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Staunton River Head Coach Ron Long has taken an audacious stand in his first year at the helm of the Eagles' wrestling program. "This is the year the streak will be broken," said Long in reference to Brookville's 37-year stranglehold on the Seminole District title. "I think we can take Brookville."
While the Bees have come to epitomize wrestling excellence for this area, the Eagles should give them cause to check their rear view mirror. Staunton River brings back a lot of experience, enthusiasm and expertise with 10 of its 14 starters returning.
In addition, the crew is a hard-working, dedicated bunch, seeking to bring some rare glory to the southern part of the county.
That cast is headlined by Will Epperly, who begins his senior season with a hankering for a state championship. Epperly, who finished fifth in the state last year, moves up from the 119 class to 130, every ounce of the additional weight being pure muscle. Although the 130 pound class is always a very competitive one, Epperly starts out the season ranked second in the state at that weight. He won four matches at the Super 32 in Greensboro earlier in the year against some of the premier grapplers in the country. Long, who characterizes Epperly as "a hard nosed kid," has named him as one of the team captains. The rest will be determined later in the season.
Epperly is joined by fellow senior Cody Bramlett at 103. There are high expectations for him, especially since it is rare to find a senior wrestling at that weight.
Travis Claytor moves up to the 112 level and has impressed Long. "He will run through a brick wall for you," noted Long, who also noted how impressive Claytor has been in the preseason workouts.
The gap at 119 left by Epperly's departure will be plugged by Austin Wood, a sophomore. Wood is noted as a smart wrestler who picks up things quickly. Meanwhile, Andrew Josephs steps into the lineup at 125. Josephs is a tall, lanky type who is described as Long as "hard working."
Jeremy Tyree mans the 135 pound slot. Tyree was a state qualifier last year as a freshman, when he finished fourth in the region. He has so fluid a motion, according to Long, "He flows."
Scrappy Austin Carr shows up at 140, bringing his "never say die," approach. "He will hold unto a leg until his arms fall off," said Long.
Nick Manley and Austin Adams should both see some time at 145. Manley is very athletic, while Adams is a new comer with a solid work ethic. Tony Boughton returns at 152, having spent a month at Ken Chertow's camp in State College, PA. Tough-as-nails Scott Fike hangs up his football cleats to take the helm at 160, hoping to match the impressive run of graduated Nick Roselund, a state qualifier last year.
Dustin Kidd (171) is recovering from an ACL tear and the hope is that he can show the form that won him the freshman state championship earlier this year. Long has state-level aspirations for Kidd.
Freshman Ryan Wade is proving to be a nice surprise at 189. Two football transplants look like they could breath some life into the Eagles at the top weight classes. Jeremy Falls is an animal, expected to shock some folks this year. Teddy Childress is working hard to make a difference at the heavyweight level.
Long has great bench strength, to boot. Montana Large could wrestle at 160, or higher. Jacob Black can go at 125 or 130. Jake East is showing continued improvement and could plug in at 160 or 171. Newcomer Mike Franklin shows promise at 152.
Freshman Tyler Pagan (112) and mark Ray (145) have some stiff competition ahead of them, but Long is looking for them to develop well.
The first year coach is appreciative of his situation. "Coach Sell left me in pretty good shape," he noted. "I tip my hat to Randall."
Long also expressed his pleasant surprise at the level of support that the program receives from the parents and boosters. "I'm lucky to be in the right place at the right time," he said.
Forest looks to senior leadership
Jefferson Forest sent three wrestlers to State last season and looks poised to match that total. However, while there are some stellar performers among the Cavs, there are just as many gaps in the lineup. "We're OK," said Head Coach Bill "Hutch" Hutchinson. "We've got some holes and we'll have to forfeit sometimes at 119 and 189."
The hole at 189 is especially glaring. Junior Tyler Rosser was expected to fill that slot and to build on the success he had last season. However, Rosser, an All-Seminole District first teamer in football looks to be focusing his attention on football going forward. Had Rosser joined fellow standouts Chris Bowyer (215) and Brandon Beemer (Heavyweight), the trio would have given the Cavs the fiercest top-of-the card grouping in the District.
