Robinson wrestler John Epperly just wants to wrestle the best he can.
So far, Epperly's best consists of three Virginia Class AAA Northern District championships, three Northern Region titles and two state championships.
This summer, he competed for the Virginia state team and placed second out of 94 competitors in the Junior Nationals at Cedar Falls, Iowa, the first wrestler from Northern Virginia to make the finals. In three years of competition, he has three losses.
And he still has a year to go.
"I'd like to be successful my senior year," said Epperly. "All I do is the best I can and I get satisfaction out of that."
Epperly is as comfortable talking in his living room in Fairfax as he is on the wrestling mat. After all, he grew up near his high school, where his father, also named John, has been coaching wrestling for 14 years.
"When he was a little tyke he used to come to the practices and sit on the bench," said John Epperly Sr. "I didn't push him to wrestle but when he said he liked it and wanted to compete I was very pleased."
John Jr. started wrestling when he was 9 years old and by his freshman year in high school he was the state varisty champion at 105 pounds.
His sophomore year he moved up to 112 pounds and won the district, region, and state titles. Last season, he swept through the district and region at 119, but finished a dissapointing sixth in the state tournament.
This year he is moving up to 126 and feels comfortable at that weight class even though he's not sure who his competition will be. Epperly's stiffest test in the region last year came from James McCardle of West Springfield, who he defeated in the district and region finals.
Coach Epperly also has high expectations for this season. Even though Robinson lost all-Met performers Greg Vandevender and Tom Michaud, the Rams have eight veterans returning. In addition to Epperly Jr., Robinson will be led by seniors Jeff Davis at 132 pounds, John Kainer, 112, and Eric Ritari, 119.
"We didn't really lose a lot this year but next year will be a real big blow," said Coach Epperly.
Every year Epperly finds some way of dealing with a big blow. In his 14 years at Robinson, he has a varsity dual-meet record of 122-19-1, and a junior varsity record of 125-4.
Despite Robinson's returning stars and Epperly's outstanding record, Fort Hunt Coach Steve Foglio boasts that he has the best team in the Northern Region.
"I think this will be the best team ever at Fort Hunt," said Foglio, who led his team to the Gunston District title last year. "We have five finalists returning and nine starters. Even though we graduated four starters last year, the replacements are just as strong, if not stronger."
Fort Hunt's top returner is 167-pound Eric Lindsey. Lindsey injured his knee at the beginning of practice but Foglio doesn't think that will stop him from improving on last year's results; first in the district, second in the Northern Region and third in the state.
Foglio's other top returners are: Lee Poythress (145), first in the district, fourth in the region and sixth in the state; Sean Dooley (132), a district finalist the last three years; Doug Perry (119), who won the district two years ago but missed most of last year with an injury; Jay Dell (112), district winner last season; and Mike Cunningham (145), who advanced to the district finals before breaking his arm.
Steve's brother, Dan, who coaches at Marshall, last year's Great Falls District winner, doesn't have the same enthusiasm about this season but is hopeful. The Statesman lost nine of 13 starters but Foglio said this is a replacing year, not a rebuilding year.
Among Marshall's returners are district runner-ups, Tim House (105) and Carlos Gavita (167). Foglio is also high on Roland Chartier, who at 176, missed most of last year with an injury. "Look for him to be the man to beat at 176," Foglio said.
It's not often that a coach has a junior varsity wrestler one year, and a state varsity champion the next. But that's what Anthony Orlando did for W.T. Woodson Coach Paul Labazzetta. A junior varsity wrestler only two years ago, Orlando dominated the 98-pound class last season, compiling a 26-1 record on his way to the Northern District, Northern Region and state championships.
"We always hope that a state champ will come back to repeat," Labazzetta said. "Anthony is moving up to 105 this year but with his hard work and dedication he should be one of the best."
Labazzetta is also looking for a solid performance from 138-pound Karl Kronlage, second in the district and fifth in the region.