WINCHESTER – For a proud high school wrestling program like Strasburg’s, Wednesday’s tri-match at James Wood was a tough season opener to endure.
The Rams, accustomed to contending annually for individual state titles and top-three team finishes in Class 2, left James Wood’s Donald H. Shirley Gymnasium winless in a pair of duals against Class 4 schools. Strasburg’s evening began with a 51-28 loss to Woodgrove before getting “embarrassed” — to use head coach Mike Wood’s word — in an 81-0 beatdown at the hands of the Colonels.
It’s the first 0-2 start in 27 years of coaching for Wood, according to the head coach, whose team entered Wednesday short-handed with the unavailability of junior 132-pounder Peyton Stickles (injury) and sophomore 138-pounder Jaylon Burks, two state medalists from last season. The Rams forfeited five weight classes — 106, 132, 138, 152 and 160 — in each of its duals.
“You can pretty much tell beginning of the year what you’re gonna have,” Wood said. “And at the beginning of the year, I had kids that wrestled, that are good, walking the halls doing nothing, kids wrestling out of weight because they don’t wanna cut a couple pounds, and a suspension and a key injury doesn’t help. Does that change us losing both (duals)? It changes the first one, I’m confident, for sure, because it was 51-28; we gave them 30. That makes it 28-21; you put Peyton or Jaylon on the mat, or both of them, we probably sneak that one out.”
Strasburg’s forfeitures didn’t give the Rams a chance against Woodgrove, which had built a 36-0 lead before junior Alec Campbell gave Strasburg it’s first win of the season when he pinned junior Logan Molle in 3:08 in the 170-pound match.
Of the nine non-forfeiture bouts against the Wolverines, Strasburg won five, which included additional pins from junior 195-pounder Luke Jenkins (1:40), senior heavyweight Levi Miller (0:51) and senior 113-pounder Austin Stickles (0:55), and a 10-2 major-decision win by sophomore 120-pounder Zachary Asher.
While blanking Strasburg in the second dual of the night, James Wood added eight pins on top of the Rams’ forfeits. Campbell was the only Strasburg wrestler who went the distance against the Colonels and fell to Walker Powell, 4-3.
Wood called the Rams’ showing against James Wood, which he said was the first time he’s been shut out in a dual as a coach, “unacceptable.”
“To be honest with you, that last match, there was maybe three matches we could’ve won, and we blew it, bottom line,” Wood said. “And that comes with wrestling out of weight.”
Following the last dual, Wood pulled his team aside and said he challenged his wrestlers’ heart and will to win, calling it a “gut-check” moment.
“I told them in the corner, you guys better look in the mirror because if you don’t wanna be here, go home,” Wood said. “We’ll go with the handful that does, and we’ll manage to get through this year because this year’s our lull.”
Wood expected the low participation numbers and lack of depth the Rams are battling this winter (16 wrestlers are listed on Strasburg’s roster) due to what he said was the absence of a local youth wrestling program when he took over as Strasburg’s head coach in 2013.
“We’re in that area now where we’re just inexperienced with low numbers,” Wood said. “We’ve gotta go with what we’ve got, and the ones we gotta go with gotta have some heart, and we don’t have that right now. We don’t have it, and to be honest with you, we’re lacking leadership, team leadership. We don’t have that and we should because we’ve got four (state) medalists on the team. They should be leaders.”
Wood went on to say that the Rams will “definitely” have better showings in individual tournaments this season, as the Rams have a core of past state qualifiers in Burks, Campbell, Austin Stickles and Peyton Stickles.
“Team-wise we’re gonna struggle,” Wood said. “I mean, I just hope we can be .500 when it’s said and done because I haven’t had a losing season (as a coach) either.”