Their first meeting was a thriller, with New Kent edging Poquoson 36-32 for the Bay Rivers District wrestling title. Zach Rodriguez used a late reversal roll and pin in the deciding match to clinch the crown for the Trojans in front of a large and noisy crowd at Poquoson.
The rematch was even closer, a 250-to-248.5 win by Poquoson in the Colonial Rivers Conference 25 tournament at New Kent. Trojans fans left their gym disappointed at not getting a couple of back (near-fall) points in a match that might have given them an extra individual title and the team crown.
They have since eagerly awaited Round 3 with Poquoson and waited … and waited. The Group 3A East Region tournament, postponed to Friday and then Saturday because of snow in Northern Virginia, will now begin at 10 a.m. Sunday at John Champe High in Loudoun County and conclude with the finals at 1 p.m. Monday.
And while Skyline, Brentsville and perhaps Manassas Park might all contend for the championship, the regional very well could be the latest chapter in a saga between Poquoson and New Kent that ends with one or the other hoisting the 3A state championship trophy in Salem next Saturday.
“We didn’t anticipate winning the conference tournament, but losing to New Kent (in the dual meet) gave the kids more drive,” Poquoson coach Eric Decker said. “We had our two best practices in the days before the conference tournament and three better practices than that since.
“The kids are much more aggressive and physical and preparing to compete well.”
New Kent coach Mike Faus said, “We want to get as many kids through (in the top four places of) the regional tournament. That’s key for setting us up for states next week.”
Perennial state champion Christiansburg will have more say in the big show than either local team would like. But Decker and Faus think the Roanoke-area school is more vulnerable than in the past, with two to four individual state champions on the roster but not the program’s usual depth to back them up.
If true, and if Cave Spring doesn’t steal their thunder, Poquoson and New Kent will seek the elusive state title in different ways. Decker boasts a roster with one odds-on individual state favorite in 182-pounder Ross Graham (35-0 this season) and three strong regional and state title contenders in Hunter Wright (106 pounds), Riley Howell (195) and Trent Graham (220).
In 138-pounder B.C. Laprade, New Kent has a wrestler many expect to snare regional and state gold. Faus lists three others — Blake Hohman (145), Zach Edmonds (170) and Rodriguez (heavyweight) — as potential state contenders, although winning state gold will be a huge challenge.
Instead, the Trojans’ road to regional and state titles might be to accumulate points in many weight classes.
“Depth gets you states,” Faus said. “Hopefully you get a lot of thirds and fourths and win states in the wrestlebacks.”
So the key for the Trojans this weekend is getting as many wrestlers as possible in the top four of their classes and into state. In addition to the aforementioned quartet, Duncan Johns (106), Jackson Gray (113), Bryson Mitchell (120), Zac Perkins (126), James Giffin (152) and Wilson Gregory (220) have a good shot at qualifying for Salem.
Gray, Perkins and Giffin won conference titles. Should Ryan Griffin (182) and John Elswick (195) qualify for the state tourney, New Kent’s title hopes improve even more.
Looking to join Poquoson’s top four wrestlers in the state tournament are Keelan Moore (120), Trevor Dunagan (132), Kyle Poultney (145) and Will Leary (heavyweight). Dunagan and Poultney were conference champions, with Poultney edging Hohman 3-1 in the title bout — in a match the Trojans felt they should’ve been awarded what would’ve been two key back points.
Decker hopes Hunter Darouse (113), Chase Lynch (126), Brandon Steffens (170) and Alec Bleeker (152) can get out of the regional and add to the Islanders’ depth at the state tourney. He acknowledges, though, that the closer the Islanders get to those four individual state titles, the better their team championship hopes are.
“The tougher the tournament, the better we’ll be,” Decker said.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963
3A EAST REGION WRESTLING TOURNAMENT
WHEN: Sunday and Monday.
WHERE: John Champe High in Loudoun County.
NOTEWORTHY: The first round is at 10 a.m. and the second round at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday. Semifinals are at 8 a.m. Monday, with the finals at 1 p.m.