Conference 36’s Big Problem
ERHS Junior Heavyweight Enters Postseason Undefeated
HARRISONBURG – After enduring the toughest road possible to place third in the Group A state wrestling meet last year, David Kisling has had an easier time this season – expect last Thursday.
That’s when East Rockingham High School first-year coach Daniel Sivinski agreed to stage a mock match between his undefeated junior heavyweight and Adam Wright, a former state champion at Turner Ashby who wrestled four years at Old Dominion University.
“He didn’t really hold back that much on me,” said Kisling, also a decorated two-way lineman in football. “… [Coach] really wanted me to get a really good look. It was the best look you could ever get.”
More battle-tested after the bout with the quick-shooting Wright, Kisling leads the Eagles into today’s Conference 36 tournament at Buffalo Gap as the first East Rock wrestler to finish the regular season undefeated, going 24-0 in the school’s fourth year of existence.
“That was kind of our goal, to keep him hungry,” said ERHS football coach Donnie Coleman, who works with Kisling in the weight room and helped facilitate the Wright workout.
Technique-wise, the goal was for Kisling to work on escaping from the bottom position – a vital skill to have in the state tournament at the Salem Civic Center.
“This time of year, you’re trying to break the monotony of practice,” Coleman said of the Wright-Kisling bout. “We did the same thing for Daniel when I was coaching at East Rockingham. We’d go practice with TA or Harrisonburg, just to kind of break the monotony.”
Sivinski, a 2012 ERHS graduate, was the program’s first wrestler to place at states and the former 152-pounder remains East Rock’s only state champion.
He hopes that changes in the near future.
“I would absolutely love it. Definitely,” said Sivinski, who only two years ago called Kisling, junior Daniel Shifflett (23-1) and other Eagles teammates. “That’s one of the reasons why I came back, just because I love the school so much and I love the kids so much. I want to be a part of that process.”
Kisling’s toughest opponent – not named Wright – so far has been Broadway’s Thomas Kriston (18-10) and Waynesboro’s Nathan Henderson (31-9), who took Kisling three rounds to defeat. But BHS and WHS aren’t in the six-team Conference 36 field, which includes Buffalo Gap, Nelson County, R.E. Lee, Riverheads and Wilson Memorial. Sivinski said Kisling has seen all of those five heavyweights.
“So he should know all of his guys and he should be ready for them,” Sivinski said.
Three of the top 8 state finishers in the 285-pound heavyweight class graduated, including 2013 champion Ryan Huff of Clarke County. As a No. 3 seed out of Region B, Kisling needed to win five straight matches after starting last year’s state tournament with a loss to place third.
His first-round opponent, Rural Retreat then-junior Hunter Addison, beat Kisling 5-3 but didn’t place.
“The bright lights got me,” Kisling said of his first state match. “Coming into this year, I think I’ll be more level-headed and calmer.”
Under the new Virginia High School League playoff structure, only eight wrestlers qualify for states in each of the six classifications – four semifinalists from each region. Last year, 16 wrestlers made the Group A/AA fields, the top four from four regions.
The Eagles are expected to have four holes in their 11-man starting lineup. Not having wrestlers at 106, 126, 138 and 195 pounds – due in part to low turnout at tryouts – will make Kisling and the other six Eagles that much more important in terms of scoring for team standing.
Sivinski said ERHS has a “very small room for error.”
“It makes them a little more aware that they have to be more clean with everything they do,” said Sivinski, who held a 5:45 a.m. practice Tuesday. “Everything has to be technically sound. Like I’ve told them at the beginning, we wrestle smart, boring and basic.”