Buffalo Gap, Bison Duals, Rappahannock wrestlers. All the makings of a mighty mixture of contenders.
On Saturday, Jan. 8, the Panther varsity wrestling team traveled to Buffalo Gap to confront opponents from southwest Virginia as well as teams from Regions A, B, C, and D.
Coach Jamie Harris said his team was hungry. “We were ready for the challenges, and by the end of the day, our team set new personal records in team dual wins and some individual bests as well.”
In pool competition, Rappahannock met Stonewall Jackson and Northwood. Against Stonewall, one of the better duals in the region, the level of competition made its demands. The Generals dropped the Panthers, 60-10. The blue and gold did pick up a pin at 112 from CJ Sidrow, and earned a major decision from Cody Casey at 130.
Northwood arrived for Match 2, and Rappahannock came alive. Panthers scored pins from Matt Lombardi (140), Nick Hipple (135), Britt Hipple (heavyweight), and a decision from Sidrow and Dylan Hitt. Casey, Antonio DeLa Cruz, and Logan Vest earned forfeits and helped propel the team to a 42-17 victory.
After pool play, Rappahannock was 1-1 and qualified for the placement pool. Their first foe was Covington, a tough Region C team that boasted several state-ranked wrestlers and a defending state champion in the 130 class. The Panthers picked up a pin from Britt Hipple, while Sidrow, Nick Hipple and Foley took forfeits. The final score: Covington 47, Rappahannock 30.
Match 4 saw Panthers face off with Region A’s Lancaster. “We needed a pin from Matt Lombardi  to seal the victory,” coach Harris said.
Lombardi described the moment: “I was on my back the whole time, but I Peterson-rolled him, and pinned him with a reverse cradle. That was the best pin I’ve ever had! Funny, but I didn’t feel good at all going into it. When it was over, Coach told me that we really had to have that pin. Glad he didn’t say that before I went to the mat.”
After Lombardi’s momentum, the team saw pins from Smith Cliffton and Dylan Hitt. Earning forfeits were Sidrow, DeLa Cruz, Casey, Britt Hipple. Rappahannock prevailed, 42-29.
For the final match, Panthers took on the Raiders of Appomattox County and earned pins from Sidrow, DeLa Cruz, Lombardi and Foley. Those were not enough for the win: Appomattox 54, Rapp 24.
The Panthers placed seventh out of 12 teams and touted some new records. Sidrow (103/112) went 5-0 to improve his overall record to 25-3. DeLa Cruz (119) finished 4-1, Lombardi (135/140) was 3-2, Casey (130) 3-2, and heavyweight Britt Hipple went 3-2. Casey is now 20-8 on his season and Dylan Hitt is 21-11. This gives Rappahannock three wrestlers with 20-plus wins in the season. Plus, freshman Nick Hipple logged his first career pin in his match against Northwood.
“We were missing four players who had prior commitments,” coach Harris explained, “but I felt if we had gone into this with our full team, we would’ve finished 3-2 or possibly 4-1 for the day. When you have to give up 18-24 points in forfeits, it is tough to come back.
“The positives were that the boys set a new school record for dual wins, and they are looking to build on that. We also have nine wrestlers with double-digit wins for the season. That is a new school record, as well. The team is doing all this with a lineup of five freshmen, seven sophomores, two juniors and two seniors. Now we can turn our attention to our upcoming tri meet. Then, on Jan. 22, we will have our chance to be a top-three team in our district at the Bull Run District Duals.”