By Marty O'Brien, firstname.lastname@example.org
5:34 PM EST, February 20, 2014
If you think it was tough for Jan Brady to hear about "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" all of the time, consider the plight of state wrestlers and coaches for more than a decade. For 12 consecutive years they've heard "Christiansburg" announced as the AA state champion at Salem Civic Center.
As coaches and wrestlers gather in Salem on Friday and Saturday under the new Group 3A banner, there is real hope that one of wrestling's Jan's will hear the call to raise the state championship trophy. Then again, Christiansburg, led by three-time state gold medalist Coy Ozias (132 pounds) is still a contender.
"I think it could definitely happen," New Kent coach Mike Faus said of someone other than Christiansburg winning the 3A state title. "It's going to be a very tight five-team race between us, Poquoson, (3A East Region champion) Brenstville District, (3A West Region champion) Cave Spring and Christiansburg."
Poquoson coach Eric Decker said, "I'm sure (Christiansburg coach) Daryl Weber is sweating bullets. It's going to be very close."
The fact that everyone is entering a new format due to Virginia High School League realignment, makes handicapping the team race that much more difficult. Under the old AA setup, there were 16 wrestlers in each weight class — the top four from four regions.
Four wrestlers still qualify at each weight, but under realignment there are only two regions in state 4A and just eight wrestlers per bracket.
"There are no more warm-up matches," Decker said. "Everyone's first match is going to be tough, now, so there will be no slacking off."
The regionals were so much tougher this year that the five teams considered state title contenders qualified only six or seven wrestlers each in the 14 weight classes. Christiansburg, Poquoson and New Kent typically qualified nine, 10 or more wrestlers for the former AA tournament.
"We don't really know what to expect, but we think this format will help us," Decker said.
That because Poquoson has as many as five wrestlers who could reach the final: Hunter Wright (106 pounds), Kyle Poultney (145), Ross Graham (182), Riley Howell (195) and Trent Graham (220). At 40-0, Ross Graham figures to be the Islanders best shot at an individual title.
"If we put five in the finals it will be impossible mathematically for us not to win a state title," Decker said.
The catch, Decker says, is that many of his potential finalists face tougher early round draws than some of the New Kent wrestlers. He expects New Kent's B.C. Laprade (138 pounds), Blake Hohman (145) and Zach Edmonds (170) to reach the finals.
Faus, who's best chance at a state title is all-around talent Laprade (42-4), adds that if Jackson Gray (113), James Giffin (152) and Wilson Gregory (220), wrestle well the Trojans title possibilities improve.
"I like some our draws, and if everyone goes up and wrestles to their potential we could win it," Faus said.
Decker says to spot the champion, look for a team with three individual winners Saturday night. It could be clear by as early as Friday afternoon, following the tougher-than-usual opening matches, if Poquoson can snap Christiansburg's decade-plus reign at the top the way it ended Grundy's similar run in the 1998 AA state tournament.
"I'll be able to tell you pretty quickly whether we're still in it or not," Decker said of the quarterfinal round.
Other BRD wrestlers
Outside of Poquoson and New Kent, the Bay Rivers District's best hope for a 3A state titlist is Lafayette 120-pounder Kalide Endale (45-6), who lost his 3A East Region final by a point.
Tabb sends two viable state title contenders to the 4A state tournament in Salem: Hunter Starner (132 pounds) and Bailey Hicks (160). Both won 4A South Region individual titles earlier this week.
"Hunter is pretty tough on his feet and he's a strong kid," Tabb coach Doug Roper said. "Bailey gets a lot of pins.
"He's won 42 matches this season, 37 by pin."
Those two, and Tigers 120-pounder Richard Harrell, who also qualified, each finished in the top four in the former AA state tournament.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.
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