Nonetheless, Bowyer and Beemer still represent the cream of the crop at the upper weights. Both were All-District first team defensive linemen. Both advanced to States last season. Both are tough, smart, no-nonsense wrestlers. More importantly, both look like they've added muscle and a bit more meanness to what they bring to the mat. Bowyer, in fact, has moved up from 189 to the 215 class.
Beemer and Bowyer are joined by another "killer B" in fellow senior Yale Burch, a hard-nosed middleweight. Burch will most likely wrestle at 140, but could drop down t0 135, although, "He'd lose some strength if he did that," according to Hutch. Burch is a well-rounded wrestler with good take down technique.
The rest of the Cav lineup is a mix of youth and question marks, with a sprinkling of experience. Tommy Neal returns for his sophomore year and should fit in nicely at 160. Neal is "hard working, smart and aggressive," per Hutch.
Zach Cox was out all last season with an injury. But the long and lanky Cox should come back strong, wrestling at 171. He could also plug in at 189, although that may not be optimal.
Jarett Payne won the Seminole District at 103 last year. He's obviously hit the weight room and will be jumping up to 125 this year.
Others who look to be locked into slots, for now, include Will Drinkard at 103. Drinkard is a freshman, but he's been wrestling for eight years. He is joined by fellow frosh Blake Woodall at 112.
Between 130 and 145, Hutch is looking at up to eight different wrestlers, hoping someone will differentiate himself from the pack. One wrestler who has done so at 152 is Joe Little, new to the team but tough as nails.
While Forest is young, it looks like a geriatric unit compared with how Liberty is staffed this season.
The loss, to graduation, of state qualifiers Ryan Reynolds and Roger Shepherd took the heart out of the Minutemen program. Reynolds also won the Region last season at 140 pounds.
Head Coach Darryl Updike, in his second year at the helm of the Minutemen program, is still sorting through a lot of unknowns.
One of the things that he is certain of, however, is that he?s got a winner in Brad Hoback. ?Brad should be our leader,? remarked Updike of the sole senior on the squad.
Hoback should be weighing in at 135 or 140 and the hope is that he?ll be facing off, once again, with Forest?s Burch. Last season the two gave wrestling fans some well fought and memorable competitions.
Hoback is joined by his younger (but bigger) brother, Cam, who holds down the job in the 152 class. Cam Hoback proved himself to be a strong and quick wrestler last season.
Matt Dudding returns to the team and looks like he can make some noise at the 160 pound level.
Another returning starter from last year is Jon Petersen, fresh of helping to lead the Minutemen to the Seminole crown in golfing. The sophomore is expected to display his wrestling talent at either 119 or 125. Robert Smith looks to be the one who will take the slot which Petersen is not wrestling.
Dustin Choate had a nice run for the Minutemen in the 103 pound class last season and will move up to 112. Similarly, Ian Scott manned the 125 class last year. The junior may jump between 125 and 130.
The team has a bunch of freshmen at the lower weights, but they have solid experience. ?A lot of them have more than three years of experience,? said Updike. ?They?re young, but they?re veterans.?
That group includes Colton Witt (103), Justin Eubank (145 or 152), Doug Schaffer (135 or 140) and Roy Nichols (160).
The upper weights seem to be the biggest area of concern for the Minutemen. Zach Massie returns to the squad, having wrestled at 189 last season. Newcomer Jessie Jayne, a 200+ pounder, should help fortify one of the heavyweight classes.
Updike is hoping to further build up his inventory and has his eye on a couple of Liberty footballers, hoping to convince them to come out and help the team.
Who knows? If the coach has been nice this year, maybe Santa will come through on those wishes.
Regrettably, he vast majority of matches and tournaments are out of the county this season.
Here are the ones you want to highlight on the calendar:
December 22 - River Rumble at SRHS.
December 29 - Bedford Brawl at Liberty.
January 16 - Staunton River at Brookville.
January 25-26 - Big Orange at William Byrd.
February 8 - Bedford County Championship at JF.
February 15-16 - District Championships at Staunton River.