One trophy left, region champs are state bound

Jennifer Martin Woodward
220-lb region champ David Smoot working an armbar, before one of his three pins on Saturday. To win a title next weekend in Salem, Smoot will likely have to beat his arch-rival from Galax, undefeated and two-time defending state champion Caleb Spurling, who bested Smoot in the state finals last year. Jennifer Martin Woodward

The Rappahannock High School wrestling team made their mark on Saturday (Feb. 13), winning the Region 1A East Championship at Northampton High School by 49 points, and sending five wrestlers to the finals match. Region champs: Christian McCracken at 145 lbs., Ethan Foley at 170, and David Smoot at 220. Hunter Nicodemus (106) and Johnny Beard (182), finished second in their classes. 26-year-old head coach Alex Coffroth was voted regional Coach of the Year.

Rappahannock bested their Riverheads High School rivals 227.5 to 178.5, with last year’s dominant region champs, Mathews, placing third with 136 points. In wrestling, a match win earns three points, and a pin victory earns six. Foley and Smoot, “pinned out” on Saturday, which means they scored six team points in each of their matches.

Out of 14 weight classes, the team is sending 11 wrestlers to the state championship in Salem next weekend

Jennifer Martin Woodward
Coach of the Year: Alex Coffroth shouting instructions during a match, the 26-year-old said he expected a state championship at the beginning of the season, and his mind hasn’t changed. “They’re peaking at the right time,” Coffroth said. Jennifer Martin Woodward

(Feb. 19-20). Third place finishers, by weight class: Sam Barnes at 113, Olin Woodward at 126, Dakota Payne at 132, Chris Corbin at 152, Hunter Shifflett at 160. Fourth place: Christian Puffenbarger at 138

“We kind of dominated the entire tournament, from start to finish,” assistant coach Conner Miller said Tuesday, noting that since school Monday and Tuesday was cancelled for icy conditions, his wrestlers own the responsibility of keeping their weights low and endurance up. “After the first round, we were winning, and we never gave the lead up after that. We were wire-to-wire leaders, which was nice. It was never really in question.”

The 25-year-old Miller is no stranger to the Salem Civic Center, having won state wrestling titles for Rappahannock as a freshman in 2007 and for Fauquier as a senior in 2010. Next weekend, on eight mats disbursed at floor level, spectators will watch from elevated arena seating, the best wrestlers in Virginia compete for top honors in the 1A through 4A classes. By Saturday, there will only be four mats, and at 2:30 p.m., the finals begin.

“A lot of these guys came down and wrestled at states last year, we just didn’t have a very good showing,” Miller said, noting that due to inclement weather, the weekend tournament was compressed into a single, very long day. “This year, we just really have to make sure that they have confidence in themselves and their ability, and confidence in the preparation they have made throughout the year, and just go out there and leave it all on the mat, you know? You only get so many shots at it, and you want to make them count.”

Miller said that the three region champs have a good shot at a state title, and that with a few tweaks in technique, region runners-up Nicodemus and Beard could also pull it off.

The toughest competition at the state level will come from two-time defending state champ Rural Retreat High School, which just won the 1A West region by 118.5 points, besting second-place Galax 284 to 165.5. The Rural Retreat Indians own nine 2016 region champions, and multiple returning state champions.

Jennifer Martin Woodward
Dominant: The Rappahannock Panthers lift their Region 1A East Championship trophy, after scoring 227.5 team points, sending five wrestlers to the finals and qualifying 11 wrestlers for the state tournament this weekend. Jennifer Martin Woodward

To win the title, 220-pounder David Smoot is going to have to beat undefeated (34-0) Caleb Spurlin from Galax, the two-time state champion who beat Smoot in the finals last year.

“And so Rural Retreat is going to be the team to beat,” Miller said of the team that last year stomped on the rest of the state, earning 176.5 team points, with second place George Wythe earning 68 points. “There are a couple of tough match-ups, where it will be tough to beat them, because they have a lot of really good wrestlers and a lot of returning state champions. But we have quite a few studs, that can show up, and rise to the occasion.”

Groups 1A thru 4A Championships: Feb. 19-20 at the Salem Civic Center. All tickets $10 each session, and $25 for an all-session pass (4 sessions). Children 6 and under are admitted free with parent.