Youth movement: Trio of young lightweights leading the way for Skyline wrestling

Skyline's Tyler Davis works to pin Millbrook's Cody Glover during their match on Dec. 8. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – It wasn’t long ago that Skyline High School teammates Brandon Ahlemann and Tyler Davis were foes on the wrestling mat.

Ahlemann spent most of his youth wrestling career as a member of the Winchester-based Willie Walters Wrestling Club before moving to the Front Royal Raptors as an eighth grader, while Davis had been involved with the Raptors since the program’s inception when he was 5 or 6 years old.

Even now as the two share a practice room during the high school season, Ahlemann and Davis reflect back on the times when they battled as members of opposite sides. One instance in particular stands out to Ahlemann, who recalled on Tuesday afternoon when he pinned Davis for the first time during a youth-league tournament a couple years ago.

“I remember coming off the mat and they were like ‘You just pinned Tyler Davis. That kid’s the next state champ at Skyline High School.’ Then I go back out there, I’m thinking, ‘I’m all that and I lose to him the next week,'” Ahlemann, a sophomore, said with a laugh. “So we kind of joke around and we’ll see those pictures and we’ll talk about it. It’s just pretty cool to think about how we used to be on different teams and now we’re on the same team in back-to-back weight classes.”

Ahlemann and Davis, a freshman, are part of a youth movement that is sweeping through Skyline High School’s wrestling program, one that has brought a tremendous amount of success to the Hawks in 2017-18. Freshmen and sophomores make up 14 of Skyline’s 17 roster spots, and yet the Hawks still have managed to set new school records for dual victories in a season (25) and individual state tournament qualifiers (11).

Skyline's Morgan Robinson wraps up Millbrook's Stephen Topham during their Dec. 8 match. Robinson pinned Topham in the second period. Rich Cooley/Daily

Leading the charge is a trio of young yet very talented lightweights.

Davis, Skyline’s starting 106-pounder, is 43-7 in his first high school season, won Class 3 Northwestern District and Region 3B tournament titles over the last two weekends and is just three pins shy of matching the program’s single-season pins record (38) set by Justin Williams during his senior season in 2013.

Ahlemann (who was sidelined with a lower-back injury at the beginning of the season) is 27-4 with 14 pins and earned his first regional title last weekend. Fellow sophomore Morgan Robinson – another wrestler who made the move from Willie Walters to the Raptors several years ago – is 41-8 with 22 pins, was last weekend’s regional runner-up at 126 pounds, trails only Davis for the team lead in wins and leads the Hawks in tech falls (four) and major decisions (five).

Skyline head coach Matt Keel, who also coaches the Front Royal Raptors, said that trio’s success has been “a long time coming,” adding that he’s pleased but not surprised by their performance this winter.

“They all have different skills and abilities but their will to win, just how badly they want to win and dominate, is tremendous,” Keel said of that trio. “They definitely share that, and I think that’s super-elevated for how young they are. They have this huge desire to win and do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals.”

Those goals this week are to top the podium in their respective weight classes at the Virginia High School League Class 3 state tournament at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, which begins on Friday and runs through Saturday evening. And the bond they share has helped put them position to achieve those goals.

“We go out to dinner with each other a lot and we’ve been practicing with each other in the same room since the junior league,” Davis said. “Pretty much since Raptors we’ve been practicing together all the time, two hours a day. We just have a great bond with each other.”

In the practice room, Skyline’s young lightweights are making each other better, and Davis said they alternate drilling partners on a weekly basis based on what skill they need to work on. Ahlemann said Davis served as a valuable drill partner last season when the latter was only an eighth grader, and he’s tried to return the favor this year.

“I think it’s hard to not get better when everyone else around you is completely top in the state,” Robinson said.

A prime example of the benefits of that work in the practice room, Ahlemann said, is the success of freshman 120-pounder Logan Maiatico. Maiatico is a relative newcomer to the sport, Ahlemann said, and yet placed third in the Region 3B tournament at Spotsylvania High School.

“He only has two years under his belt and he’s placing third at region and, I mean, I placed fourth my sixth year of wrestling, which is crazy,” Ahlemann said. “I think a lot to do with it is the partners in the room. Everybody pushes each other, works each other harder.”

Ahlemann, who reached the state tournament as a freshman last season, said he’s taken the team’s preparation for this year’s state competition beyond the physical aspect and has tried to preach the value of taking things one match at a time and not succumbing to the state tournament atmosphere.

Robinson, Skyline’s only other returning 2017 state qualifier, said he hasn’t found it necessary to hand out state tournament advice to his less-experienced teammates this week.

“They know what’s coming for them, so I don’t even need to tell them,” Robinson said of a list of state tournament first-timers that includes Maiatico and fellow freshman Patrick Slate (220 pounds), sophomores Wyatt Spiker (138), Anthony Domino (152) and Ethan Gue (195), juniors Talon Keel (138 pounds) and Jacob Grady (182) and senior Sam Brown (160). “Some of them are more confident than I am about the tournament. That’s just how they are.”

The VHSL Class 3 state tournament, held in conjunction with the Class 4 tournament, begins at 9 a.m. Friday, with day-one action ending with the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. The tournament continues at 10 a.m. Saturday with the consolation semifinals. The consolation finals will start at 11:30 a.m. and the championship finals at 3:30 p.m.

Keel said Skyline’s goal, as it’s been all season, is achieving excellence.

“Our goal isn’t placing at regions or placing at states or winning this title or winning that title,” he said. “Individually, did each kid seek excellence? Did they make good decisions and do the best they can in every situation? … That’s what I got out of regions. I can count on one hand the number of times where one of our guys didn’t make a really good decision or didn’t wrestle their best. They wrestled as well as they could there and they earned what they got.”