SALEM – East Rockingham High School’s David Kisling struggled through his first words in describing a previously unimaginable way to end his junior wrestling campaign.
Suffering his first loss of the season in his first state finals appearance by a one-point technical violation.
“The pain, I don’t know, is unlike anything you’ve ever felt before,” said Kisling, a 285-pound heavyweight.
Broadway senior 220-pounder Tyler Funkhouser could sympathize.
Kisling and Funkhouser each lost in championship matches Saturday in the 1A-4A state tournament, both getting to the finals a season after losing in the first round in Salem.
It was two incredible turnarounds with tough-to-swallow finishes.
East Rock’s was perhaps the hardest to stomach in the 2A tournament.
After a scoreless first period, Kisling (32-1) and Appomattox Sammy Leap (45-4) traded escapes and went into the final minute of regulation tied 1-1. That’s when it happened. While battling for control of his opponent's leg, Kisling's fingers tugged down Leap's singlet and noticeably stretched the fabric, though it didn’t appear to give him any advantage. But it drew a whistle with about 15 seconds left.
“My fingers gripped on the singlet. The ref saw,” said Kisling, one of seven undefeated finalists in the 1A-4A tournament. “He thought I was grabbing, so he called a technical. I was trying to grab his leg and my fingers must have gotten caught.
“It has [happened before]. I’m not going to lie. It’s never been called on me before that.”
Kisling vowed to come back even stronger next season.
Immediately after the match, ERHS first-year coach Daniel Sivinski said he didn’t know if the singlet pulling was intentional or not.
“That call is up to the refs,” said Sivinski, who earned East Rock’s sole state title in 2012. “…We’re going to try to take it positive. He’s the second kid [from ERHS] to make it this far in this tournament.”
Funkhouser (38-5) met up with Jacob Plaster (28-2) in the 3A finals, and BHS coach Jimmy Wimer was surprised with just how defensive-minded the Northside junior was in the 220-pound title match.
“I think Tyler’s performance through the region and into the state has opened a lot of people’s eyes,” Wimer said. “Everybody knew, if he gets a finger on your leg, he’s going to pick you up and he’s possibly going to pin you. To me, I take it as a compliment.”
Staying back, Plaster only pounced after evading two shots by Funkhouser to score two takedowns en route to an 8-2 win.
“With a kid that throws, you have to be cautious and take shots,” Funkhouser said. “That’s tough to do, playing offense and defense at the same time.”
Turner Ashby’s Jacob Ritchie suffered a pair of close losses to finish fourth at 132. Unable to escape in the third period to force overtime, Ritchie dropped a 3-2 decision in Friday’s semifinals against Skyline’s Noah Gross – a No. 1 seed out of the 3A East region. TA’s sole senior then lost 5-1 Saturday versus Kettle Run’s Cameron O’Connor, a senior who was also bounced out of the semifinals.
Ritchie (36-6) took a 1-0 lead into the third, but one critical mistake on top allowed O’Connor (42-6) to score five points on a reversal with back points.
“We were riding legs,” TA coach Marshall Smiley said. “We got a little bit of a scramble. We held on for a little longer than we needed to. …We were trying to hold on to keep our positioning, and by us holding on, we rolled the dice a little bit.”
In other consolation action, East Rock senior Clay Morris avenged a 10-3 first-round loss to Glenvar's Dylan Dooley by pinning him in the fifth-place match Saturday at 170. TA sophomore Brandon Garcia (30-10) placed sixth at 120, losing 10-3 against Christiansburg freshman Gage Levine (33-19) in his medal match.
But Smiley remained positive and upbeat, praising Ritchie in particular for his growth after not placing in the top 8 at states last year.
“I’m already excited about next year with our sophomores and getting an upcoming senior over the hump,” Smiley said, referring to junior Lukas Shifflett, who barely missed qualifying for states after beating a No. 1 seed in the first round of the 3A West regional tournament.
In the 4A competition, Harrisonburg’s Artem Makayed (37-6) placed fourth at 182 in a fairly clear-cut division with all the top seeds winning into the finals. Makayed went 2-2, beating a pair of 3-seeds before losing 5-0 against Powhatan senior Jake Tomlinson (38-4).
“Artem has done a complete 180,” said HHS assistant coach Loren Phillips, filling in for first-year coach Don Cash whose wife had a baby this past week. “Last year, he didn’t even make it here.”
Makayed and Trevor Jackson (37-13), who went 0-3 to place eighth at 195, are two of Harrisonburg’s four seniors graduating this year.
“We’re a really young team. This year and next year are kind of like our transition years,” Phillips said. “We’ve got a lot of younger guys coming up through and a very good youth program."