By J.P. Widner/SWT Sports Writer
Christiansburg- Every high school wrestler worth his weight dreams of competing in the spotlight of the finals in the Virginia State Championships. Pulaski County Cougars are no exception to this rule, and they eyed that possibility last Friday and Saturday night at the Region IV Wrestling Championships held at Christiansburg High School. Coming off a sub-par performance at the River Ridge District Championship, the Pulaski grapplers had a lot to prove to themselves, their coach, family and friends. Christiansburg High was looking to win their 15thstraight regional championship.
On Friday night, ninth grader Ian Jarrells (106 pound) pinned Keeley Holloway of Magna Vista in 1:13 to advance to Saturday. Zachary Long of Hidden Valley pinned Jarrells in 3:17. Moving to the loser’s bracket, Jarrells recovered by pinning Cole Davis of Bassett in 1:49. In his final match, Jarrells was pinned by Skylar Trivette of Marion in 2:06. Because of his fourth place finish, the Pulaski Cougar qualified to compete at the state championship next weekend.
Kaleb Nelson (113 pound) pinned Riley Henderson of Carroll County High School in a mere 50 seconds to win his first round match. On Saturday morning, Nelson ran up against a tough Jacob Scott of Bassett. Webb pinned Nelson in just 1:13. Determined to reach the state championship for the third time in his high school career, the junior pinned Lorenz Hill of Martinsville High despite two elbows in the neck and ribcage and another very unsportsmanlike move in the final seconds by his desperate and upset foe. Nelson recovered between matches and came back to capture third place when he won a 4-1 decision over Cave Spring’s Noah Webb. “I’m excited and nervous about going back to state,” Nelson commented. “There is a lot of good competition there. I’m hoping to do well and place.” Kaleb finished in ninth place at state during his freshman and sophomore year.
Freshman Zach Parmelee started the tournament out with a loss against Justin Frith of Bassett High by a 4-1 decision. Forced into the loser’s bracket, Parmelee had a tough mountain to climb on Saturday. He won a 16-0 technical fall against Brandon Lankford of Richlands. Parmelee then defeated Cody Turner of Martinsville in an intense 4-3 decision to secure his trip to the state championship. In his 3rd/4th place match, Zach lost to Justin Frith of Bassett again by a 1:53 pin. “Getting to states was my ultimate goal,” said Parmelee after his fourth place finish. “I knew that the only thing that would get me there was to bust it every single day at practice. On the second day of regionals, the only thing on my mind was getting to the big tournament in Salem. All day, the saying “if it is to be, it is up to me” was going through my head. So I went out every single match ready to tear it up, and that’s what I did.”
Sophomore Cody Semones started the tournament with a loss to Richland’s Marshall Barnes (5:53 pin). On Saturday, Semones defeated Noah Fox of Blacksburg 4-3. Cody followed that with a 4-0 decision over Nick Hylton of Tazewell. Semones finished in 6th place as he dropped his last match to Lucas Mobley of Cave Spring (1:33 pin). “I wrestled hard and with all my might,” said Semones. “The competition was tough, but it was good experience. I’m happy to be All-Regional, but I think I can improve and do better next year. My best is yet to come.”
Senior Corey Smith started his 132 pound category off with a 16-0 technical fall victory over Tunstall’s Chris Johnson. Smith then suffered a loss to Elijah Stickney of Hidden Valley (pin 4:43), leaving a bad taste in his mouth. The loss meant that the Smith had to face a third opponent for the day. That match ended with Smith winning by pinning Nate McKenzie of Martinsville in 1:53. Smith then won a 15-4 major decision over Ethan Goforth of Blacksburg to secure a spot at the state championship meet. In his final match of the region tournament, Corey had a rematch of his first loss. This time was different as he defeated Stickney 4-3 to secure third place. “I am very thankful for the support that I have had from my family and from Coach Butler, Coach Sylvester and Coach Smith,” commented Smith. “Joe Levine was also a big influence. This is a big accomplishment for me…to make it to state my senior year. I am very proud to represent the Cougars. Every time I step out on the mat, I put a circle around myself to remind me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. The 132 pound bracket was the biggest in the tournament, and it was tough. After losing my second match on Friday, it was gratifying to avenge that loss in the 3rdplace match.”
In the 138 pound category, Pulaski’s Justin Cape wrestled Chad Wiggington of Bassett Friday night. Cape was pinned in 5:34. In his second match, Justin lost a 10-2 major decision to Stone Norton of Tunstall.
