Young Rams the frontrunners in the Bull Run District race

Strasburg's Austin Stickles controls Central's Andrew Scibelli during their 106-pound match in Strasburg on Wednesday. Stickles won the match with a major decision. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s wrestling team is as young as it’s been since head coach Mike Wood took over the program in 2013. And yet despite all of that inexperience, the Rams have shown they are the team to beat in the Bull Run District this winter.

Strasburg, which listed seven freshmen and four sophomores in its various lineups during a district quad at home on Wednesday evening, has claimed head-to-head victories over four of its five Bull Run District foes over the last week and a half, including a 55-24 win over fellow VHSL Class 2 state power Clarke County on Jan. 3.

The Rams beat George Mason, 48-32, on Wednesday night and trounced depleted squads from Central (58-18) and Rappahannock County (69-6).

“We’re getting better,” Wood said following Wednesday’s competition. “I mean we’re 9-4, which is about where I expected us to be (in duals), giving up anywhere from 12 to 18 points (in forfeits). But we are getting a little bit better. Our younger guys are learning a little bit. Still about halfway through now, there are about four weeks left, four and half. I’m hoping by the time we hit regions is when they’ve really gotta start clicking.”

Wednesday’s district quad didn’t provide a true measuring stick for Strasburg’s improvement around the midway point of the season – Central filled out only five of the 14 weight classes while Rappahannock County had only four eligible wrestlers – but the district victories are a boost to a Rams squad that has spent the last month breaking in a roster brimming with fresh faces all the same.

Strasburg's Patchrick Kennedy controls Central's Alex Stickles in the 195-pound match Wednesday. Kennedy won with a pin. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Bull Run District tournament scheduled for Feb. 3 will be conducted in a dual format.

“We’re young so we’ve just gotta get that experience, so we can build up for the future,” said Rams sophomore 120-pounder Peyton Stickles, the state runner-up at 113 pounds last season. “It’s good to get them (district victories) now so that we’re winning, and then it’s just we’re having some holes to fill and we’re still winning, so that’s pretty good.”

George Mason, which Wood said is the most improved team in the district this season, gave Strasburg its stiffest test on Wednesday evening, as the Rams won five of the nine true bouts not decided by forfeit against the Mustangs. All five of Strasburg’s wins came by pin, a total bolstered by three Mason forfeits.

Competition in Strasburg’s other two matches was limited, but senior Javian Moore did pick up a quality win in his 182-pound matchup against Rappahannock County senior Johnny Beard, the state runner-up in the weight class in Group 1A last winter.

Moore, who wrestled at 160 pounds last season and failed to place at the 2A state tournament, built an 8-0 lead over Beard before giving up 6 unanswered points in the second period, including three on a near-fall in the final 10 seconds of the frame. Moore survived the bottom position through a scoreless third period to pick up the 8-6 decision.

Moore was one of five Rams to go 3-0 in the quad, though junior 106-pounder Austin Stickles (major and two pins) was the only Strasburg wrestler to compete in three true matches. Two freshmen – Jaylon Burks (126) and Collin Reynolds (138) – and sophomore first-year wrestler Chase Hart (160) each had pins on Wednesday.

Though Moore said there’s been some expected immaturity – but no lack of hard work – in the practice room, Wood said he’s seen Strasburg’s young wrestlers mature on the mat since the start of the season.

“I think their mat sense is getting a little bit better,” Wood said. “They’re still making some youthful mistakes but hopefully we’ll get a lot of that cleaned up by the time regions roll around. We’ve still got a lot to work on. … We’ll grow each week and as long as we keep growing in the right direction it’ll come.”

Wood added that Burks is starting to find a “mean streak” on the mat, the lanky Hart is starting to wrestle “within his body,” and other first-year wrestlers like sophomore Luke Jenkins and freshman Patchrick Kennedy have also shown improvement.

The Rams will continue to gain valuable mat time this weekend at the Western Albemarle Duals, and they host their own Strasburg Duals tournament next weekend.

“We’re definitely really, really young but I feel like if we can work together really hard, we can press on and do what we need to do,” Moore said. “But as far as just people being young and stuff, they’re where they need to be at because when they get to the senior level that’s where they’re gonna be.”