Sherando captures Region 4D wrestling title

ORANGE — The Sherando wrestling team beat Orange County in a dual and finisher higher than the Hornets in Orange County’s own tournament during the regular season.

On Saturday, the Warriors completed a special trifecta by wresting control of Region 4D from the Hornets in their own arena.

In its first postseason tournament since moving to Region 4D, Sherando captured Saturday’s 15-school regional tournament at the Hornet Sports Center with 220.5 points, 22.5 more than runner-up Orange County’s 198.

The Hornets brought back eight starters and seven state qualifiers from last year’s team that won its second straight Region 4D title and placed third in Class 4, but the Warriors’ complete team effort won the day.

Sherando — which last won a region title in 2022 in Region 4C — had two regional champions in junior Anthony Lucchiani (138 pounds) and senior Zane Jenkins (157), nine people qualify for the Class 4 state tournament by placing in the top four, two others wrestlers place fifth, and saw all 14 of its wrestlers win at least one match.

“[Orange County] is a good team,” said Sherando coach Brian Kibler after the Warriors posed with their championship trophy. “I thought they would perform well, and they did. We just had enough depth to take them. For the most part, we wrestled to our potential.”

The Warriors — who brought back three people from their 2023 regional runner-up team who qualified for last year’s state tournament — will send two more people than last year to the Virginia Beach Sports Center for this year’s Class 4 tournament, which will take place Feb. 16-17.

All four Winchester-Frederick County schools had more state qualifiers this year than last year in Region 4C, and all of them had top-five team finishes on Saturday. James Wood (six state qualifiers, including 150-pound regional champion James Battulga) took third with 153 points; Handley (four qualifiers, including 175-pound champion Thomas Thorpe) placed fourth with 153 points; and Millbrook (five qualifiers, including 285-pound champion Ezra Doyle-Naegeli) was fifth with 141.

Lucchiani — a junior three-time regional champion who is going for his third state title — and the first-time state qualifier Jenkins both gave a lot of credit to Sherando’s coaching staff for helping the team perform at a high level.

“Coach Kibler pushes us in practice, makes us work hard,” Lucchiani said. “He puts us in situations to where we feel like we’re in an actual match and we actually have to do mat-IQ things to win a match rather than just wrestle. You’ve got to be quick and agile with your mind as well. We came in very confident and we got what we wanted.”

Jenkins also praised the team’s performance.

“It definitely helps having Coach Kibler and [assistant] Coach [Jim] Straight pushing us in the room,” Jenkins said. “Those guys are great. The team helped me a lot to get this far, but I’m definitely thankful for the coaches for helping me do everything I accomplished today.”

Jenkins (26-12 record) achieved plenty on Saturday, and he did so in dramatic fashion.

After a first-round bye and a 9-4 quarterfinal win, Jenkins took a 4-3 lead in the semifinals against Landon Funderburk of Mecklenburg on a takedown with 27 seconds left. Funderburk got an escape with eight seconds left to tie the match at 4, but Jenkins came back with a takedown just before the final buzzer to win it.

Jenkins started the championship match against Charlottesville’s Taher Amon well, recording two takedowns and a 4-1 lead in the first period. But after riding Amon from the top position for almost the entire second period, he got reversed with six seconds left and found himself on his back as Charlottesville’s wrestlers, coaches and fans began screaming in hopes of a pin. Amon couldn’t get it, though, and he had to settle for a 6-4 lead heading into the third period after picking up three near fall points.

“The only thing that was going through my head was getting that region title,” Jenkins said. “I wanted it so bad and I knew what I had to do, and I fought off my back.”

With new life, Jenkins went out and dominated the third period. A penalty point and escape tied the match at 6-6 18 seconds in, Jenkins had a takedown 23 seconds in, then earned three near fall points 29 seconds in for an 11-6 lead. Jenkins continued to maintain control, and with 50 seconds left the ref slammed his hand down for a pin.

“I thought it was the best wrestling I’ve done almost all year,” Jenkins said. “My mentality going into matches is a lot better than last year, and my diet is going really well. I feel like if you have a good body and a good mind, you can win any matches, really.”

Kibler was glad to see Jenkins persevere to get successful results on Saturday.

“That guy right there is a program guy,” he said. “I’m not sure if he wrestled before he came to Sherando or not, but he’s region champ now.”

Jenkins’ path to a region title had plenty of suspense, but Lucchiani’s title run was predictably dominant. He spent less than three total minutes on the mat in winning his four matches, with each pin coming faster than the previous one — 1:04, 0:57, 0:29 and 0:28. Lucchiani (42-4) pinned Handley junior Hayden Thompson in the championship match, cradling Thompson’s head, left leg and left arm to secure the pin.

