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Bedford County's sizable contingent that headed to the state wrestling tournament returned with four medals for its efforts. The group's four seniors were the ones that brought home the hardware. The younger bucks came away with a learning experience that should benefit them as they progress in their careers.
Jefferson Forest's Chris Bowyer led the way, taking second in the state at 189 pounds. Teammate Brandon Beemer fought his way back from a semifinal defeat to nab a third place at 215.
Staunton River's Will Epperly got a measure of revenge in earning his fifth place slot at 130 and Liberty's Brad Hoback overcame a first round defeat in taking eighth place at 135.
Christiansburg was the team winner, while Grundy was runnerup. The top Region III team was William Byrd, which took fifth. Jefferson Forest tied for fifteenth in the AA team standings, to lead county scoring.
Bowyer and Brookville's Ryan Jackson (runner-up at heavyweight) were the top finishers out of the Seminole District.
Bowyer's championship match with Grafton's Chase Ennis was one of the more anticipated bouts of the tournament. Ennis had been the state's top-ranked wrestler at 189 all season. Bowyer had wrestled most of the season at 215, but had done tremendous damage at that higher class. When he'd dropped to 189, he'd eaten up all competition.
The two athletes didn't disappoint. After knotting at 2, apiece, things slowed down in the second period. Both grapplers were given warnings about stalling but Bowyer was the only one hit with a one-point penalty. In the third, Bowyer's escape was countered with a takedown. The final score: 5-3 in favor of Ennis.
Beemer's hopes for a title were dashed in the semifinals by long and lanky Nathan Watts of Brentsville, eventual state runner-up. Watts took the battle 8-5.
Faced with having to win two more contests to earn third, Forest Head Coach Hutch Hutchinson told Beemer, "I have two words for you."
Beemer replied, "Just win?"
"No," said Hutch. "Have fun."
The senior did exactly that, wrapping up his career with a closely contested 3-2 win over Lafayette's Sean Sweaney for the bronze.
Staunton River's Epperly took a tough quarterfinal loss to Aaron Wilson, of Abingdon, suffering a pin in the process. Up 2-0, Epperly attempted a Jantzen move, an under-and-over technique. "The kid flattened out and caught him, though," lamented Eagle Head Coach Ron Long.
Relegated to the consolation bracket, Epperly beat Charlie Parkins of Turner Ashby before he lost to Chris Morris, of Skyline. Then, the senior pounded Owen Marshall, of Salem, 12-2.
In the fifth place contest, Epperly squared off against Wilson. This time Epperly wrestled a clean match to victory, 6-2, for a fine ending to his Eagle career.
Hoback's eighth place finish was a nice surprise. He came into the tourney as a number four seed. In his first match, he was pinned late in the second period. Yet, he fought back to make his last time out a memorable one.
"Brad is a very good wrestler and he has worked very hard for several years," said Liberty Head Coach Darryl Updike. "We were excited about him being a State Qualifier, but to be in the Top 10 and medal is truly satisfying!"
Staunton River carried the largest group to Salem, as Epperly was joined by four teammates: Austin Carr (140), Scott Fike (160), Dustin Kidd (171) and Tony Boughton (189).
However, those four all suffered heart-wrenching first round defeats. All four wrestled their openers on the same mat (there were eight total mats for the A and AA competition). Coaches Long and Ron Tyree watched as their young charges' hopes were dashed in cruel fashion.
Carr was down 6-0 to eventual fifth-place finisher Cody Silva (Poquoson) before he made a strong reverse with under 20 seconds remaining in the match, completely swinging the momentum. But it was too little, too late for the junior.
A controversial illegal start call against Fike proved to be the difference in his 5-4 loss to Schuyler Whelan of Orange. The two exchanged reverses with under forty seconds remaining in their nail-biter.
Kidd's reverse with seven seconds remaining pushed his bout with Josh Sturgill of Orange. But Sturgill out-muscled him into a takedown, and the win, in OT.
Boughton worked his way back into striking distance against Allen Silver (Millbrook), but wound up getting pinned with under thirty seconds left. These two burly grapplers looked like a couple of grizzly bears as they pounded each other, neither willing to give quarter to the other.
The final member of the contingent, Forest's Jacob Wallace, took a first round loss, as well. Wallace drew eventual state runner-up Jeremy Hurley (Grundy) in the opener. Following a neutral start in the second period, Hurley's experienced eye took advantage of an opening and the second-year grappler from Forest was pinned.
Big time fan base
The county lads were well supported in their endeavors. In particular, a huge group showed up from Jefferson Forest, including family, friends, former wrestlers, neighbors, girlfriends, girlfriends' parents, teachers and classmates. The only one who seemed to be missing was the Forest postman, and he might have been stuck in traffic. Chris Bowyer's mother, Wanda, was touched by the strong showing of support for the JF wrestlers. "It brought tears to my eyes to see all the people that came," said Wanda Bowyer.