Athlete of the Week: Stevens a ‘man on a mission’ for Sherando’s wrestling team

Jacob Stevens Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School head wrestling coach Pepper Martin said when he came across a 9-year-old Jacob Stevens competing for a local youth wrestling league, he knew the Warriors’ program was soon going to receive a “potential good one.” As a high school sophomore last season, Stevens was showing that potential.

Stevens was 30-8 in his first year as a full-time starter for the Warriors at 132 pounds and closing in on his first conference tournament last winter when his sophomore season was suddenly cut short by the emergence of a bad case of cauliflower ear, a condition caused by trauma to the ear that results in swelling due to blood clots and fluid buildup.

Stevens had to have his ear lanced and drained shortly after Sherando’s dual match against Skyline just over two weeks before the Warriors were scheduled to compete in the Conference 21 West tournament, a procedure that caused him to miss the 2016 postseason.

“I knew it had to be done,” Stevens, now a junior, said Tuesday. “(There’s) always this year, still got my senior year. I was a young sophomore – it obviously was a bummer, it did suck to cut it short, but I’ve still got time. I’ve still got another year ahead of this year. Time’s on my side.”

Back healthy for the Warriors this winter, Stevens picked up where he left off and has already surpassed his win total from last season. This past weekend, he grabbed his first individual title in a major high school tournament.

Stevens went 5-0 in the Mayhem at Millbrook tournament last Saturday en route to claiming the 138-pound championship. His stellar week, which also included a victory in Sherando’s 33-32 victory over James Wood in a dual on Jan. 4, earned Stevens The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week honor for Jan. 2-8 and improved his season record to 34-2.

“Just self belief, you know?” Stevens said of the key to his success this winter. “I know I have the experience. I’ve been wrestling for a while and I work hard, so why not? Why can’t I win tournaments and have the record that I have and do good? So self belief and hard work, that’s mainly it.”

At Mayhem, that confidence paid off for the Sherando junior. He opened his day with a first-period pin over Loudoun Valley’s Riley Ashby in the first round, followed by a 12-5 decision over Lukas Guerrero of Millbrook in round two before taking a bye in the third. It was in his victory in the fourth round, a 5-1 win over Tuscarora’s Michael McCord, that Stevens said he received the decisive boost of confidence that powered him through the rest of the tournament.

“Wrestling the Tuscarora kid, I saw him wrestle in a couple previous matches, I noticed he was pretty good. That victory over him really set in that there’s no one in that tournament I couldn’t beat after seeing his success and seeing how good he did, and then what I did to him,” said Stevens, who has 13 pins and seven majors among his 34 victories this season.

Stevens pinned Skyline’s Ethan Reinhardt in 45 seconds in round five to set up a 138-pound championship bout with Manassas Park’s Jose Alfaro, a fifth-place finisher at the Virginia High School League Group 3A state tournament last season. Stevens topped Alfaro, 8-3, in a match that Martin said saw the Sherando junior wear down Alfaro before “having his way with him.”

“Definitely the first period he felt pretty strong but as the match progressed I could feel him, his strength was not as explosive in the last round as it was in the first,” said Stevens, who helped lead the Warriors to third place out of nine teams.

Stevens credited his success in the championship bout to his endurance, which allowed him to maintain his strength even while wrestling five matches in one day.

“He’s works extremely hard in the practice room every day,” Martin said. “I get the impression that he’s a man on a mission. He missed out last year and he wants to make up for lost time. (When) we condition, I mean he pushes himself.”

Martin said Stevens’s greatest improvement on the mat between his sophomore and junior seasons has been on his feet. The head coach added that Stevens has added some more offensive attacks to strengthen his takedowns.

“He has a sweet underhook to a high crotch that he can hit when he needs it, hit it when he wants it,” said Martin, who added that Stevens is one of Sherando’s few leg wrestlers. “But he also really does a really good job getting out from the bottom. … He does a real good job of usually getting out in the first 15 seconds. That gets him on his feet where he’s strong. But he’s really good, he’s really effective on top.”

Sherando still has over three weeks before the Conference 21 West tournament, but Martin said if everything plays out as it should during that span, the conference’s 138-pound championship will likely come down to Stevens and Handley’s Cam Bentley, who handed Stevens a 4-2 loss in the Willie Walters/Jaye Copp tournament at James Wood right before Christmas.

Martin added that the goal for Stevens, as well as the rest of the Warriors, is to peak right in time for the conference tournament.

“If he wrestles up to his abilities and capability, he’s gonna be a regional qualifier, and we feel good about his chances of making the state tournament this year,” Martin said of Stevens. “But it’s one step at a time, one goal at a time.”

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