HHS Secures Valley Pennant
HARRISONBURG – The excitement surrounding the Harrisonburg High School wrestling program this season has come in a variety of forms for ninth-year coach Mike Dickerson.
For starters, the Blue Streaks have their very own Tony the Tiger.
That is, senior 126-pounder Tony Do (26-4).
“When I see Tony Do go out on the mat before he starts, he is so intense,” Dickerson said. “He’s got the most intense face. He’s looking, he’s like an animal out there. I get fired up watching him.”
The most intense matches? Look no further than HHS’s 195-pound senior Ahmad Salehi (23-6).
“They always go to overtime or they’re always close, but he pulls it out,” Dickerson said.
Then there’s the excitement that comes from the anticipation of a trademark move, and Harrisonburg has two wrestlers who keep the adrenaline pumping on the sideline: senior co-captains Anies Denar (25-8), a 138-pounder, and Trent Sosa (27-6) at 220.
“Anies has this crazy low single, so every time it’s like, ‘Here it comes. Here it comes,’” Dickerson said. “You get excited to watch just that low single. And Trent is always just Trent. He’s always trying this throw… and it’s nice when he hits it.”
Dickerson has plenty of reasons to be excited this season, perhaps none more that this: The Blue Streaks secured their first district title since 1993 on Thursday, defeating R.E. Lee to cap a perfect 6-0 run in official Valley District duals and win the regular-season championship. (Individual records do not reflect Thursday’s matches.)
Now, despite a 20-year title drought, the Blue Streaks might be the team to end Turner Ashby’s 14-year reign as the district tournament champion.
But Harrisonburg doesn’t consider itself the favorite. Rather, the Streaks see themselves as the target, especially for Broadway, Waynesboro and TA.
“It’ll be a tough district. It’s going to be a tossup,” Dickerson said. “If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on this.”
Still, the much-improved Streaks have to like their chances after being the only district squad to defeat second-place Broadway, 43-29. HHS actually beat the Gobblers three times this season, Dickerson said, including two non-district duals.
Two stacked trios of wrestlers – one in the lighter weights and one in the upper weights – has propelled Harrisonburg this season, as it attempts to send more than five wrestlers to the Group AA state tournament for the first time in school history.
On one end of the spectrum, opponents have had to face Do, sophomore 132-pounder Jordan Dove (13-3) and Denar in succession. Do is a first-year HHS wrestler who transferred in from Lawrenceville, Ga., last spring. Dove is one of four Streaks with a winning percentage above .800, and Denar is one of the most experienced wrestlers at HHS (he’s in his fourth season).
On the heavier side, it hasn’t gotten much easier for foes, who must face seniors Kyle Jackson (18-6), Salehi and Sosa in consecutive matches at 182, 195 and 220 pounds, respectively.
“I feel like this group is a lot more close than past years,” Salehi said, “and it helps that we have a full lineup because now we have no excuse to lose.”
With five senior starters, HHS has all 14 weight classes occupied. Eleven of those wrestlers have winning records, eight have a winning percentage of .694 or better and six boast 23 wins or more. Some teams in the district have had as few as eight occupied weight classes, meaning they must forfeit at certain spots and lose chunks of points in the process.
The Streaks don’t have that problem and they’ve seen marked improvement from wrestlers such as 160-pound junior Artem Makayed (29-6) – the brother of two former state-qualifying HHS wrestlers, including pole-vaulting state champion Pavel Makayed – and 170-pound junior Trevor Jackson (25-11), which has only added to Harrisonburg’s intimidating lineup.
“The guys that didn’t win matches, they’re starting to turn that around and win matches,” Dickerson said. “And the guys that didn’t pin are starting to win by pin.”
Giving out a trophy for a regular-season champion is nothing new, but in recent years, TA had gotten it by default by winning the tournament, TA athletic director John Woodrum said.
In the past, the Valley teams didn’t have enough meetings among themselves to warrant a regular-season champion. That changed this year.
“We’ve never been able to have everybody wrestle each other,” Woodrum said. “… But this year, we actually have differentiated that and done what we could to try to put together duals [to get] a regular-season winner.”
Not all coaches were aware of the change.
“That’s news to me,” said Broadway coach Jimmy Wimer, whose team placed second in the regular-season standings at 5-1. TA finished 4-2, losing to the Streaks and Gobblers.
It’s already been a season to remember for Harrisonburg, which placed third in the regular season last year and fourth in the district tournament. The Streaks, who are 19-2 overall with their only losses coming against Sherando and Group AAA’s Freedom, have been thinking big ever since their second meet of the season at home on Dec. 7-8.
“We placed third and we also didn’t have two wrestlers in it,” Trevor Jackson said, referring to Dove and 145-pounder Zeki Salehi. “So we were thinking, ‘Hey, we could actually do this.’ We blew TA out of the water. We blew Waynesboro out of the water.”
In official district duals, the Streaks edged Waynesboro 42-36 and beat TA 48-35 – hence Dickerson’s apprehension of HHS being dubbed the favorite in the district tournament on Feb. 2 at TA.
But don’t bet against them.