Lord Botetourt will have seven wrestlers and James River will have two when high school wrestling’s “Biggest Show” of the season comes to the Salem Civic Center this weekend. Action begins Thursday at 7 p.m.
Four team champions and 56 individual champs will have stood on the top step when the smoke clears early Saturday evening. The Salem Civic Center will host Virginia High School League championships for Group 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A, with 14 weight classes in each group. This year’s event will be the largest ever at the civic center.
“We have 148 teams and 560 total kids,” said tournament director Larry Hall, who also serves as the mayor of Buchanan. Hall has been doing this for over 30 years and he gets wound up at this time of the season.
“It will be a great show,” said Hall. “On Saturday we’ll have the walk of champions and we have girls to sing the national anthem. It will be your usual dog and pony show.”
This year the tournament covers three days, beginning with 3A and 4A opening round matches on Thursday at 7 p.m. The 1A and 2A wrestlers join the fun on a full day of wrestling Friday, with eight mats going beginning at 9:30 a.m. Semifinals are scheduled for approximately 7 p.m.
Saturday the consolation championships begin at 9:30 a.m. as third through eighth places are decided. The finals are expected to begin at around 2 p.m. Saturday, with all four championships getting the whistle at the same time on four mats, one each for 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A.
Teamwise, Hall is picking all four of last year’s winners to repeat. Rural Retreat, in Group 1A, and Christiansburg, in Group 3A, are prohibitive favorites to win again. Grundy is a big favorite in 2A and in 4A Fauquier is favored, but that could be the closest of the four.
Lord Botetourt will send seven to the Group 3A mats. Last week in Christiansburg the Cavaliers finished fourth in the team standings, with the host Blue Demons taking the championship. Cave Spring (183) was second, 126 points behind Christiansburg (309), while Western Albemarle (153.5) was third, just two and a half point ahead of LB (151).
“We had a great weekend of wrestling,” said LB coach Chuck Burton. “I expect our best wrestling of the year to come this weekend. This is what we work for and what these kids have worked extremely hard for since November. Most of these kids have worked almost entirely year round to achieve a goal that culminates this weekend.”
The top six individuals advanced, and LB had two seconds in Jake DuVall at 126 and Ethan Young at 132. Thirds went to Tyler Mann at 120 and Eric Reynolds at 220, while Luke Young took a fourth at 138. LB had two fifth places, Jacob Booth at 152 and Logan Poff at 182. Those seven will all be in the state tournament and Jacob Brown, at 170, and Jesse Hanson, at 285, will be alternates after finishing seventh in the regional.
“I’m excited to see how our seniors end up doing and how our two juniors do in their first trip to the tournament as competitors,” said Burton. “Physically, these guys are as ready as they’re ever going to be. Mentally, we got a few things to work on this week in preparation, but I know these guys will get there and perform at their best.”
James River finished 12th in the Group 2A West regional in Grundy last weekend. The Knights qualified two for the state tournament, including 2016 state champion Travis Sisson, who won the regional at heavyweight. Levin Walker finished fourth at 220.
“We had some other kids that came really close – within a match or two – to qualifying as well,” said coach Tim Jennings. “I knew going in some of our kids had really tough brackets, but coming into the semis on Saturday, we could have qualified four or five kids. Unfortunately, we under-performed in several matches, letting opportunities get away from us.”