Gar-Field watched Woodbridge use depth last year to dominate Commonwealth District wrestling on the way to the district championship. But this year a rash of injuries to Woodbridge has turned the district race into an interesting one, and has put Gar-Field in the favorite's role.

The Indians finished third in the district tournament a year as Woodbridge qualified 11 of its wrestlers for regionals, with nine going to state competition. But this year Gar-Field's depth gives it a good chance to win its first title since 1984.

Gar-Field placed second in the six-team George Marshall Christmas tournament for the second year. Kevin Haller (98 pounds) and Kuan Sragaow (119) won individual titles and four other wrestlers, Greg Simcic (185), Kenny Kerr (145), Danny Short (138), and Butch Eicher (132) finished second. The Indians' total of 154.5 points was four short of Marshall, but the fact that 10 of the 13 wrestlers finished fourth or higher was a cause for optimism entering the last seven dual meets before the district tournament.

"The only thing we don't have is tournament experience in the big matches," eighth-year Coach Tommy Legge said. "That's why it was important for us to do as well as we did, and that's why Christmas tournaments are so valuable.

Legge refuses to accept the role of favorite in a district where Woodbridge, Stonewall Jackson, Stafford, James Wood and Gar-Field are regarded as being in the top half, while the other five teams (North Stafford, Courtland, Fauquier, Osbourn Park, and Potomac) have some outstanding wrestlers in many weight classes.

"We expected to do much better than we did last year (at the district tournament)," Legge said. "But in a 10-team district only four wrestlers qualify for regionals, which makes it much tougher competition."

Woodbridge Coach Richard Hilleary expected better things from his squad, but two early season injuries and two wrestlers not returning for personal reasons put a hole in the teams' depth. Two defending champions, Jason Stevens (138) and Raleigh Harsley (119), are not on this year's squad because of personal reasons. Another district champion: sophomore David Dutrow, a state qualifier as a freshman at 98 pounds is injured. Bill Radford (176), who was undefeated last year in junior varsity competition, might be lost for the season because of injuries. A recent injury to 132-pounder Sean Moistner has also set the Vikings back.

Woodbridge placed third in the St. Stephen's tournament last week in Alexandria with five wrestlers reaching the finals and four capturing titles, but the depth of the team is not there this year.

"I've been around long enough not to realize that things can change in a hurry," Hilleary said. "I thought we'd be in a good shape coming into the season, but injuries can change things so quickly.

The injuries have forced inexperienced wrestlers in at weight classes, which Hilleary says "are full of strong experienced wrestlers from the district." But the coach thinks once his younger wrestlers gain experience, his team will be all right. He still has outstanding wrestlers including Shannon Hazzard (126), A.J. Johnson (167), Ben Ramirez (185), and Reggie Mincey (unlimited).

Woodbridge's injuries have put Gar-Field's squad in a much better frame of mind.

"Last year I felt we'd do all right," Haller said. "But you feel more confident if you're not the underdog the whole way. I think we have a good shot at winning the district this year."

But Gar-Field realizes it must stay healthy to take advantage of its depth. A year ago the Indians lost Simcic, who was 17-1 before a broken jaw ended his season just before the district tournament.

"We're better than last year," Legge said. "We don't have as many guys who have placed in big tournaments, but we have pretty good team balance -- we don't have a weight which is real weak. We're going to have to use that to our advantage."

Mike Revels (105), Reecy Rawlinson (155), John Joseph (176), and Glen Baucom (unlimited), who all finished in the top four in the Marshall tournament, give the Indians the team depth its needs for its drive to the district tournament.

But Legge isn't looking ahead -- he just wants his wrestlers to peak at the right time.

"We are not a shoo-in," said Legge, whose team has recorded dual meet victories over Potomac and Fauquier. "I don't think of us being a favorite because its such a big district and 10 wrestlers are in each class. We just want to be more competitive at the tournament level. Getting the kids to peak at the right time is what we want to do. In tournaments kids have to get up for two or three big matches instead of just one (in dual meets)."