Clarke’s Wallace, Huff win Group A titles
SALEM — Clarke County junior Ben Wallace has seen it all since his family moved from Pennsylvania to Berryville for the 2009-10 school year.
In 2010, Wallace watched his older brother Robert lose his Group A state final in overtime, and he watched Robert’s Clarke County teammate Logan Large lose his state final to an opponent he had previously beaten.
In 2011, it was Large who lost a state final in overtime, and it was the Eagles’ Tommy Cleary who never got the chance after being disqualified for a controversial excessive force call in the quarterfinals.
Last year, Clarke County’s Joe Nappi had to default his finals match 39 seconds in after reinjuring the knee in which he had suffered anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament injuries to.
So when Wallace became the first of two Eagles to end Clarke County’s eight-year individual title drought at Saturday’s Group A Wrestling Championships, the 170-pounder wasn’t just thinking about himself.
“We should have had a lot more state champs [between 2005 and now],” said Wallace, who defeated John I. Burton‘s Logan Dean 9-4 in the final. “ I guess I just got lucky enough to be the first one [since 2005].”
It was a lot more than luck that made Wallace — who spoke prior to junior teammate Ryan Huff’s title win by fall in two minutes, 33 seconds at 285 over Castlewood’s Danny Cook — and Huff Clarke County’s first two state champions since Cooper Anderson won at 171 pounds in 2005.
“It’s fantastic that these guys can have that success at the highest level,” said Clarke County coach Jon VanSice, whose team placed seventh in Group A for its best showing since taking fifth in 2010. “Only they know how much work and effort they put in every day, throughout the season and the offseason, and to see it rewarded like this … it’s a reward they’ve definitely earned. It’s very gratifying for them, and I’m completely happy to see them have success like that.”
Grundy defended its team title with 143 points, 15 more than second-place Strasburg (128). Clarke County — which also had its third state qualifier, Brandon Hutchinson (21-14) place fifth at 132 pounds — scored 67.5 points.
Wallace — the Region B and Bull Run District Wrestler of the Year — was tied 2-2 with Dean halfway through the first period, but he got a critical reversal with 41 seconds left to take a 4-2 lead into the second period.
“That was a tough reversal,” VanSice said. “I told [assistant coach Rob Osuch] that there’s not another kid on this team that would get that reversal. He just gutted it out and came through on that.
“That was a big momentum-changer. If he doesn’t get that, he’s on his back, they’re counting out points, and we’re down a fair amount right there. But he got it, and the crowd went crazy.”
Wallace then kept the momentum moving into the second, getting three near-fall points after cradling Dean’s arm and leg to take a 7-2 lead.
Dean (53-3) would rally to 7-4 before Wallace scored a takedown in the final seconds, but VanSice was never really concerned once Wallace hit that cradle.
After winning, Wallace didn’t show much emotion until breaking into a smile upon going over to the coaching staff.
“I had great practice partners and great coaches,” said Wallace (47-2), who placed seventh at 160 pounds last year and eighth at 145 as a freshman. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more, and they helped me win it.”
Though Wallace took control early, Huff (48-1) was down 2-0 after one period to Cook (33-8). Then, about 20 seconds into the period, they both tumbled to the mat, and for a split second in looked like Cook might get on top.
Instead, Huff got control, cradled Cook’s head, and with the crowd roaring he completed the pin with 1:27 on the second-period clock.
“I just had to get up off of my toes,” Huff said. “[Cook’s momentum] was going a little forward, and I just kept rolling with it and put him on his back.”
A pumped-up Huff jumped up immediately off the mat, completing an impressive ascension that saw him go from JV wrestler to state champion in one season.
“We go to coach’s house to practice over the summer, and [Osuch’s there], and during practice he pushes us harder than most other teams do,” Huff said. “That helped me a lot.”
VanSice said that roll in the second period could have gone either way, but he also saw that Huff’s anticipation of that roll would give him an edge. It did, and it made him champion.
“What a transformation from last year to this year,” VanSice said. “He did a super job.”
VanSice said the two championships are definitely a big deal for the school.
“When you’ve got two of your teammates who are in the room who have stood on top of that podium, and you don’t even compete in the tournament, that’s got to fire them up a little bit and make them work harder to achieve some level of success,” VanSice said.
VanSice was also impressed with Hutchinson, who lost his semifinal to eventual state champion Kent Cadle of Strasburg by technical fall but won his final match of the tournament to take fifth in his first state tournament. Hutchinson beat a regional champion in the first round.
“He had a good strong tournament,” VanSice said. “He saved his best for last.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.com
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