Wrestling continues record year for Golden Eagles

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By Denton Day

By: Denton Day
Sports Editor

Last year the Staunton River Golden Eagles took four wrestlers to the VHSL State Championship meet and put one on the podium. This year the Golden Eagles had four wrestlers in the finals for their respective weight-class.

This year’s team made program history by taking nine wrestlers to the State Championship.

“Got a couple more cars and hotel rooms this year,” Adam Sparks jokingly said to Head Coach Scott Fike. “That’s a good thing,” Fike replied.

The Golden Eagles placed fourth overall in the 3A State Wrestling Championships. Justin Mutter (126), Nathan Kearns (132), T.J. Tester (170) and David Wilson (195) all made it to the finals of their weight-class and placed second.

Making it to the State Finals is a great accomplishment. Doing it as a sophomore is even greater for Mutter.

Tester is a familiar name for football fans. A guy that could do everything on the football field but did not wrestle last year. Fike, who is a family friend with the Tester convinced T.J. to wrestle his senior season and Tester made it to the State Finals.

Sam Kirtley placed first in the Region 3D Championships at 285-pounds earlier this season. Kirtley and Fike openly had conversations all year about Kirtley having the potential to be state champion.

Controversy struck in the semi-finals for Kirtley. At the end of the match the refs awarded Kirtley a takedown, which would have given him the lead. Then the refs went over to the head table and waved off the points and Kirtley ended up losing by a point.

“It was definitely a heartbreaker,” Fike said. “That took a little bit of air out of us, but he bounced back.”

A victory over Alleghany’s Justin Hall in the fifth place match gave Kirtley, a senior, the ability to walk off the mat victorious in his last high school match.

It is no secret that wrestling is an incredibly intense sport from a physical aspect but mentally it is just as intense, if not more. This year the Golden Eagles took a more tactical approach once the postseason arrived.

“Once you get to the postseason the hard work has been done,” Fike said.

Fike and his coaching staff saw no reason to continue to pile on work. Instead they focused on staying strong and in shape. Adding to that they worked on individual drills for each wrestler to fit their strengths and get them ready for the postseason.

Fike took a risk–something first year coaches may not usually do–with the team’s schedule. He wanted to consistently put the team up against great competition in the state and outside of it.

The first big step was in late December. Over the holiday break the team traveled to Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, NC to take part in the Holy Angels Wrestling Invitational.

This tournament gave the Golden Eagles a unique opportunity to test their skills against some of the great teams outside of Virginia. In a massive stadium with over 83 teams in attendance it also gave the wrestlers an early feel for the big stage and a championship level atmosphere.

“Thats when we knew what we truly had,” Fike said. “We knew we might have something special.”

Out of 83 teams the Golden Eagles finished seventh, far exceeding their own expectations.

Seeing tough competition up close and personal was a big advantage for the team, but it was not an easy one. It came with some bumps and bruises.

“I had times during the season where I wondered if I was making the right decision,” Fike said.

The kids were taking loses and Fike could start to see them getting down on themselves. He, along with senior leadership, encouraged the team and emphasized that this hard stretch will pay off.

In late January the team began to reap what they had sowed. The tough losses and difficult stretches were beginning to pay off.

A tournament in Virginia Beach and Ocean Lakes turned out to be the catalyst for that shift. Some of the biggest schools in Virginia were at the tournament, mostly 5A and 6A. As the only 3A school there it would have been easy for the Golden Eagles to succumb to the pressure; instead they looked past it.

When the wrestlers realized they are just as good as some of the biggest schools in the state they truly started to click.

When Regionals came around the team was ready.

“Man this tournament is small compared to where we’ve been this year,” the team collectively told Fike. It comes as no surprise that the team performed the way they did at Regionals and went on to break school records at States.

“The process paid off in the end,” Fike said. His risk was worth it.

Wrestling has become the most recent sport at Staunton River to have high-level success at the biggest stage. Fike’s top goal was to get as many wrestlers to the State Tournament as possible.

“We talked all year, our goal is February,” Fike said. “For it to pay off the way it did. Five guys place and four in the finals. It was great to see.”

Smith Mountain Lake Wrestling (SMLW) is the next generation of Golden Eagles. SMLW practiced immediately after the Golden Eagles which gave the younger kids an opportunity to see what it takes to be successful.

With over 40 kids–and growing–involved in SMLW the ground work has been set for the next generation of the Staunton River Wrestling program moving forward.