“I feel great,” Lucchiani said. “I feel like I’m unstoppable right now. I’m training very, very hard, and I’m getting the best that I can out of practice and eating healthy.”

Sherando had three wrestlers fall in the finals. Senior Zachary Hayes (pins in his two wins on Saturday) led 4-1 62 seconds into his 144 championship match with Charlottesville’s Walter Pilkey. But Pilkey settled in to tie the match at 4-4 after two periods, took Hayes down 22 seconds into the third period, then pinned him with 1:12 left in the match. Senior Jake Dann, another returning state qualifier, had a pin and a 13-0 major decision before losing 11-3 to Liberty’s Noah Hall in the championship match.

The Warriors’ Carter Straight (two pins in his two wins Saturday) went through an unusual path in falling 10-6 to fellow freshman Tharin Svetanant in the 126-pound title match.

Svetanant scored the opening point on a locked hands penalty on Straight with 1:02 left in the second period, but a flurry of activity in the last 24 seconds resulted in points being put up, taken off and put back up on the scoreboard to both wrestlers.

The scoreboard read 4-3 in favor of Straight at the end of the period, and 6-3 Straight after a reversal with 1:26 left in the match and when the match was stopped with 30 seconds left. But during that latter stoppage Blacksburg’s coach questioned the score. He said Svetenant should have two more points for a near fall in the second period.

After a lengthy delay which involved a few refs discussing the matter, Svetenant was credited with the two second period near fall points. Svetenant took advantage, getting a reversal with 13 seconds left and being awarded three near fall points at the end.

It was a tough way to end the tournament for Straight, but Kibler thought he performed well.

“[Svetenant] is considered one of the top guys in the state, and [Straight is] right there with him and Woodgrove, who also has a guy considered one of the best in the state,” Kibler said. “He just has to take this in stride and know he’s right there with those guys.”

Other state qualifiers for Sherando are sophomore Calden Sommerfeld (third at 215, 3-1 with two pins); sophomore Kaden Frock (fourth at 106, 3-2 with two pins); junior Damien Costello (fourth at 113, 4-2 with a fall and tech fall); and junior Judson Dean (fourth at 190, 2-2).

Sommerfeld was tied 2-2 with Handley’s Owen Jett with a state berth on the line but got a pin with 14 seconds left, then took third with a tiebreaking takedown with 25 seconds in a 3-1 win over Divine Lawson of E.C. Glass. Jett had pinned Sommefeld in a quad at Millbrook on Jan. 24. Dean got a tiebreaking takedown with 14 seconds left in a 3-1 win over James Wood’s Orion Cox to qualify for the state tournament.

Also for the Warriors, Colby Groce (2-2, two falls) placed fifth at 120 and Ben Taylor (2-2, one fall) placed fifth at 175.

A junior, James Wood’s Battulga (30-5) is the only area wrestler besides Lucchiani who won a title at last year’s Region 4C tournament to also win this year. Battulga won all three of his matches, winning by fall and tech fall before improving to 2-0 this year against Millbrook senior Julian Cusick with a pin in 1:55 in the 150 championship match.

Battulga previously beat Cusick by tech fall 15-0 at the Northwestern District tournament, and led 5-0 before his pin on Saturday.

“I felt I wrestled good today and dominated everyone,” Battulga said. “I went for a tilt, got back points early, then went for a half [Nelson] and then pinned him.”

Also for the Colonels, freshman Hayden Black (major decision and decision in his first two matches) lost 5-0 to Orange County’s Manley Nalls in the 106 final; and sophomore Max Mooney (tech fall and pin in his first two matches) fell 12-2 to the Hornets’ Justin Jones in the 120 final. Mooney is a returning state qualifier.

Other James Wood wrestlers heading to the state tournament (all first-time state qualifiers and all fourth place on Saturday) are junior Seth Merryman (132, 3-2, one pin), freshman Hayden Franks (2-2, one pin) and sophomore Sean Hodel (3-2, two pins).

James Wood coach Cory Crenshaw was pleased with how the Colonels performed. His three finalists matched their seeding, and he had some other wrestlers grind out state berths.

“Coming into a new regional like this, you don’t know what to expect,” Crenshaw said. “There’s some good kids here from the middle of the state and southern part of the state. Honestly, we weren’t looking at six [qualifiers]. Maybe on the alternate side. We were very happy with the way some of these guys performed today. We wrestled tough, stayed in matches, were able to secure the wins, get into that blood round, and advance.”

Also for the Colonels, Aiden Henry (4-2, three pins) placed fifth at 157, and Cox took sixth at 190.

Handley’s Thorpe (44-3), a sophomore, won his first two matches against Millbrook freshman William Potter by what he believed to be the scores of 11-0 and 9-4. But in Saturday’s 175-pound final, he was in serious danger of losing after Potter took a 4-3 lead with a reversal with 12 seconds left in the second period.

