Panther wrestlers slash competition

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Conference champs celebrating the team victory at the Rappahannock River 1A Conference Championships in Lancaster last Thursday.
“Each year we’ve gotten better,” said 26-year-old varsity wrestling coach Alex Coffroth, after the team breezed through the conference tournament Saturday. “I mean this year produced the first tournament championships, as well as individual tournament championships, that this program has seen, which just proves that we can compete, top to bottom, with the best programs in the state.”

Team wins conference by 75 points, seven wrestlers take first

The varsity wrestling team dominated the Rappahannock River 1A Conference Championship this weekend. The guys traveled to Lancaster County Saturday (Feb. 6) and competed for the team prize, and to qualify for the regional tournament in Northampton next weekend. Of the 14 weight classes that comprise a varsity team, the Panthers sent 13 wrestlers to the finals, producing seven champions and six runner-ups. Team scores: Northumberland, 80; Essex, 84; Lancaster, 139; and Rappahannock, 204.5.

Individual conference champs, by weight: Hunter Nicodemus at 106, Dakota Payne at 132, Christian McCracken at 145, Hunter Shifflett at 160, Ethan Foley at 170, Johnny Beard at 182, and David Smoot at 220.  

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145-pound conference champion Christian McCracken strides victoriously off the mat after a win.

Silver medalists: Sam Barnes at 113, Quentin Woodward at 120, Olin Woodward at 126, Christian Poffenbarger at 138, Chris Corbin at 152, and Bryce Jones at 195.

“We had a lot of kids with good weekends, but probably the most dominating performances came from our 106-pounder Hunter Nicodemus, and our 145-pounder, Christian McCracken,” 26-year-old head coach Alex Coffroth said Monday. “We also had a first-year wrestler who was champion at 160, Hunter Shifflett.”

The entire team qualified for the Region 1A East Championship to be held this Saturday, Feb. 13, at Northampton High School. To advance to the state championship in Salem, Feb. 19 and 20, wrestlers must finish in the top four in their weight class.

“Regionals, frankly, looks tougher than states at this point, just because the competition will have a full roster. I’m not worried about individuals making it through. We should be sending 10 to states, so we definitely are in the consideration for, and are competing for, the state title,” Coffroth said, noting that Riverheads High School in Staunton is likely to offer the toughest competition for the regional team championship, as well as the state championship.

“A lot of it will have to do with how well the kids handle the tournament. For some of my wrestlers, this is the first major tournament that they’ve done, so it’ll be a learning experience. But if they can rise to the occasion, which the leaders of the team will help them do, then this weekend should turn out pretty well,” Coffroth said.

Coffroth said that his expectations for a state championship have not faded in the four years since he started coaching at RCHS, and commended his athletes for rising to meet his aspirations. He also credits the team’s success so far to the bolstered strength of their schedule and more matches wrestled during the regular season.

Perhaps of greatest import is the teamwork among the four coaches running the school’s wrestling program.

Coaches Conner Miller, Hodge Miller and Jeff Nicodemus all share with Coffroth responsibility for the middle school, junior varsity and varsity wrestling teams.

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Champion 17 0-pounder Ethan Foley cranks down on a power-half nelson, heading for a pin.

“It’s good to have that consistency top to bottom, so the kids will be learning exactly what they need to by the time they get to the varsity roster,” Coffroth said, noting that Hodge has 20 years coaching experience, and that his son Conner is a prime example of Miller’s ability to produce champions. “All the kids are under our tutelage the whole way through. Like Conner will be coaching technique in one session, I’ll take weight training, Hodge will go over film, and Jeff will do sprints and cardio. It’s really a team effort, more than anything.”

Like 25-year-old coach Conner Miller — a Virginia state champion who went on to wrestle for the University of Virginia — Coffroth started wrestling at age five. He grew up in central Pennsylvania, home of several world class wrestling programs.

“Some of the wrestlers that were on the team when I started thought that there was no way that we could ever compete as a team. And I never accepted that,” Coffroth said. “My expectation every season will always be to win a state championship, and that expectation hasn’t changed, and they’ve risen to it. Each year we’ve gotten better. I mean this year produced the first tournament championships, as well as individual tournament championships, that this program has seen, which just proves that we can compete, top to bottom, with the best programs in the state.”

The team heads to Northampton this weekend, for the regional tournament.

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