closed the tournament with a 77-6 blasting of Chantilly – during which Warren County recorded 11 pins – in the title bout as the tournament stretched into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

“That’s something I’m real proud of. I mean we were wrestling Chantilly at midnight, so that’s not something we really trained for,” Wadas said. “I was really excited that we came out there and put a dominant performance on and got a lot of pins in the final match. I can’t ask the kids for any more than going out and spending 12 hours in a gym and still being able to perform at night.”

Skyline's Jacob Grady gets the upper hand on Millbrook's Jack Winas in the 182-pound weight class. Grady won with a first period pin. Rich Cooley/Daily

In all, Warren County had seven wrestlers – Brandon Mason (106 pounds), Dylan Becker (120), Raphael Souza (126), Hunter Jost (132), Bobby Hunger (138), Connor Jost (145) and Isaiah Frame (152) – go unbeaten while competing in at least three matches.

After much deliberation, the Wildcats settled on Souza, who had four pins among his five victories, as their team’s MVP of the tournament. Wadas said Souza, who was stuck behind fellow junior Hunter Jost in each of the last two seasons, has shined on the mat so far.

“As a freshman he could’ve started on other teams. As a sophomore I know he could’ve been on any area team and just couldn’t break through our lineup. (He) finally got into the 26 spot and he’s 10-0 with eight pins,” Wadas said. “He’s really taken this opportunity to heart. He waited a long time for it.”

Warren County wasn’t the only Front Royal school to thrive in Friday’s tournament. Skyline placed third, going unbeaten in pool play – with wins over Millbrook (39-37), Amherst County (43-31) and Loudoun County (52-23) – before falling to Chantilly, 37-26, in the championship semifinal round. The Hawks topped Brooke Point, 48-26, in the third-place match.

Four Skyline wrestlers – Tyler Davis (106/113), Morgan Robinson (five pins at 132), Talon Keel (145) and Anthony Domino – went 5-0 in the tournament.

Skyline's Tyler Davis pins Millbrook's Cody Glover in the first period. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sherando finished in fifth place in its home tournament, going 2-1 in pool play with wins over Jefferson Forest (48-19) and a “Bandit” squad built of wrestlers from the various teams in attendance and a loss to Brooke Point (39-30). The Warriors – who got 5-0 efforts from Heath Rudolph (126) and Timmy Dieter (132) – beat John Champe (48-27) in the consolation semifinals and Millbrook (42-33) in the fifth-place match.