It was a terrific weekend for the James River wrestling team as the Knights finished a solid third in the Virginia High School League Class 2 state tournament as well as taking home three individual championships. Craig Bowyer, Chase Cuddy and Carder Miller all won state championships and Hunter Forbes made the final, finishing as state runner-up.
“For the first time in school history. the James River Knights crowned three state champions in one year,” said coach Bobby Stewart. “Another first for the Knights was qualifying seven wrestlers for the state tournament and all seven wrestlers earned state placement honors (top six).”
River’s third place finish was the third year in a row the Knights took that spot. Strasburg won the team championship and Poquoson, last year’s champion, was second, just 12 and a half points ahead of River.
“Third place is a great testament to the consistency of the program,” said Stewart.
At 120, Bowyer won a state championship in just his third season on the mats. He was fifth in the state as a junior before capping off his career with the championship. Bowyer edged Chance Rose of Richlands in an exciting final, 1-0.
“Neither could score many points on each other during the six minutes it took to exhaust the championship time clock, all except for the one point Bowyer earned for his escape from the bottom position in the second period,” said Stewart. “That gave Craig the one point he needed to win the state championship bout.
“Craig is one of those great stories,” said Stewart. “I saw his potential years ago while he was in middle school and I could never get him to take the bait and come out to wrestle in 7th grade, 8th grade or 9th grade. I tried three years and kept getting shot down, but I never gave up.”
Cuddy was the next match up and he showed up wearing the singlet his dad, Jason, wore when he won the state championship in 1999. Jason serves as an assistant coach for the Knights and it was a special time for him when Chase defeated Wyatt Spencer of Richlands, 3-2, in the state 126-pound final.
“A symbolic moment for the high school and their family,” said Stewart. “Chase will join his father and also his uncle, James River standout and three time state champion Chance Craft, as a member of the wall of champions in the James River High School Wrestling Room and another champion in their family. I am super excited for their family. They live, eat, and sleep wrestling. I am sure they are soaking up the joy of adding another title to the family. Chase has led by example all year, remained focused, and achieved his goal.”
Cuddy amassed a 26-2 record this season. In the championship match Cuddy and Spencer fought hard for the six-minute finals nail biter before Chase prevailed, 3-2.
“He did exactly how I thought he would,” said Stewart. “I talked to him prior to the state in practice and even the day of the state. I told him and the team to practice their strategies and their moves. Develop a game plan and stick to it. I said we need to remain calm and trust in our training. I made an even bigger point that we didn’t need to win by 20 points either so minimize risk taking and be confident. You only needed to win by one point. That is exactly what Chase did.”
At 195 senior Miller won his second state championship. Miller only spent two and a half minutes on the mat between his three matches, which could last a regulation 18 minutes if they were to go the distance, dominating his opponents and winning by pin in all matches. In the final, Carder pinned Trace Mansfield of Clarke County in 1:35, finishing at 31-1 for the season.
“Carder is the definition of a ‘Beast’ that we refer to in the wrestling world,” said Stewart.“ He is a powerhouse. He has great strength and his technical game is very good. He wrestles as hard as he can every second. He wants to compete and he loves to compete.
“When you outfit a team with kids that hate to lose and will work hard to make sure they don’t it is a recipe for success. Carder leaves some mighty big shoes to fill next season at 195,” the coach said.
Hunter Forbes finalized a stellar high school career with a second place state finish in the 160-pound weight class. Hunter added the second place finish to his previous fourth place finish in the 2020 states and a state championship in the 2021 states, giving him a total of three state placement finishes.
Xaiden Wynn completed an impressive freshman high school season for the Knights. Wynn took home a fourth place medal in the 106-pound weight class, making a mark on the state.
Brayden Forbes also completed a great freshman season for the Knights, taking fifth. Brayden put together a 20-11 record on the season and had some sizable accomplishments throughout the year as well.
Wesley Ferguson, a senior, also placed fifth at 145.
“Wesley set himself a goal to achieve a spot on the podium at states this season,” said Stewart. “The feat had eluded him and members of the family for years and Ferguson wanted to etch history as the first Ferguson to place in state wrestling competition. By the end of Saturday afternoon, after a long day of mat battle and even avenging two loses to the same opponent from previous matches in the year, Wesley placed 5th in the state.”
Despite losing some talented wrestlers to graduation, Stewart sees a bright future for the team if he can get some more kids out for the team.
“The season ended way better than I thought,” he said. “I knew at the beginning of the season we were only going to be a good tournament team. Our numbers were down. We lost multiple returning starters who were state placers, region champs, and overall team point scorers for multiple reasons. We had guys miss last year due to Covid and injury. A loss of a year of practice and competition is a big negative on a kid, so we had to make adjustments within the team.
“In the end we had absolutely awesome results, but there is power in numbers. We will not improve our state ranking unless we increase our numbers in the wrestling room and on the team. Ideally, we need 28 wrestlers, two in each weight class. When that happens, or something close, we will have a shot at the first place team state title.”