FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School sophomore wrestler Bobby Hunger has fully embraced what Wildcats head coach Matt Wadas calls the “Zach Beckner mold.”
It’s a recipe for success that Wadas said Beckner, the program’s only two-time Virginia High School League state champion, left behind when he graduated last spring, a mindset built around a commitment to hard work both on and off the wrestling mat. Wadas sees a similar attitude in Hunger, who had a ringside seat as Beckner romped through his competition during his final season last winter.
“He used that model,” Wadas said Tuesday afternoon of Hunger. “I mean, man, him and Wyatt Gill were my number one and number two all summer long. They lifted. They went to tournaments. They did everything. They were with me when everybody else was on summer vacation. (If) there were four kids in the weight room, they were here. Bobby really put in the time and effort and it’s really paying off for him and I’m proud of him.”
The results have been tremendous for Hunger this season. A sub-.500 wrestler in his first varsity season a year ago, the sophomore 132-pounder is 37-5 this winter. The wrestler who placed fifth in the Conference 28 tournament in 2016 is now a conference champ.
Hunger, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Jan. 30-Feb. 5, accomplished the feat when he topped the 132-pound podium at the Conference 28 tournament at Brentsville last Saturday.
“It pretty much means a lot because it just shows off like how much my work has actually paid off,” Hunger said. “A lot of people will say that if you work hard you’ll just reach your goal but it’s kind of weird to actually see it work from a standpoint of (not placing at regions last season) to winning conference.”
Hunger’s success in the regular season netted him the No. 2 seed in the conference championships, which afforded him a bye in the opening quarterfinal round. He reached the championship bout by way of a 16-0 tech fall over Manassas Park’s Rami Essawi in the semifinals.
Against Brentsville’s Collin Brady in the title match, Hunger fell behind 3-0 after two periods and chose the bottom position to start the final frame. Imploring himself to either escape and secure a takedown or score a reversal, Hunger reversed his opponent to pull within 3-2 with less than a minute remaining.
Adhering to his coaches’ pleas to cut Brady loose so Hunger could attempt a takedown that would tie the score, Hunger said he “weak cut” Brady, a mistake that nearly allowed the Brentsville freshman to score what likely would’ve been the title-clinching reverse. As Brady shot in on Hunger’s leg, however, the Warren County sophomore drew upon all of the live wrestling he’s done in the Wildcats’ wrestling room during practice, which he said has made him comfortable grappling in “funky” positions during bouts.
“I just threw an under and over and I just kicked it over,” Hunger recalled, “and I kind of felt him go and I just punched it through and sat my hips out.”
The maneuver put Brady on his back, and Hunger scored a pair of near-fall points in the closing seconds to earn the 4-3 victory and the conference championship.
Hunger’s win avenged a loss to Brady during a four-team dual competition at Strasburg last month.
“The first time with that Brady kid, it was a 4-2 match and he lost because he went for something bad,” Wadas said. “Our game plan was let (Brady) make the mistakes. We’re gonna play a strong game plan and what I was proud of (Hunger) for is he went for it. It was right at the end of the match, he was down a point and he went for that throw. A lot of kids these days, they lose one-nothing and we walk over to them and we’re like, ‘Why didn’t you just go for it?’ He had the guts to go for it. I’m proud of him.”
Hunger’s willingness to take a risk against Brady is an example of the increased confidence he has in himself this winter. He no longer enters his individual matches fearful of unfamiliar opponents or those who boast more experience on the wrestling mat.
“I still feel the butterflies,” Hunger said. “You always feel that going into every match, but I’m not thinking I’m going in there against someone that’s better than me. I have the mindset that I can pretty much go up against anyone and compete.”
With a conference championship now behind him, Hunger has shifted his focus to the Region 3A East tournament to be held at New Kent High School on Friday and Saturday. He placed sixth in the regional field last season and he’s certainly aiming for better this weekend, although Hunger figures to face a challenging path to the title bout, as doing so will require him to get through New Kent’s Caden Darber, last season’s 132-pound 3A state champ.
“We always come out there with our plan to win it,” Wadas said. “We’re not gonna back away from (Darber), even though he’s a returning state champ. We’re gonna come up with the best game plan.
“I think (Hunger’s) goal is to not just make it to states. They’re gonna place the top six this year and I don’t see that out of the realm of possibilities. Obviously we always wanna try to win every match we’re in but going out there and going from a regional place winner to a state place winner would be a good goal.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org