Potter was on top to start the third period, and he remained in that position until there were 6.4 seconds remaining. But Thorpe wound up scoring two points with Potter on top because Potter was hit with two penalties for locked hands. Potter had to let Thorpe go for an escape after falling behind 6-4, and Potter couldn’t get the takedown he needed to force overtime.

“He was breathing pretty fine, and his legs were good, but I could tell he was a little tired at the end,” Thorpe said. “Last year I got fourth [at 157 to qualify for states], and if you were to tell me next year I’d be regional champ I never would have believed it. I didn’t think I was at that caliber yet to be a regional champion.”

Thorpe said his offense has improved, he’s more explosive on the bottom, and he’s able to keep his opponents down longer from the top position.

“We haven’t really wrestled a close match with Potter, and when it got tough, [Thorpe] changed his game up and started competing harder and getting to his feet, and that put some added pressure on Potter,” Handley coach Troy Mezzatesta said. “It was nice that [Thorpe] stayed in it when the heat got turned up. He responded.”

A regional champion last year, senior Nick Baker (two falls in his first two matches Saturday) was pinned by Blacksburg’s Braden Henderson in 1:48 in the 132 final. Thompson (three pins in his other three matches Saturday) is also a returning state qualifier for the Judges.

Handley had two people qualify for states for the first time in freshman Jace Culotta (113; 3-1 with a pin and two major decisions) and senior Charlie Milam (5-1 with five pins at 144). Each placed third. Mezzatesta noted Milam, one of the team’s captains, missed all of December.

“I can’t say enough about Charlie Milam,” Mezzatesta said. “He’s had a rough season with some injuries. He’s really battled back and gotten better each week. I’m so proud of him. We lost Jace for the middle part of the season in January with an injury, and it’s great to see him do this as a freshman. I’m proud of the way our team performed.”

Mezzatesta said he felt bad for Jett (3-2 with two pins) for getting so close to beating Sommerfeld but falling late. Jett placed fifth at 215. Alex Sardelis (3-3, two pins) was sixth at 106 and Juan Garcia was sixth at 120.

Millbrook’s Doyle-Naegeli (36-8), a junior, is heading back to states after recording two decisions and a pin in his three wins on Saturday.

In the championship match against Salem’s Jackson Bryie, Doyle-Naegeli won 4-1, getting all of his points in the third period. Doyle-Naegeli got an escape with 1:24 left and Bryie was penalized for stalling with 0:43 left to put Doyle-Naegeli up 2-1. With Bryie needing a takedown, he took a late shot, but Doyle-Naegeli was prepared and got around Byrie’s back for a takedown with five seconds left.

Doyle-Naegeli wrestled at 215 last year. At 240 pounds this year he’s usually giving up weight to his opponents, but that comes with an advantage.

“[Heavyweights] tend to be a little bit slower, so the way I set my game is to be a little bit faster and quicker so I can outlast them in the end,” said Doyle-Naegeli, who placed third in the region at 215 last year while his team took ninth. “When it comes down to the third period, I can make my move. I felt confident coming in. I think me as well as the team were all ready today, and it showed. We’re all growing and becoming better wrestlers.”

“Ezra got it done,” Millbrook coach Jeff Holmes said. “I’m happy for him and proud of him.”

In addition to Cusick (a repeat state qualifier) and Potter, Millbrook will also have three other first-time state qualifiers who each placed third — junior Caden Cruz (3-1, two pins at 120); sophomore Alex Stubblefield (3-1, one pin at 132); and sophomore Tyler Kinsey (3-1, two pins at 165).

“Six [qualifiers] is great,” Holmes said. “Last year we had four. We didn’t have any finalists last year, and we had three this year. I’m really happy with the way we wrestled.”

Both Cruz (two near fall points awarded at the end of the match to beat Sherando’s Groce 4-2) and Kinsey (reversal with three seconds left to tie the match at 4-4, takedown 18 seconds into sudden victory overtime against Mecklenburg’s Luke Hammond) had clutch efforts late to secure state berths.

Cruz had lost to Groce previously and has an 18-19 record this year. Holmes said he spoke with Groce after he was pinned by Salem’s Kolynn Eastman in his first match of the day, and that appeared to spark him. Cruz won his next three matches and pinned Eastman for third place.

“Caden is a very good wrestler, and I don’t think he’s been getting the results he’s been hoping for,” Holmes said. “We talk all the time, and I’m like, ‘You’re right there.’ When you watch him, he knows the technique and knows what it takes, it just hasn’t been put together on the mat. We’re hoping this flipped the switch. I’m really proud of him.”

Also for Millbrook, Bryan Gomez (3-3, one pin) took sixth at 144.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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