Warren County’s Hunter Jost controls George Mason’s Spencer Marcus during a quad meet Jan. 21 at Strasburg High School.

FRONT ROYAL – It’d be easy to say Warren County’s wrestling team is the one to beat heading into the Region 3B tournament today at Skyline, considering the Wildcats have won the last two regional titles. Wildcats head coach Matt Wadas, however, said this week that isn’t the case.

“Definitely not,” Wadas replied when asked if his team felt like the favorite to win its third straight region championship.

“Brentsville beat us straight up in a dual and Skyline was close. … Graduating all those kids (from last season) and losing that dual, (we) definitely feel like the underdogs going in,” he said. “It’s a different feel this year; maybe it’ll make us a little bit more hungry. But one thing we learned from the last couple years is even when we were the team to beat, don’t worry about trophies. You can’t get caught thinking about the end result. We’ve gotta think about one match at a time, we’ve gotta think of just surviving, getting to states.”

Each of the nine teams at the regional tournament will hope to place as many of their wrestlers as possible into the Top 4 of their respective weight classes, the cutoff point for qualification in next weekend’s Class 3 state tournament. If things fall into place for Warren County and Skyline, there could be a lot of gold being raked in between the two cross-town rivals this afternoon, as well.

Two Warren County middleweights, senior Bobby Hunger (37-0 this winter at 145 pounds) and junior Isaiah Frame (27-4, 152), are back to defend their 2018 regional titles, and three other Wildcats — Brandon Mason (113), Dylan Becker (31-6, 132) and Hunter Jost (34-3, 138), a three-time state qualifier – would undoubtedly love to one-up their silver-medal efforts from a season ago.

Skyline lightweights Tyler Davis (42-4, 113), last season’s 106-pound state runner-up, and Brandon Ahlemann (42-6, 126) took home their regional gold last year, and you can go ahead and add Morgan Robinson (44-8, 138), Anthony Domino (34-9, 145), Jacob Grady (43-6, 182) and Ethan Gue (41-7, 220) to the list of Hawks well in the hunt for regional titles this weekend.

At the team-wide level, Skyline head coach Kyle Symons said on Wednesday the regional tournament looks to be a three-team race between his Hawks, Warren County and Brentsville.

Though Warren County topped both Skyline and Brentsville on its way to winning the combined Class 3 and 4 Northwestern District tournament in December, the Tigers beat both Front Royal schools in duals during the regular season. Skyline and Warren County also split two head-to-head meetings earlier this season in duals decided by a total of 7 points.

“We’re in a good position, but we have to wrestle well,” Symons said, adding that he thinks the Hawks are peaking at the right time. “I’m sure Brentsville and Warren County feel the same way. But depending on how brackets shake out and where you can get bonus points and things like that are gonna be huge on Saturday. I think if all three teams wrestle the way that they want to, it’s probably gonna be pretty close.”

For Skyline to unseat Warren County and Brentsville, Symons said it has to be “all hands on deck” for the Hawks, who need to avoid having too many wrestlers succumb to 0-and-2 fates and get efforts out of their younger grapplers to complement their studs.

“A lot of our younger guys have to stay in the tournament, whether they drop one early or whether they go all the way through,” Ahlemann said. “I think we have to win the matches that we can and compete in the ones we’re not supposed to be competing in. I think if we do that we should come out pretty high up.”

Ahlemann added that he and Robinson, a fellow multi-year state qualifier, as well as Grady, the team’s lone senior, are using their postseason experience this week to aid their younger teammates in not “overhyping” the regional championships and treating it like any other tournament.

Frame said the Wildcats’ veteran wrestlers are taking a similar approach with their less-experienced teammates, adding that Warren County’s grapplers need to be aggressive in the early periods today and rack up as many bonus points as possible.

“Mainly just working hard, pushing the pace, getting our conditioning up technique-wise,” Frame said of the approach in practice now that it’s the postseason, “so that way when this tournament comes we can perform at our best level and beat those guys that we lost to earlier in the season to help the team out.”

To prepare for the switch from the regular season to the postseason, Wadas said the Warren County coaching staff ramped up the conditioning and gave the Wildcats some more challenging drills and live wrestling earlier in the week before tapering off as the weekend approached.

He added that the wrestlers’ jobs have been to prepare themselves physically for the upcoming regional and state tournaments while the coaches focus on making sure they’re mentally ready to shift gears to playoff mode.

“The biggest thing this weekend is just get out and wrestle your style,” Wadas said. “I don’t wanna see any kids coming off the mat going ‘well, man, I didn’t get to take that shot.’ I’ve always had that philosophy that I’d rather lose in our hands than win in theirs. I hope the kids adopt that philosophy and I hope we’ll have a good weekend. We’ll see what happens.”

Warren County, which won last season’s Region 3B tournament by 51.5 points and put 11 wrestlers into the championship finals, sent 12 individuals to the Class 3 state tournament in 2018.

Skyline advanced 11 wrestlers out of the regional tournament last season, a program record, and Symons said it’s realistic that the Hawks could qualify all 13 of their individuals for the state tournament this weekend.

“We tell these guys a lot, if our performance is good, you can be pleased, you can be happy, but don’t be satisfied,” Symons said. “The good thing is these guys buy into that, and they’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now. They wanna be able to win this weekend, and they wanna be able to bring home a team trophy next week.”

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com