Hayfield's return to prominence in wrestling in the Northern Region truly was a team effort.
The Hawks won the region for the third time in four years by placing three wrestlers in the championship round and claiming one title last night at the regional tournament at Robinson High. In all, 10 Hayfield wrestlers placed in the top six. Herndon finished second and Robinson took third.
Hayfield entered the season without a returning regional champion and without having won the region for the first time in three years. However, last night's finish is what the Hawks envisioned at the start of its challenging schedule.
"I wish there [were] some secret formula, but our guys put in a lot of time and hard work," said Coach Roy Hill, whose team took third behind Herndon and Robinson last season. "They felt they got a little short-changed last year and wanted to redeem themselves."
The Hawks' tough schedule, which included top local and East Coast tournaments, led to the team having just a handful of wrestlers with winning records earlier in the year.
"Our schedule this year was brutally tough," Hill said. "It's a risk because some kids might get beat down and lose confidence, but the possibilities of rewards are great."
Sophomore Ronnie Mills won the 103-pound title (after a disappointing fifth-place finish last season) with a 13-0 victory over West Springfield's Mostafa Ibrahim. Junior Chris Bowling (112 pounds) and senior Johnny Villanueva (145) took second.
The Hawks' deep lineup was the key factor. For example, junior Louis Pavia did not start last season -- but placed fifth last night.
Mills, who wrestled for West Potomac last season and transferred before the start of this season, was told by his teammates how important it was to reclaim the title.
"They told me we had to get it back," Mills said.
Mount Vernon senior Rob Valentine pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament by pinning Robinson sophomore Brent Jones, the Washington area's second-ranked 189-pounder, with one second remaining in the third period.
Valentine (40-5) had lost two lopsided matches to Jones (43-5) this season.
"I've been training real hard to beat him," said Valentine, who was named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.
One of the most anticipated matches pitted Herndon senior Eric Zakrzewski, the area's top-ranked 171-pounder, against Robinson's second-ranked Mike Vachon in the semifinals.
Zakrzewski, the defending state champion, was face down on the mat and trailing 2-0 late in the third period. However, he turned a reversal into a cradle and pinned Vachon with 30 seconds left.
"Eric is so competitive," said Herndon assistant Steve Sabo, who is filling in for Coach Karl Spinnenweber while he is away at a graduate degree program in China. "Even though he was not wrestling to what he feels he is capable of, he still put forth the 100 percent effort. In the third period, that athleticism and competitiveness came through. He showed why he is a state champion."
Zakrzewski (34-2) won the title by pinning Oakton's Rob Burton early in the second period.
In a regular season finale, Zakrzewski defeated Great Bridge senior Mike Belew, who defeated Zakrzewski last season but missed the state tournament because of injury.
"After winning both the [Belew and Vachon] matches, I know if I do what I am capable of doing I can win another state title," Zakrzewski said.
T.C. Williams senior Branden Beasley (125 pounds), who won the regionals and took second at the Virginia AAA championships last year, defeated Robinson freshman Lee Carsten in last night's final.
"He's become postseason Beasley," Titans Coach Peter Smith said. "He has a good knack for knowing when to turn it up at the right time."
Beasley, ranked first in his weight in the area, had a tough quarterfinal match against Yorktown's Yohan Ferdinando, who defeated Beasley last season but missed much of this season because of an injury. Beasley emerged with a 4-2 victory and went on to a technical-fall semifinal win over Langley's Steve Letaio.
"I love big crowds," said Beasley, who will wrestle for the Naval Academy Prep School next year. "It excites me. I definitely get more pumped up."
Three wrestlers extended undefeated seasons by claiming region titles, the first for each: Mount Vernon's Tony Martinez (112 pounds, 32-0), Edison's Sam Alvarenga (135 pounds, 38-0) and Westfield's Chris Goings (160 pounds).
"It feels really good," Alvarenga said. "I've got one more step. I'm a step closer to the state finals."
Robinson senior Adam Fassnacht took a step towards claiming a state title in three sports by earning his second regional title with a 5-3 win over Centreville's Brendan Raedy. The 215-pounder, who was the state runner-up last season, was a member of Robinson's AAA lacrosse championship team last spring and 2001 football team.
"It wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't win, but it would be nice to complete the set," said the top-ranked Fassnacht (37-4), who has committed to play lacrosse for the University of Virginia. "Four more matches. That's all I have left in my wrestling career."