By Marty Gordon
The Blue Demon wrestling program is gaining steam as it starts the 2019 season with hopes of regaining state dominance. This past week, the high school team finished second at the Lake Norman (N.C.) Duals which included some of the top teams on the East Coast.
The Blue Demons finished 4-1, losing only to defending West Virginia’s AA state champions, Point Pleasant.
Coach Cliff Warden said most of his Blue Demons wrestled hard, but others didn’t save bonus points. “We won only four matches and lost a couple of close ones. That and when you give up pins, that’s -6 team points in right out of 10 losses you’re gonna lose,” he said
Point Pleasant returned three state champs, two runners- up and four other place winners from last year’s team.
“I’m eager to face those guys again January 4, and our guys will close the gap if not win. Having Brandon Crowder and Kip Nininger in part two of this battle will help a lot,” Warden said.
Both of the latter mentioned wrestlers did not participate in the Lake Norman competition.
At the Lake Normal meet, 182-lb. Nate Warden and 195-lb. Carder Miller both had five pins on the day. Dawson Gragg also recorded five wins. Luke Robie, Garrett Kuchan, Will Hutchison and Jake Baier, all collected four wins each on the day.
Warden was named the Lake Norman Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Next on the schedule, 11 of the CHS varsity guys will travel to Akro, Ohio, for the Ironman Tournament listed as the nation’s toughest in-season wrestling tournament.
In another wrestling-related item, Auburn High School has a new wrestling coach. He is Joey Thacker, who has been an assistant with the program since 2016. Jeff Carter started the Auburn program, but he stepped down last year and passed away suddenly last month.
Before moving to this area, Thacker was an assistant with Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton where he had wrestled as a student.
“I have been fortunate to coach under two of the most knowledgeable head wrestling coaches I’ve ever seen. In Staunton, I coached under Kent Nagy, who is now a coach in Northern Virginia. When I moved down here, I was so fortunate to work with Coach Carter. He was definitely the best youth wrestling mind I have ever met. He knew so much about the sport,” Thacker said.
The Auburn program will also have another familiar face on the sidelines this season as former wrestler Tristan Perry will serve as an assistant coach.
Thacker still describes the Auburn program as being “new.”
“That being said, this season has been great so far. The kids have taken to the transition of coaches very well,” the new boss said. “My thought process is to take what we were fortunate to learn from Carter and put a few spins on it. We have a few pretty good wrestlers and I hope that we have a few from our team make the state tournament. We have a small team, so I doubt we will win any team tournaments, but I feel like the kids that we do have will do very well this year.”
For Thacker and his Auburn wrestlers, the goal is to build a program that is successful year after year. “If we can have pretty good success with eight kids, imagine what Auburn could be with a full team,” Thacker concluded.
Virginia Elite Wrestling, based in Christiansburg, continues to show a lot of success in its youth program. Twenty seven of its wrestlers (K-8) went to the Cougar Classic in Concord, N.C., and brought home lots of bling: 13 Hammers for first place, five second-place medals, six third-place medals and three fourth places.
Hammer Winners were Carter Hudson, Randy Winnans, Takoda Parker, Zach Hudson, Stephen Bolen (two), Derek Bush, John Wesley Bolen (two), Jake Robie, Braden Henderson, Jackson Crowder and Chase Miller.
At the John Battle on the Hill Tournament in Bristol, successful Elite wrestlers included Jackson Crowder, Zach Hudson and Evan Mefford (all first); Jack Jones (third) and Randy Winnans (fourth).
Noah Dixon also placed third at the Central Virginia Youth Wrestling Association season opener.
Chase Miller was also first in 12U and second in the high school 113-lb. bracket at The Bear Invitational in Gatlinburg, Tenn.