In the third period of a Liberty District tournament match last year, Broad Run's Brian Smith found himself down a point and on his back with 12 seconds to go. In the blink of an eye, he nudged his head under his opponent's right arm, kicked his legs free and was back on his feet, the recipient of a decisive two-point reversal with seconds to go.
But he wasn't done.
"I saw the clock out of the corner of my eye, and I knew I still had time," Smith said.
Time, that is, to dominate. Smith went back at the opponent's right side, picked him up and slammed him to the mat, earning the pin before the final horn blared.
"This is a guy who refuses to give up any chance of a pin," Broad Run Coach Ed Steele said of the 135-pound junior. "He'll come up to me and say, 'Coach, what did I do wrong?' And this is after he dominates a guy. He's not satisfied with winning on points alone. He wants to pin every kid."
Twenty-five large gold safety pins adorn the right half of his varsity jacket, three of which he earned this season. Smith attaches one for each of his victims and hopes to surpass the single-season school record of 31 pins set last season by two-time All-Extra Wrestler of the Year Brandon Calderwood.
Whether or not he breaks that mark, Smith will be one of the dominant wrestlers in the Northwestern District this season, even if he reluctantly piles up victories on points. After a 35-9 record and a sixth-place finish last year in the Virginia AAA state tournament, Smith expects to contend for the state title, especially now that Broad Run has dropped from the AAA Liberty District to the AA Northwestern.
"I can never have a perfect match," said Smith, whose killer instinct on the mat belies his cheerful personality. "That's what keeps driving me. I could win like 15-1, but if I think I could get a pin, I'm going to be down on myself because I should have gotten it."
It would be easy for Smith to rest on his accomplishments. But even when Broad Run junior varsity wrestling coach John Puterio calls him "the strongest 135[-pounder] I've ever seen," Smith knows the compliment only goes as far as the last 135-pounder he beat. That's a big reason he spent a month at a summer camp at the University of Minnesota, honing his skills against some of the nation's best high school wrestlers.
"The great thing about him is that he's still coachable," Steele said. "There's a lot of kids who won't accept that when they've achieved what he has so early. But he realizes he still can get better."
Wrestlers to Watch
Wes Hawkins, Liberty, 145 pounds: An All-Extra selection in each of his first two seasons and a state runner-up at 145 pounds last year, the junior should be among the elite wrestlers regardless of weight class in Virginia AA. "He's a good enough athlete to go the distance, but he likes to pin you instead," Liberty Coach Jim Raines said. By the end of the season, Hawkins, 42-2 last year, should be on the wish list of plenty of college recruiters.
Sam Wilkinson, Loudoun Valley, 171 pounds: Vikings Coach Todd McClelland is excited about Wilkinson's potential after the junior advanced to the Virginia AA tournament last year. Wilkinson, a middle linebacker on the Vikings' football team, has the unique balance of a wrestler's agility and a football player's strength. "He's starting to learn about working faster and going for the pin, rather than playing around and winning on points," McClelland said.
Eric Bardey, Potomac Falls, 130 pounds: If Potomac Falls improves at the rate it did last season, the senior will be leading the charge. He began the season undefeated in leading the Panthers to victories over Park View, Broad Run and Warren County. "Eric is the leader on this team," Potomac Falls Coach Kris Kelican said. "He's the one our wrestlers look up to."
Top Stories in the Area
Can Potomac Falls Win This Soon? In only their third season, the Panthers' goal of a district title is realistic. They improved from three victories to 14 a year ago, and with a team dominated by seniors (seven in the starting lineup), this is their shot to win big, especially now that they have dropped to the AA Northwestern District from the AAA Concorde District. "This is our year," Coach Kris Kelican said. "If we're going to take advantage of senior leadership, this is the time."
Where Did All the Seniors Go? With the exception of Potomac Falls, area teams are stacked primarily with underclassmen. Although this could lead to a long season for a few of these teams, one thing appears certain: The 2000-01 season will be a strong one in Loudoun County.
Young Coaches Making Their Mark: Four of the seven area coaches enter this season with fewer than three years of experience, including rookies Derek Farrey at Loudoun County and Fauquier's Bryan Hurst. With youth prevalent on many of the area's teams, this is a good time for coaches to leave their imprint on their programs' philosophies.
Area Teams at a Glance
Broad Run Spartans
Ed Steele, 15th season
* The Spartans have had only one losing season during Steele's tenure, and this won't be the second. The core of this team is an experienced junior class led by Brian Smith (135) and Tony Parada (112) that will offset the loss of two-time All-Extra Wrestler of the Year Brandon Calderwood.
Park View Patriots
Greg Mitchell, sixth season
* After a rebuilding season, there is a good mix of experience and youth here, led by junior Steve Turner (145), a state qualifier last year, and Carey Grubbs (152), a regional qualifier. Mitchell has been impressed by freshman Johnny Mahan (119), who he thinks could surprise come postseason.
Potomac Falls Panthers
Kris Kelican, third season
* A seven-member senior class led by Eric Ceglowski (125) and Eric Bardey (130) makes the Panthers the most experienced team in the area and a favorite for the district title. Last year, Bardey became the school's first district champion, and he could be joined on that pedestal this season by Ceglowski, Sean Merritt (189) and Mark Panchura (275).
Loudoun County Raiders
Derek Farrey, first season
* Outlook: Farrey takes over for longtime coach Dave Wagner and inherits a program that had seven wrestlers graduate. They will be replaced by seven athletes who never have wrestled. "This is definitely a rebuilding year for us," he said. "We're going to be taking our knocks this season." Looking to give some knocks will be Andrew Bango, a junior 125-pounder, who was a regional qualifier last year.
Loudoun Valley Vikings
Todd McClelland, second season
* If the Vikings can get through their matches in lower weight classes, their bigger wrestlers should give them a clear advantage in dual meets. McClelland feels seniors Zack Carlisle (145), Jamie Murray (189) and Matt Thompson (275), and junior Sam Wilkinson (171) all have good shots at advancing to the state tournament.
Jim Raines, sixth season
* With only three seniors in the lineup, and coming off back-to-back losing seasons, Raines is thinking next year will be the Eagles' time to shine. But don't tell that to junior Wes Hawkins, who placed second in the state last year at 145 pounds. He will have to carry this team, which will suffer from the loss of All-Extra 119-pound regional qualifier Charlie Padgett, who quit the team before his junior season.
Bryan Hurst, first season
* While there are no standout wrestlers with state title aspirations here, this is as deep a team as Fauquier has produced in Hurst's six years working in the program. Junior Joe Sampsell (119) was a state qualifier last season, and Hurst expects to see him and two or three others make that trip this season. Perhaps senior twins Doug (125) and Scott (130) Smith can make that jump; both were regional qualifiers a year ago. Stepping up to the AAA Commonwealth District will be tough.