Quincy Rollins represented Pulaski County in the 152 pound category. The Cougar wrestler pinned Stephan Chambers of Tunstall in 3:15. Christiansburg Dorian Giantonio then quickly pinned Rollins in just 45 seconds. Quincy came back with a 57 second pin against Aaron Harmon of Bassett. The tournament ended for the junior when Reese Booth of Salem won a 14-4 major decision over him.
Junior Heath White had a bye in the first round. White pinned Bilal Aboabdo of Christiansburg in 2:55 to advance in the winner’s bracket, and then won a 6-3 tough decision over Kirkland Smith of Salem to advance to the championship match against Jacob Barnette of Tunstall. In the wildest match of the tournament and what some would call a pro wrestling bout, the wrestler’s bodies flew into the nearby seats and blood was everywhere. Unnecessary roughness was called on White as the blood poured from his opponent. Heath continued to show his toughness and wrestled like a man on a mission, possibly to avenge his friend and teammate’s unfair loss earlier. White eventually lost a 25-9 technical fall decision and had to settle for second place and a trip to the state championship. “I was proud of our team and to see that the hours of practice and hard work during the season paid off,” said White. “It has really paid off for our Pulaski High school wrestling team.” Heath White is definitely a team player as far as this sports writer is concerned. I have witnessed him in practice and meets, leading the rising eighth graders in football conditioning, sitting by his teammate Cory Hale after his tough loss, etc. I would have my son suit up with him any day, and it would be a privilege to coach him if given the opportunity.
Cory Hale was also fortunate to have a bye to start the tournament. Hale then defeated Grant Ramey in a major 10-2 decision. Then in the most controversial match of the tournament, Hale wrestled Alberto Garcia of Martinsville. The action was fast and furious. Near the end of the match, Cory took Garcia down near the edge of the mat and looked to pin him. Even though only one foot was out of the circle and the rest of the two wrestlers were inside the circle, the referee blew the whistle for no apparent reason, gave no reason, gave no points and brought them back to the center of the mat. The coaches and fans were aghast. Time ran out but the anger and disappointment did not. With the score 6-3 in favor of Garcia, Hale saw his dreams of qualifying for state disappear. In the 5th/6th place consolation round, Hale had Tunstall wrestler Austin Hunt’s shoulders an inch from the mat when time ran. Hale lost in a wild 10-9 decision to finish in 6th place.
Pulaski senior Wheeler Caldwell lost 12-2 to Dustin Craig of Bassett in the first round of the 195 lb category. After a bye in the loser’s bracket, Caldwell’s tournament came to an end in the third round as Jason Burnette of Martinsville won a 9-2 decision.
In the 220 lb category, junior Bret Smith received a bye in the first round. Shane Belcher of Abingdon then pinned Smith in 2:43. Smith came back on Saturday to pin Barns Cody of Richlands in 2:04. Unfortunately, Bret was pinned in 3:57 by Garrett Jessee of Tazewell in the next round.
Ian Jarrells, Kaleb Nelson, Zach Parmelee, Cody Semones, Corey Smith, Heath White and Cory Hale were named to the All-Regional Wrestling Team. Jarrells, Nelson, Parmelee, Smith and White qualified for the state championships in Salem next Friday and Saturday. Semones and Hale will go as alternates.
As a team, Pulaski County High School finished in 7th place with 116 points. Christiansburg won their 15 straight regional tournament with 223 ½ points and boasted six individual champions. A strong Abingdon team placed second with 162 ½ points followed by 3.) Tunstall (152 ½), 4.) Cave Spring (139), 5.) Martinsville (137 ½), 6.) Hidden Valley (137 ½), 7.) Pulaski County (116), 8.) Bassett (109), 9.) Salem (97 ½), 10.) Marion (73), 11.) Carroll County (65), 12.)Patrick County (60), 13.) Richlands (51), 14.) Blacksburg (34), 15.) Tazewell (17) and 16.) Magna Vista (8).
“After a great start to the season-openers in December, we struggled through the stretch in January including a miserable showing at the Big Orange Classic and underachievement at the district meet,” said Head Coach Dan Butler. “I was glad to see the wrestlers step it up at the regional tournament, and I look forward to some tough wrestling from this group at the state event in Salem this coming weekend.”