Strasburg wrestling coach Mike Wood said recently that he can see a scenario in which the Rams advance only four wrestlers to next weekend’s Class 2 state tournament. He can also see one in which the Rams send nine to Salem. Strasburg will find out which is the more accurate vision on Saturday.
The Rams and 10 other teams from the Bull Run and Shenandoah districts meet at Strasburg this weekend for the Region 2B tournament, a competition that will decide the fates of wrestlers with state tournament ambitions.
The top three wrestlers from each weight class at the end of the regional tournament qualify for the Class 2 State Championships, meaning the postseason hopes of many wrestlers will hinge on what Wood calls the “wedding and funeral” round: the third-place matches that send the losers packing and the winners on to Salem.
“That third and fourth place is gonna be big. That’s go or sit home,” Wood said earlier this week. “I think we can pretty confidently put four, maybe five in the finals, which you’re gonna go automatically, and then we’re gonna have a few battling for that wedding and funeral round.”
Four Strasburg wrestlers put themselves on a prime path to Saturday’s championship finals. Junior Peyton Stickles (132 pounds), sophomore Jaylon Burks (138), junior Alec Campell (170) and junior Luke Jenkins (220) all won Bull Run District championships, feats that position them as No. 1 seeds in the eight-man regional brackets that feature four wrestlers from each district.
Central, which is hoping to send as many as four wrestlers to the state tournament, according to head coach Greg Stickles, has two regional one-seeds in sophomore 106-pounder Andrew Scibelli and junior 182-pounder Billy Ball.
Three other Rams — Austin Stickles (106), Cole Ramey (126) and Levi Miller (285) — enter as No. 2 seeds after their runner-up finishes in last weekend’s Bull Run District tournament, as does Central senior Jacob Scibelli (145).
Of Strasburg’s four one-seeds, Peyton Stickles and Burks already have a regional title under their belts after winning individual championships at 120 and 126 pounds, respectively, last season.
Peyton Stickles (24-2), a two-time state runner-up, sits across the 132-pound bracket from Shenandoah District champ Asher Coffey (34-2) of Stuarts Draft. Those two met during Stickles’ run to the 120-pound regional championship last season, with Stickles pinning Coffey in the semifinals.
Another Draft wrestler, Bryce Sawyer (27-3), stands opposite Burks in the 138-pound bracket. Sawyer, who also won a Shenandoah District title last week, was the regional runner-up at 138 pounds last season.
Burks said the key for himself and the rest of his teammates on Saturday is to get in the right mindset pre-match and to go into each bout with the confidence that they are better than the wrestler across from them.
“When you think that, nobody can stop you,” Burks said. “When you’re thinking you’re the best on the mat and you go out there and you put everything out there, nobody’s gonna stop you. And as a team, we’re starting to think (that way). Luke going up to 220, he’s 190-something and he’s thinking in his head he’s winning everything. Everybody thinking that way, I mean, you just win.”
The Rams are hoping that winning mindset, plus a little outside help, puts them in a position to challenge defending champ Wilson Memorial for the team title on Saturday. Strasburg will fight an uphill battle from the start — the Rams have 11 in the tournament, while Wilson qualified its entire 14-man lineup for regionals — and Wood said his team needs to hunt bonus points and get some assistance from its Bull Run District rivals in the early rounds.
“What we’re gonna need is obviously wrestle well, the few byes we have, win that next match to get the bye points so we don’t lose those, get some help from George Mason and Clarke (County) to knock off a couple Wilson guys, possibly get some upsets. And there are some matches that could knock some Wilson guys out, which takes some points from them,” said Wood, who added that he was proud of the way the Rams responded to a rocky start to the season with their effort in the district tournament last weekend. “... For us to have a chance, those medal rounds, meaning first, second, third, fourth, we’ve basically gotta win all those matches.”
Central is also seeking gold at the individual level on Saturday, with Andrew Scibelli (31-1) and Ball (33-3) likely presenting the Falcons’ best shots at top spots on the podium.
Scibelli will get a bye in the 106-pound bracket’s first round and sits opposite of Draft sophomore and Shenandoah District champ Daniel Parkulo (35-4), while Ball’s biggest threat to the 182-pound title figures to be Wilson Memorial senior Michael Holmes (35-1).
Ball, who was third in the regional tournament at 170 pounds last season, was Central’s lone state qualifier in 2018, while Andrew Scibelli came a win shy of making it to Salem a year ago and placed fourth.
“Andrew Scibelli, I think he’d be disappointed in himself if he took a loss being (31-1) on the season,” Greg Stickles said of the sophomore’s chance to win his first regional title. “I see Billy’s got a good shot. As long as he’s in the right mindset he can be a regional champ this weekend. Everybody in there can be a regional champ, it’s just a mindset of getting ready to go.”
Greg Stickles added that two Falcon seniors — Jacob Scibelli and Alec Stickles — have appeared extra motivated to end their high school wrestling careers on high notes. Jacob Scibelli, who earned his 100th career win in the Bull Run District tournament last weekend, missed qualifying for the state tournament last season for the first time as a high school wrestler, and Alec Stickles has never made it to Salem.
“(Jacob Scibelli is) really hungry because he realizes this is his last year,” Greg Stickles said. “Alec realizes that it’s his last year and he’s never been to states. He sees what it’s been taking and he is hungry for it. Those are the main two that I see pushing the hardest out there.”