QUICKSBURG – Udreka Claude credited increased confidence with helping him win his first Shenandoah District wrestling title over the weekend, and the Stonewall Jackson senior, given his past success in the event, should have no trouble conjuring similar poise at the Region 1A/1B tournament at Mathews this week.
Claude enters the two-day tournament, which begins on Friday, as the two-time defending regional champion at 170 pounds, and he’ll look to become Stonewall’s first three-time regional champ since 2012.
“I approach it like I’ve just gotta be confident, as always,” Claude said after winning the 170-pound title at the Shenandoah District tournament on Saturday. “And then, it’s my third time going back, and I’ve already won twice, so I’m probably a target. People are trying to look for me, so I’ve just gotta be confident, be ready.”
Claude’s final performance on his home mat last weekend caught the attention of Generals head coach Jerry Franklin, who was happy to see the senior act the aggressor after succumbing to slow starts for much of the season.
Claude won both of his district bouts via pin, including one in the third period of the championship match against Wilson Memorial senior Reed Jones after Claude had built a sizeable 16-3 lead. That win improved Claude to 26-4 this season, during which he’s had to deal with the effects of a finger injury suffered during the fall sports season.
Claude, a running back and linebacker for Stonewall’s football team, suffered a dislocated finger and missed a month of football season, he said, and was sidelined for the first three weeks of wrestling season.
He said on Saturday that he’s “mostly” pain-free, though he’s had to alter his grip and he’s dealt all season with opposing wrestlers grabbing the injured hand.
“It’s not a big hindrance on me. I can handle it,” Claude said, adding that the injury affected his ability to lean on his physical strength during matches. “I can’t really rely on that, so I have to use more moves because my of finger. But that’s good; it made me better.”
Given Claude’s status as a two-time regional champ -- and now a Shenandoah District gold medalist -- Franklin said Claude should be in line for the No. 1 overall seed in the 170-pound Region 1A/1B bracket.
Claude, who pinned his way through three matches en route to the Region 1A/1B title in that same weight class last season, said on Saturday that he knew little about the competition he’ll face in the regional field. Likewise, Franklin said he’d struck out when trying to do his research on Stonewall’s fellow region members.
Not that it much matters to Claude, who said he rarely looks too far ahead at his upcoming competition anyway. Instead, he’s focused on how he can maximize his last two weeks of practice as a Stonewall wrestler.
“I take it like the past couple (practices) we had – very intense, getting ready, conditioning,” Claude said of how he planned to approach this week of practice as his high school wrestling career winds down, “but at the same time, I’m probably gonna take it a lot more serious, too, the last couple weeks.”
Franklin said he’s hoping to see that kind of drive in practice from the rest of Stonewall’s slim lineup, which didn’t place anyone else among the Top 3 in the district tournament.
The head coach said last week his goal was to send three of his six wrestlers – Claude, junior 126-pounder Damian Tapia and sophomore 132-pounder Hunter Cowart – to the Class 1 state tournament, and Tapia (who reaggravated an elbow injury on Saturday, Franklin said) and Cowart now have to bounce back from a pair of fifth-place finishes at the Shenandoah District tournament. Franklin said leading up to the district tournament that he expected Tapia and Cowart to contend for Top 3 spots in their weight classes.
The Top 6 from each weight class in the regional tournament advance to the state competition in Salem.
“They just gotta work a lot harder this week,” said Franklin, whose team had limited practice time last week due to snow.
“Right now (Tapia’s) going as a two-seed. He would not be able to beat (Riverheads senior G.W. Shultz, the defending regional champ, in the Shenandoah District tournament) anyway. G.W., in my opinion, he’s a state contender right at the top. Right now (Tapia’s) going as a two-seed. That’s how he goes in for our region. Cowart goes in as a one-seed even though he got fifth here. … Then you gotta draw into where everybody goes from there. I think anybody who gets a one-seed, I think they get a bye if they do it the way it’s supposed to be done.”
The Region 1A/1B tournament begins at 1 p.m. Friday, and Franklin said the Generals wouldn’t make the 223-mile trip to Mathews until that morning. He added that he’s not concerned about his wrestlers being negatively impacted by the long trek.
“It’s no biggie to me. I think we’ll be alright,” Franklin said. “I’m pretty confident that three of them should go to states, and maybe one or two (others), they’ve really got a lot of work to do to go to states.”