If there’s a little more excitement among students at Rappahannock High School this week it may have more to do with what’s happening in Salem rather than Sochi.
Five members of the Panthers wrestling team are headed for the state finals this Saturday in the Virginia town — a first for the school in terms of the number of RCHS wrestlers to make it that far.
Senior Dylan Hitt and sophomore David Smoot won their weight divisions — 152 and 182 pounds, respectively — in the 2A East Region Tournament at Parry McCluer High School in Buena Vista on Sunday.
Dakota Woodward placed second in the 120-pound class, beating the reigning state champ in the process. Amrit Tamang and Christian McCracken came in third in the 145 and 106 pound classes respectively. They advance as well to the state tournament in Roanoke County.
The fact that the “double Ds” — Hitt and Smoot — advanced might not have been a surprise to some, but having three other Panthers advance makes the upcoming tournament special.
“We have five place winners who will be advancing. Some were expected, some were unexpected,” said Panthers wrestling head coach Alex Coffroth. “The sophomores and freshmen achieved an amazing feat,” and the fact that they have two or three more years of high school competition is good news for the wrestling program.
Coffroth noted that Hitt scored a first period “resounding” victory with “little effort,” which he said is a reflection of his hard work during the season. “It’s nice to see it pay off,” Coffroth said. He noted Smoot’s impressive performance as well.
For this weekend’s state tournament, the coach is getting his wrestlers ready by going over the film of them in action. Then “we’ll hit the mat tomorrow and Wednesday,” he said during an interview Monday.
“I feel great about our chances. I think the effort will really pay off,” said Coffroth, who is in his second year as Panthers head coach.
Throughout the season, Coffroth has worked on improving his wrestlers’ physical conditioning.
“Before every practice they run several miles and do a series of sprints. There is conditioning work inside the mat room with lots of cardio work,” he said.
The “double D’s” reflected on their performances last weekend while looking ahead to the next challenge.
Smoot beat Shane Chambers of Lancaster in the finals in Buena Vista to make it to the state tournament.
“I thought I started off slow. I was a little nervous,” he said, noting he was going up against the top wrestler in the 182-pound class. It was the first time he had competed against Chambers and he managed to beat him on points, 11 to 2, in a match that stretched through the regulation three periods (or six total minutes). Smoot beat opponents at the preliminary, quarterfinal and semifinal level to reach that point.
Looking ahead to the finals in Salem, Smoot said he was feeling “pretty confident. I feel I’ve improved a lot since last year.”
He credited coach Coffroth for helping him get this far. “He’s a tremendous coach. He’s been working on our overall conditioning and drills,” Smoot said.
The sophomore has been wrestling for seven years and said he got inspired as a child watching WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment. He keeps in shape during the wrestling off-season by lifting weights and running.
For his part, Hitt said that going into the final last weekend, “I felt confident, but felt nervous because I knew that it was mine to lose.”
He said that he knows who he’ll be facing in the state tournament but doesn’t know anything about them. He’s never faced them before. Hitt said he’s preparing “by keeping my weight under control and focusing mentally” on the challenge ahead.
Reaction from fellow students at Rappahannock High School to five Panthers advancing to the state tournament has been positive. “People in the school realize what a feat it is to just make it to the state tournament,” Hitt said.
As a senior, this is Hitt’s last year of competition for Rappahannock. “It’s emotional, realizing that something your life has been devoted to for four years is coming to an end,” he said
Hitt is planning to study engineering in college (he’s been accepted at Penn State and George Mason). Wrestling at the collegiate level is a possibility but he said he hasn’t decided yet.
For now, attention is on the state tournament. Parents of wrestlers are caught up in the moment, too. Hitt’s mom, Amy, noted that her son and David both reached the finals of a tournament together for the first time.
“That’s pretty special and hopefully next weekend will be more special,” she said.