Athlete of the Week: Rams’ Swink bringing stronger mental game to mat in junior season

Brandon Swink Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – In terms of his physical traits, Strasburg High School wrestler Brandon Swink has remained largely unchanged in his first three varsity seasons, each of which have been spent in the 120-pound weight class. Mentally, however, Swink has undergone a transformation during that span.

Early in Swink’s career, Strasburg head coach Mike Wood said Tuesday afternoon, something as simple as having a point scored against him would affect his mindset and send his brain somewhere other than the match at hand. Additionally, Swink said, he often shied away from being too aggressive in the circle for fear that it would lead to failure.

“Freshman year in my matches I was scared,” Swink, a junior, said. “I mean, not scared to lose but scared to look bad in front of coaches, scared to take a shot because I didn’t wanna get in a bad position. I was kind of like that my 10th grade year but I started coming out a little more. This year I’ve come out a lot more. I try not to hold back.”

Swink has worked on fixing those mental hiccups, a process aided by a rise in varsity wrestling experience that has made him more comfortable on the mat. And it’s led to continued success this season, as the two-time Virginia High School League Group 2A state qualifier has built a 34-4 record after going 8-0 last week to earn The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week honor for Jan. 16-22.

“His focus has definitely improved tremendously from his freshman year,” Wood said.

“If his mind improves like it has in the next year he should have that mental game down. It’s close. He still gets frustrated a little bit here and there but I think most kids do at a certain level because they expect so much out of themselves. But I’d have to say it’s his focus and mental game that’s improved quite a bit.”

Swink, who has been battling illness for much of the last month, began his flawless week last week with three victories in a quad match at Rappahannock County that also included Clarke County (the 2A state runner-up in 2016) and 4A Eastern View on Jan. 18, an effort that included a pin, a 10-2 major decision and a win via forfeit.

In last Saturday’s Strasburg Duals he maintained the string of success he’s experienced in his team’s home event, going 5-0 to remain unbeaten in his three years competing in the tournament. Swink’s five victories included pins over wrestlers from Greenbrier East (West Virginia) and Turner Ashby, a 16-1 tech fall, a 5-2 decision against Derry (Pennsylvania) and a forfeit.

“I’ve been sick but this Saturday was the first time since (since a tournament in South Moreland, Pennsylvania) that I’ve actually wrestled better than I have been, and I felt better,” Swink said. “I don’t know, I guess it was a home match, just had a lot of energy. I was pumped and my adrenaline was going for it, so I guess that also helped with me doing good on Saturday.”

While Swink’s mental maturity has been a factor in his success this winter, his physical work in the offseason has also drawn praise from Wood. When high school wrestling is not in season, Swink is a frequent attendee at open mat practices at various schools in the area and participates in the handful of camps Wood puts together for the Rams each season. Swink also hits a few tournaments during that time, lifts weights regularly and maintains his diet to keep his weight around 120 pounds year-round.

The hope, for Swink and his head coach, is that all of those factors will translate into the junior’s first VHSL state title after going one-and-done in a weather-shortened state tournament as a freshman and placing fourth a year ago.

“I would say anyting less than a state title for him would be disappointing to him,” Wood said. “… You’ve gotta wrestle because anything can happen but as long as he stays healthy and everything he’s definitely one of the favorites.”

Swink has 117 career victories with Strasburg, putting him in company with fellow 100-win wrestlers Dylan Campbell, Austin Cooper, Ethan Duckworth and Josh Pritchett on the Rams’ roster.

Though that state title would be the pinnacle of Swink’s season, he’s not getting caught up in the idea of climbing atop the 120-pound podium at the Salem Civic Center next month. The junior is focused on Saturday’s Bull Run District tournament and next week’s Conference 35 competition, which marks the official start of playoff wrestling.

“My mind’s just on postseason right now, like just staying healthy, trying not to get sick,” Swink said. “Just stay healthy, keep my mind on the next match. Don’t look forward, don’t think about states just yet, just get districts out the way, conference, regionals. Take it a match at a time.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com