The wrestling program at Robinson High School has been outstanding in the Northern District for 13 years. This season's squad is no exception.
Entering this weekend's district tournament at West Springfield, the Rams have six of the best wrestlers in the entire Northern Region, yet Coach John Epperly worries about retaining the district title.
"It's going to be tough to win this year," he said, "because it's a smaller tournament, in terms of the quality, than last year. W.T. Woodson can place as many kids in the finals as I can, and they are real strong in the upper weights. They will be a tough team to beat."
As difficult as Woodson, led by 105-pound Anthony Orlando (16-0), will be, Robinson still has six of the best wrestlers around. John Kainer at 112 pounds is 17-0, Eric Ritari, considered a top wrestler at 119, is 15-1-1. John Epperly Jr. (126), at 17-0, should have no problem advancing to the regionals, and Jeff Davis is undefeated at 132 pounds. Dave Bair is 16-2 at 155, and heavyweight Sam Roots is 17-0-1.
"I think our district tournament will be very competitive," Woodson Coach Paul Labazzetta said. "I even look for some surprises from other teams, but Robinson is still the team to beat."
In the Great Falls District, Marshall, which won last year's district tournament by 25 points over Yorktown, is in a strong position to repeat. Led by 145-pound Steve Chandler, undefeated in the district, and 180-pound Denis Constantino (14-1), Coach Dan Foglio says health is his only concern.
If we're healthy going into the tournament, we should win," Foglio said. "I feel more comfortable this year than I did last season."
Even though Marshall is favored to win its tournament this weekend, there should be some competitive matchups. The 105-pound final should match Marshall's Tim House (15-0-1) against Herndon's Franco Walter, undefeated in the district. The 112-pound final will probably have Marshall's Chris Athearn (14-2) going against Aaron Green of Yorktown. Athearn defeated Green, 6-5, in the regular season and Foglio feels this match will probably be the most exciting.
The Potomac District tournament at Falls Church should produce some entertaining matches. Jefferson, last year's winner, has a district dual meet record of 5-1. Fairfax is 4-1-1 and Annandale 4-2.
"There is a lot of parity in this district," Annandale Coach Dick Adams said.
The closest match will probably be in the 98-pound class. Fairfax's Chesty Frank (5-1) lost a 12-8 decision to Jimmy Hisham of Annandale (5-1) last week, and both should advance to the tournament final. Falls Church's Tom Cannody at 138 and Annandale's Chris Maslyn at 176 lead their weight classes in the district and should easily advance to the regionals.
The Gunston District tournament at Groveton has the best 167-pounder in the region, Eric Lindsey of Fort Hunt. He is undefeated in the district and should have little trouble reaching the states.
Fort Hunt, which won last year's tournament, cannot rely only on Lindsey for its points. Hayfield, Edison and Mount Vernon all have skilled wrestlers who can easily reach the finals. The 98-pound final will probably match Hayfield's John Watson against Russel Manuel of Mount Vernon. They met earlier in the season with Watson winning, 7-1.
Potomac, which won the Commonwealth District tournament last season by 35 points, will have a much tougher time this year. James Wood defeated Potomac in a dual meet earlier this year and sends two excellent wrestlers to the tournament. Last year's 145-pound district champion, Chuck Phares, will have his hands full with Stafford's Tim Early, whom he beat, 12-10, earlier in the season. James Wood's Brian Cather will probably advance to the finals, along with Mark Vowell of Potomac. They met earlier, Cather winning by 6-2.
But the best the Commonwealth District has to offer is 105-pound Keith Wilson of Stonewall Jackson, whom Jay Copp, coach at James Wood, calls in a class by himself. Wilson, 18-0 this year, won the district and regional titles last year at 98 pounds and came in third in the states.