FINCASTLE – James River qualified eight wrestlers for the Group A state tournament and Lord Botetourt will send three in Group AA as the “Big Show” comes to town this weekend. Once again the Salem Civic Center will host the Group A and AA state wrestling tournaments, beginning Friday.
A total of 448 wrestlers will compete in 784 bouts this weekend, with just 28 walking away as state champions, 14 in Group A and 14 in Group AA. The Saturday night extravaganza has become a big deal. In a pre-championship ceremony each finalist is introduced and spotlighted as his accomplishments are announced to the crowd. More spotlights were added a few years ago, and that’s the kind of attention to detail that has made “The Show” the spectacle it has become.
Wrestlers will roll into the valley on Thursday to check out the mats while the coaches have their pre-tournament meeting. Official weigh-ins are at 8 am Friday, with the first round scheduled for 10 am Friday on eight mats, followed by first round consolation matches.
The second session begins at 6:30 pm Friday with quarterfinal matches on eight mats. Second round consolations are at 9 pm.
State semifinals will begin at 9:30 am Saturday on four mats in the middle, with quarterfinal consolation matches on the end mats. Semifinal consolations are scheduled for noon, with fifth place matches at 1:30 pm and consolation finals, for third, at approximately 2:30 pm. The fourth and final session is the championship round on Saturday night. Introductions will be at 6 pm, followed by the final round at 6:30 pm.
River qualified eight wrestlers at the Region C tournament in Galax last weekend. Teamwise, the Knights were edged by Rural Retreat, 186-180.
“Overall it was a good weekend,” said Knights coach Tim Jennings. “The kids wrestled really hard both days. We qualified eight for states, which is one more than last year.”
River had two Region C champions, Kyle King at 160 and Ian Batterson at 220. King beat Darian Sizemore, a former state champ, of host Galax in the final.
Runnerups went to Jonny Lancenese at 120 and Luke Arney at 126. Arney lost to former state champ Jose Rojas of Galax and Lancenese lost to Sean Donnelly from Radford, a very strong wrestler.
Creek Turner, at 170, and Owen Deacon, at 195, rallied to win their consolation finals and took third.
“Creek and Owen both had really tough brackets, ones where the two best were on the same sides, meeting in the semis,” said Jennings. “They both wrestled really hard and came back through to pick up third. Owen avenged that loss to the Roberts kid from PM at districts, pinning him in the first period.”
Cody Snead finished 4th at 106 and Tyler Harlow did the same at 182, both qualifying for this weekend’s tourney. Michael Lancenese finished 5th and qualified as an alternate.
“State experience-wise, we’re pretty young,” said Jennnings. “Kyle and Owen placed last year, and Ian qualified, and Creek qualified two years ago. Cody, Jonny, Luke and Tyler are all first-year qualifiers, so it’s pretty exciting for them. If we stick to our game plans and wrestle the way we’ve been capable of all year, we should be ok.”
Lord Botetourt was sixth out of 20 teams, qualifying three for state with two alternates. The Region III tournament was at Turner Ashby and Brookville was the team winner with Northside taking second.
Mike Jones of LB remained undefeated at heavyweight. He took the championship with another win over Allen Chappell of Rockbridge County in the finals.
Aaron Gunter lost in the 182 pound finals to Derek Thurman of Brookville. He made it to the final with a big 3-1 upset over Gary Clifton of Robert E. Lee in the semis.
Brandon Winger also made it to the finals with a fall over Josh Kaminski of Fort Defiance before falling to undefeated Victor Montalbano of Brookville, 7-2. Bryan Barnett and Trey Markvart lost close matches in the consolation semifinals and both finished fifth, earning alternate status for this weekend.
“As a team we wrestled pretty well, but I’m not going to be satisfied until we get them to the top of the podium,” said coach Robert Haynie. “Region is where you learn where you are as a team, and there are some changes we need to make next year to improve performance. The three that are moving on have a very good chance to do well at states.”
As the excitement builds toward the weekend, coaches like Tim Jennings try to keep their wrestlers on an even keel.
“When you get this far, the competition level jumps so much, even at the ‘A’ level,” he said. “But what I try to get the kids to understand is that they are there – in Salem – just like the other 15 wrestlers. They all have that chance and it only takes one point to knock off the number one or number two. Just like every event we’ve entered – one period, one round, one man at a time.”