UDREKA CLAUDE

Udreka Claude

QUICKSBURG -- Udreka Claude had been waiting his entire high school wrestling career to win a Shenandoah District title. The Stonewall Jackson senior, already a two-time regional champion, finally added a district gold medal to his collection.

Claude pinned his way to the top of the 170-pound podium at the Shenandoah District tournament held at Stonewall on Saturday, decking Wilson Memorial senior Reed Jones in the third period of the championship bout to claim the Generals’ lone individual title.

“He finally got it and I can safely say he probably wrestled the best he has all year,” Stonewall head coach Jerry Franklin said of Claude, who improved his record to 26-4 this season. “He finally came out of his shell. He’s kind of been a slow starter. He had to come back and fight for most of his wins this year but today he finally opened up, finally came through real good.”

Before Saturday, Claude had never finished higher than third at the annual district tournament (a place he achieved in the same weight class in 2018). A thin bracket this season at 170 pounds -- only four wrestlers competed in that weight class on Saturday -- presented Claude with a short road to gold, and he capitalized with two pins in his two contested matches after receiving a bye in the quarterfinal round.

“The difference this time around was just a lot different attitude,” Claude said, “a lot less shy, more ready. I knew what I had to do.”

Claude showed off his wrestling experience in the championship final. After a lot of hand fighting to open the bout, Reed went for a takedown and instead ended up on his back at the end of a 5-point move that put Claude firmly in control midway through the first period.

Reed (24-10 this season) actually looked like he was going to plant Claude on his back, but Claude let momentum carry the two wrestlers into a somersault and ended up on top before scoring three back points.

“I was trying to throw him, of course, then he caught my leg. He started rushing me and almost got me down,” recalled Claude, who added three more near-fall points later in the first period to take an 8-0 lead into the second. “We learned this move in ninth grade -- I remembered it from ninth grade -- so I sat down at his feet, let the momentum carry me and rolled over.”

Claude pulled off a similar 5-point feat -- minus the tumbling acrobatics -- in the second period to build a 14-3 lead going into the third, and a quick reversal put the Stonewall senior on the brink of a tech fall. Claude got the necessary back points that would’ve triggered an early stoppage, but he finally completed the pin with 1:10 left in the match, igniting a loud cheer from the home crowd.

Outside of a late escape in the first period and a quick reversal in the second, Reed seemed to have trouble containing Claude’s strength.

“I’ve been told that I’m pretty strong by my teammates and coaches and a lot of people I wrestle, so that’s probably a lot of it,” said Claude, who pinned East Rockingham freshman Colby Miller in 3:12 in the semifinals. “Probably (had) a strength advantage, and I felt pretty confident about what I was doing too.”

Claude, who next will try to defend his Region 1A/1B tournament title at Mathews next weekend, was the lone medal winner of the tournament for Stonewall, which has competed all season with just six healthy varsity wrestlers.

The Generals (67 points) placed last in the eight-team field, well off the pace of Wilson Memorial, which sent 11 wrestlers in the finals and had three individual champs en route to winning the team title with 246 points. Riverheads, on the strength of four gold medalists, was second with 180 points.

Franklin said in the days leading up to the tournament that he expected junior 126-pounder Damian Tapia and sophomore 132-pounder Hunter Cowart to contend for top-three spots in their respective weight classes, but both finished in fifth place on Saturday.

Tapia went 0-2 in the tournament to finish last among the five wrestlers in his bracket, and Cowart followed a pin over Robert E. Lee’s Zechariah Shutt in the quarterfinal round with a pair of losses before pinning Shutt again in the fifth-place match.

“I know Damian, he tweaked his elbow again. He had a bad elbow and he tweaked it in the first match. I don't know if that got in his head,” Franklin said. “And Cowart, he went and lost to the kid from Wilson (Derek Wakefield) by like 10 points the last time they wrestled and he only lost by one or two this time. He wrestled better, but after that, I don't know if they got in their head, they just wrestled bad the rest of the day. I don't know what it was.”

Generals sophomore Cameron Martinez, whom Franklin said is basically a first-year wrestler, placed fourth after going 1-2 in the 160-pound bracket. Martinez, who had a bye in the first round, bounced back from a semifinal loss to pin Lee’s Trevor Hinch in 1:33 in the consolation semis. Martinez was pinned in 2:09 by Riverheads’ Evan Ross in the third-place match.

Stonewall senior Chase Streett, like Cowart, went 2-2 in the 285-pound weight class and won his fifth-place match by pin (2:24) against Riverheads’ Trystan Bryant. Freshman Kayvian Langston went 0-2 and placed fourth in a thin 113-pound field.

Stonewall and Riverheads, the only Class 1 schools in the Shenandoah District, move on to the Region 1A/1B tournament in Mathews next weekend, while the rest of Saturday’s district tournament field will send their qualified grapplers to the Region 2B tournament at Strasburg.

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com