Powered by four gold medalists and one runner-up, the Liberty Eagle wrestlers captured the school's first-ever state team championship Saturday in Virginia Beach.
From the Jan. 6 beginning of practice, Liberty coach Wes Hawkins said sweeping the district, region and state crowns was a top goal. Liberty, however, finished a strong third in the Northwestern District race behind Handley and Kettle Run, then was the Region C runner-up to Loudoun County Feb. 13.
Yet, when the state's top Class 4 prize was at stake Saturday, the Eagles' five qualifiers performed superbly. Mason Barrett (132 pounds), Colin Dupill (138), Noah Hall (145) and Royce Hall (195) won their respective weight classes. Christian Eberhart also was the 106-pound runner-up. The crew assembled a 14-1 record including seven falls and two technical falls.
The Eagles finished with a comfortable 113-92 margin over Eastern View, with Loudoun County (90), Amherst (81), Smithfield (80) and Powhatan (79.5) rounding out the top six.
"That's a testament to what we have tried to build at Liberty High School and to the Liberty Eagle Wrestling Club that has provided the foundation for these kids to become state champs," Hawkins said proudly.
"It's a whirlwind," Hawkins said of the reaction to the feat. "It's something I had set out to do, but we hadn't gotten there yet before this year. It was team effort on the part of everyone on the coaching staff and the kids to make this program what it is."
2020 state champion Fauquier placed ninth with 55 points behind silver medalists Kingsley Menifee (182) and Ben Bell (195) and bronze medalist Eric DeWald (160). Kettle Run was 25th with 10 points on Kyle Brumagin's fifth-place finish. All nine county entries earned all-state status.
Liberty led for much of the meet's five hours, holding a 93.5-73 lead over Loudoun County entering the championship finals. The Captains narrowed the gap to 93.5-90 early in the finals with Barrett set to meet Loudoun County's Luke Roberts for the 132-pound gold medal.
Barrett, the team's lone senior, edged Roberts, 4-2, for his third career state title, the first-ever Liberty wrestler to win three championships. Barrett's victory also provided Liberty with an insurmountable margin in the team race.
"Mason sealed the deal because he was head-to-head with a Loudoun County kid," Hawkins said, noting Barrett's final two matches in an Eagle uniform avenged rare losses to in-state grapplers.
Barrett dispatched Powhatan's Sean Hall, 9-2, in the semifinals before defeating Roberts. Hall of Powhatan had beaten Barrett in the state semifinals in 2018, while Roberts knocked off Barrett in this year's regional finals.
"Those are the only two kids from Virginia ever to beat Mason, and he turns around and beats both of them in 45 minutes Saturday," Hawkins said.
The Eagles were not done, as Barrett's win also spearheaded a surge as Liberty also claimed gold medals in the next two weight classes.
Dupill, a sophomore, met Kyle Csikari in the 138-pound finals and dominated the Spotsylvania wrestler with a 23-8 technical fall in four minutes, 35 seconds for the Eagle's second straight state championship. He and Barrett are the only Liberty wrestlers ever to win multiple state gold medals.
Next up was freshman Noah Hall, who gave Liberty three straight wins by pinning Dominion's Logan Jones in 2:02 in the 145-pound finale.
The Eagles then capped the day-long championship run three classes later when 195-pound junior Royce Hall edged Fauquier's Bell, 3-2, for Liberty's fourth individual championship.
Hawkins noted the Hall brothers are believed to be the first county siblings to win state wrestling crowns in the same year, a point of home-grown pride for him.
"They've never had any other coaches except us," the Liberty mentor said.
Youth program pays off
Hawkins has always said establishing a youth program at Liberty was his top priority. He cited nearby Fauquier which had the county's lone youth program at the time. Hawkins said catching the rivals would be highly improbable without creating a grass roots program in the southern portion of the county.
Hawkins said he and assistant Joe DiVello set out 13 years ago to start a club. The coach thanked his and DiVello's families for being tolerant due to the absences due to long trips up and down the east coast to wrestle against top-notch competition.
"It takes time to build a program from the ground up," Hawkins stressed, but tangible growth was occurring with more state qualifiers and medalists. Liberty recently has won a growing number of individual state championships, and the team has finished regularly among the top five at the state tournament.
The five finalists and the results are "a testament to what we surround ourselves with kids and practice partners, and to the families working together," Hawkins said, pointing to the bountiful experience and ability returning for another run next winter.
Three Falcons and a Cougar
Chad Hoffman, Fauquier's first-year head coach, was pleased with his three medal winners, but had thoughts of what could have been.
"My feelings on the day are that we had a great game plan for all three guys, but fell short," he said. “They wrestled hard and gave it their all. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for."
Menifee appeared headed for the 182-pound championship, leading Amherst's Kaine Morris 3-2 late in the third period, but surrendered a reversal with only 28 seconds remaining in the 4-3 loss.
Bell met Liberty's Royce Hall in his final. Hall had taken close decisions in the district and region finals, and Saturday was no different.. Hall held off the county rival for the 3-2 decision.
"We prepared for Hall all three weeks, but couldn’t find the takedown we needed," Hoffman said. "It was a great match that came down to the wire."
DeWald was a 2020 state silver medalist and aimed to finish first this winter. After pinning his first foe, DeWald met Eastern View's Daniel Taylor in the championship semifinals. Taylor scored an 8-3 win to end DeWald's title dreams, but his response heartened Hoffman.
"What impressed me the most was his ability to overcome a tough loss within 30 minutes and get his mind right," the coach said.
DeWald then won his consolation semifinals and claimed the bronze medal with his pin of Smithfield's Brady Stals in 1:42. "After he lost, he represented what this program is about. Mental toughness and one’s ability to move on from a loss," Hoffman praised.
Kettle Run's Brumagin dropped his first match but won by fall in his first consolation match. He lost a tough 2-0 bout in the consolation semifinals before pinning Amherst's Ethan Busey in 2:13 for fifth place.