This version of Justin Hickey was what he had come to expect of himself this season, the one his coaches depend on and the one who overwhelms his opposition with an array of seemingly effortless takedowns.
The 135-pound Gar-Field senior was virtually unstoppable during his 13-2 major decision over Robinson's Reid Brown in the quarterfinals of the Virginia AAA championships Friday night. Hickey hopped around the mat, circled his opponent like a hawk and took him down at will en route to a 13-2 victory.
"If I'm not tired at all and I wrestle the way I can, I feel like I can't be beat," Hickey said.
By his admission, Hickey was sluggish during his 11-3 first-round victory over Hampton's Antwan Bynum, a concession he learned he can ill afford to make against the best in the state.
Hickey lost three matches at the Richmond Invitational in early December, then eased past his competition before facing Northern Region champion Joel Hutchens of Westfield on Feb. 3. Hickey was tentative in that match, ultimately dropping a lethargic 3-1 decision on a third-period takedown.
"I usually move around a lot, and I'm good on my feet, and I thought he'd be close to how I wrestled," Hickey said. "So whoever gets the takedowns is going to win. So I wrestled like that, waiting for him, and he never did anything. So when it was late, I made a mistake and forced something."
Grounded by the loss, Hickey then won both the Cardinal District and Northwestern Region tournaments, significant accomplishments after failing to win either last year and getting bounced out of the state tournament early.
"We have three plaques in the wrestling room: district champs, regional champs and state placers," Hickey said. "I wasn't on them, so I was like, 'I have to get my name on them.' All I'm thinking is I've got one more left."
Hickey's quarterfinal win set up a potential final meeting yesterday with Battlefield's Gregg Martino, who lost two narrow decisions to him this season, including one in last week's regional final.
Martino, who beat Hutchens 4-3 on Friday, emerged from relative obscurity last season to win the Northwestern Region title and then reach the state final. Last year's run earned him acclaim. But to some degree, his two losses to Hickey this season made him the forgotten wrestler in one of the state's deepest weight classes. The victory over Hutchens served as a resounding reminder of his presence.
"It's a great thing for a kid and a horrible thing for him to get as far as he did," Battlefield Coach Tommy O'Neill said. "He can't sneak through and say, 'Hey, I'm this kid that's winning matches,' and then just come in and win a tournament. But getting as far as he did last year has done loads for him. He's been through the pressure, and he understands it."