Of the 13 area Bay Rivers District wrestlers who qualified for state-tournament competition last year, 11 of them brought home medals by placing in the top six.
Many more from annual powerhouses Smithfield, Poquoson and New Kent earned state medals as the BRD showed strength in numbers despite having only one wrestler — Poquoson’s Ross Graham (182 lbs) — win a state championship.
That could change this winter, as the district returns six wrestlers who medaled at states last year.
Team-wise, Jamestown and Tabb both appear to be the strongest with a pair of returning state medalists and arguably the two best wrestlers in the area returning in sophomore Caden Darber (Jamestown) and Bailey Hicks (Tabb).
Below, we offer a quick look at the some of the names on each local team to keep an eye on this winter.
Head coach: Kyle Cowles
Jacquille Fyffe-Blair, senior, 220 pounds
Competing at 220 pounds last year, Fyffe-Blair finished the season 14-4, won his weight class at a Nottoway tournament and placed second at the annual Ram Cup. He gave up his spot at last year’s conference match to allow a senior the chance to compete. Bruton coach Kyle Cowles likes his chances of placing high at regionals and competing for a state medal.
Ian Gruver, junior, 160 pounds
Before a concussion ended his season shy of the conference match, Gruver was 21-5 on the season, won the 160-pound division at an invitational at Nottoway High and placed fourth at the Ram Cup. The junior is poised to compete for a conference title and earn a state berth at regionals.
Head coach: Justin Cooper
Brian Dicesare, senior, 145 pounds
First-year coach Justin Cooper believes Dicesare, the reigning Conference 19 runner-up, has tackled the mental aspect of wrestling and believes the senior will improve upon last year’s eighth-place showing at the 4A state match.
Austin Graham, sophomore, 106 pounds
Nicknamed “the mechanic” for the way he takes a person apart on the mat, Graham’s coach calls him a technician for the way he hits on all his moves. The sophomore wrestled in middle school but took last year off, so inexperience is a concern.
Head coach: Richard Pennycuff
Caden Darber, sophomore, 126 pounds
Many area coaches think Darber is the best wrestler in the district. As a freshman last year, Darber placed runner-up at the 4A state match in the 126-pound division after winning 4A South Region and Conference 19 titles. Labeled a “hammer” by his coach for the way he attacks opponents from start to finish, Darber won both the Virginia Wrestling Association’s Greco (Olympic style) and Freestyle state championships over the summer.
Xane Austin, senior, 120 pounds
A technical wrestler who’s been in the sport since he could walk, Austin was the 4A South and Conference 19 champion at 120 pounds last year. Instead of putting his opponents into the mat early, Austin has no problem winning matches 2-1.
David Matthews, senior, 138 pounds
A four-year starter who has qualified for regionals each of the past three seasons, Matthews gave up football to concentrate on wrestling and has been working relentlessly during the offseason. Matthews provides Jamestown with another technical wrestler with a high motor in the 138-pound weight class.
Zachary Pennycuff, sophomore, 170 pounds
Pennycuff was undefeated last year before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. He had surgery in October and will sit out the first few weeks of the season, but should return in January and should give compete for a 170-pound region title and state berth.
Head coach: Chris Wiatt
Tyler Shaw, senior, 126 pounds
Shaw was 80 pounds when he started wrestling, so toughness was an attribute he learned quickly having to compete against opponents 20 pounds heavier than him. Rams coach Chris Wiatt says that toughness should help Shaw, who placed third at the Conference 25 match last year, place at regionals this year and earn his first trip to states.
Griffin Hurt, junior, 160 pounds
A leader and role model off the mat, Hurt’s raw athletic ability helped him qualify for regionals last year after placing third in Conference 25.
Head coach: Doug Roper
Bailey Hicks, senior, 152 pounds
One of the best returning wrestlers in the area, Hicks, also a standout on the Tigers’ football team this fall, will move up to compete in the 152-pound weight class year after placing third in the state at 145 pounds last year. Hicks will be a favorite to win both the Conference 19 and 4A South Region titles.
Robbie Wiscarson, senior, 285 pounds
Wiscarson should be one of the top heavyweights in the area this winter after placing third at conference before falling in the consolation round of regionals last year.
Zach Andrews, senior, 138 pounds
Andrews quietly had a strong season last year in the shadows of Hicks and 2014 graduate Hunter Starner, who both placed at the 4A state meet. Andrews himself finished seventh at states, and Tabb coach Doug Roper foresees steady improvement this winter.
Head coach: Scott Lish
Trey Drummond, sophomore, 106
Drummond broke on to the scene last year as one of the area’s brightest young stars. The only freshman to qualify for states, Drummond medaled with a sixth-place finish at the 3A competition after placing third at conference and fourth at regionals and should be one of the best lightweight scrappers in the state this season.
Head coach: Ryan Vottero
Matt Wakelyn, junior, 152 pounds
Just like his older brother Marcus, a state-qualifier last year, Matt Wakelyn is an aggressive wrestler on the mat and a hard worker off it. A regional qualifier last year, Wakelyn should contend for the Colonial Rivers Conference 25 title this season.
Mitchell Hamilton, sophomore, 132 pounds
As a freshman last season, Hamilton was placed third at the Colonial Rivers Conference 25 match. Vottero calls him a flexible, natural athlete with a hunger to learn.