By Christian Olanowski for VirginiaWrestling.com
This weekend, individuals across seven divisions will duke it out for an opportunity to win a Virginia State Wrestling title - but only 98 will reach the top of the podium and leave satisfied. There’s an incredible amount to be excited for this weekend: team titles on the line, original celebrations, and for few, a shot at history.
As we move from four venues on Friday down to two gyms on Saturday, I give you a cheat sheet of things to look keep an eye on in Roanoke and Northern Virginia.
After this weekend, the trio of Evan Buchanan, Brandon Morales, and Brandon Wittenberg could potentially combine for ten state titles. If these three were in the three-classification system that was in place prior to 2014, they’d all be in the same bracket together.
Perhaps one of the few benefits of having seven classifications is watching seven different storylines unfold, and that goes for the team race, too. I genuinely enjoy putting each team race under a microscope and following how small moments change the way athletes perform under pressure. Last year, Eastern View won nine matches in the consolation rounds on day two to claim the 4A team title. They’ll look to repeat again this weekend.
St. Christopher's and Benedictine combined for eight All-Americans at last year’s National Prep Championships. The Saints edged the Cadets by criteria just a few weeks ago. But, first-year coach, David Yost’s Cadets are looking to flip that result this weekend and claim their first VISAA team title since 2017.
7.1 miles - The distance Cave Spring’s two-time state champion Kip Nininger will have to travel to the Salem Civic Center to win his third state title. Nininger edged Brentville’s Zoitos Carayiannis in last year’s state finals, but he’ll have to knock off New Kent’s freshman sensation, Nick Vafiadis, to avoid an All-Greek final at 132 pounds (3A).
Six young men have the opportunity to write their own page in the Virginia history books this weekend. Connor Alexander, Jonathan Birchmeier, Brandon Morales, Gabe Fiser, Jackson Turley, and Brandon Wittenberg are all going for their fourth state title. Since none of them will be competing against each other - best of luck to you all, gents!
After this weekend, Jonathan Birchmeier could have five state championship rings: four in wrestling and one in cheerleading. The Broad Run senior and Naval Academy commit led his high school cheerleading team to a title after electing to forgo his senior season in football.
The 3A team race will be the one people are watching the closest. Christiansburg is looking to win its 18th straight state title, but New Kent’s posse of freshman are looking to upend the Blue Demons and claim 3A supremacy. Arguably, this will be Christiansburg’s toughest road to a state title in almost two centuries.
Oscar Smith’s Isaac Hudson and Tristan Plant were both returning state place winners who had their senior seasons cut short due to injury. With both of them bringing back team points to the 6A team race from last year, Oscar Smith would have had a fighting chance at winning a team title. Without those two, Robinson will look to defend its home gym against Virginia Duals Champion, Kellam, and defending 6A State Champion, Battlefield.
Closing, since falling in love with the sport of wrestling at the age of six, I’ve been to the Virginia State Wrestling championships all but one year. Having roots at the Beach, I always get excited to watch the best the Commonwealth has to offer come together to compete.
My favorite part of the postseason is watching all the young athletes throw up the “double-number ones” after winning a state title. Watching these celebrations and seeing the raw emotion of someone who has put everything into reach the top of the podium is priceless. A great celebration is not forgotten and I look forward to seeing some that I’ll never forget.
All action begins Friday, February 25th with 1, 2, and 3A being held at the Salem Civic Center. 4A will begin at Riverside, 5A will be held at Rock Ridge, and 6A will be held at Robinson on Friday. On day two, 4, 5 and 6A will come together for the semifinals, finals and medal rounds at Robinson High School.
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