The rules will be slightly different, but Strasburg’s success a month ago at the Bull Run District Duals should have the Rams feeling like the favorites heading into the district tournament this morning.

In the dress rehearsal on Jan. 5 at Madison County, Strasburg went 5-0 in duals against its district competition, setting the stage for the Rams’ defense of its tournament crown. Today’s Bull Run District tournament, held at Strasburg, will stick to the dual format, though wrestlers will be locked into the weight class they start in for the remainder of the day.

That means any strategic lineup shuffling from dual to dual is not an option, but Rams head coach Mike Wood said Thursday that his squad is likely still the team to beat while playing straight up.

“I think we’ve got a better team than anybody staying put,” he said. “Now I know Madison’s gonna come almost full, George Mason will be almost full. When you’re wrestling almost a full team, anything can happen, unfortunately. You hate to say that. I hope we’ll be 5-0. If we do go 5-0 we’ll be 23-6 or something on the season. For us forfeiting two weight classes and having two really inexperienced weight classes – we really only wrestle 10, per se, experienced wrestlers – I can’t say that’s a bad season.”

Individual district champions will be crowned based on records at the end of the tournament, the top four placers in each weight class advance to next weekend’s Region 2B Championships.

Wood said the Rams should have as many as six wrestlers go unbeaten today. In the district duals last month, junior Peyton Stickles (132 pounds), sophomore Jaylon Burks (138), senior Alec Campbell (170) and junior Luke Jenkins (195/220) all went 5-0, and senior Austin Stickles (113) — who has since dropped to 106 — and sophomore Collin Reynolds (145) each went 4-1.

Strasburg, which Wood said has gradually gotten healthier since the start of January, also figures to be an improved squad since last squaring off against its district competition.

The Rams showed as much recently when they thumped George Mason, 60-24, during a home quad on Jan. 21. Mason gave Strasburg its most competitive match of the day at the district duals two weeks prior, when the Rams held on for a 40-34 victory.

“Obviously more mat time means you’re gonna be a little better. Our mat awareness is a little better, our conditioning is a little better,” Wood said. “We definitely have improved in different areas. We’ve still got a long way to go.”

Central, which has only six varsity wrestlers this season, doesn’t have the depth to contend for the team title (the Falcons went 0-5 in the district duals last month), but head coach Greg Stickles still expects the Falcons to enjoy some success at the individual level.

Sophomore 106-pounder Andrew Scibelli went unbeaten while splitting time between 106 and 113 at the Bull Run District Duals, and his older brother, Jacob (145), Nick Houghton (182/195) and Alec Stickles (220) each went 4-1.

Greg Stickles said the Scibelli brothers, senior Billy Ball (170) – the team’s lone returning state qualifier who missed some time due to illness earlier this season – and Alec Stickles “should” go 5-0 today.

“I expect all the boys to make regionals,” Greg Stickles said. “That’s my realistic expectations. There’s no reason why none of them can’t get there. They’re right now getting ready, it was a rough three weeks we had with cancellations and stuff but getting their focus back in last weekend and getting back going this past week, it was actually nice. They had their senior night and then they had a nice tough tournament (at the Big Red Invitational at Riverheads) this past weekend.”

One obstacle both Central and Strasburg, as well as others, have to overcome is the snowy weather that has limited mat time this week. Shenandoah County Public Schools canceled all practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and Wood said Thursday was the Rams’ only true practice of the week.

Wood and Stickles both said on Thursday that they weren’t too concerned about their wrestlers’ level of preparedness for the district tournament given the lack of practice time.

“At this point in time, if they can’t wrestle, they’re not gonna learn it by districts,” Wood said. “The only thing you really gotta worry about now is it takes time to build conditioning, but it takes no time to lose a little bit. That’s what I worry about. And I can’t hammer them too bad because we’re only a day and a half away, roughly.”

Defending their Bull Run District tournament title is the first step for the Rams in the postseason, Wood said. The second is trying to keep pace with Wilson Memorial, the defending regional champ, in the Region 2B tournament, something Wood said figures to be a tall order.

Greg Stickles, meanwhile, said he wants to see the Falcons continue to build their confidence.

“I just hope to see that they really start believing in themselves, believing that they can achieve what they’ve been working so hard for this season,” he said. “That is the main thing I’m looking to see this weekend, and to keep building on that and get their expectations that they want for themselves. That’s what I’m stressing right now and what my assistant coach is stressing right now, they’ve all gotta believe that they can do this.”

Strasburg announced Friday that the start time for the Bull Run District tournament was moved to 11 a.m.

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com