Robin­son turns mes­sage into tri­umph

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - VIR­GINIA 6A NORTH RE­GION WRESTLING CHAM­PI­ONSHIPS BY NICK EILERSON nick.eilerson@wash­post.com

One word rang above the grunt­ing in Robin­son’s mat room over and over again this week: grit. A few wrestlers would need to emerge as cham­pi­ons at the Vir­ginia 6A North re­gion meet Satur­day, Robin­son Coach Bryan Haz­ard stressed, but de­thron­ing two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion Bat­tle­field would re­quire gritty per­for­mances from his less-her­alded grap­plers scroung­ing for points in the blood round.

Haz­ard’s mes­sage sank in. Robin­son got points from 12 wrestlers Fri­day and Satur­day at Fair­fax High, pro­duced four in­di­vid­ual cham­pi­ons in Satur­day evening’s fi­nals and won the meet with 188.5 points, ahead of run­ner-up Bat­tle­field’s 168 and third-place Hay­field’s 161.

Even be­fore the fi­nals got un­der­way, the dam­age was done. Nu­mer­ous over­time vic­to­ries in the af­ter­noon’s con­so­la­tion rounds pushed Robin­son to a 14.5-point lead over Bat­tle­field head­ing into the fi­nals, help­ing the Rams cap­ture their first team ti­tle since 2014.

“If we didn’t have them scor­ing points [in the con­so­la­tion rounds], Bat­tle­field might have caught up to us,” said Robin­son sopho­more Thomas Mukai, who claimed the 220-pound ti­tle. “It would have been a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tour­na­ment.”

A quick first-pe­riod pin by ju­nior Aaron How­ell in the 106pound fi­nal set the tone for a Robin­son squad that snatched three of the first four in­di­vid­ual cham­pi­onships Satur­day evening.

Bat­tle­field was the de­fin­i­tive fa­vorite to win its third con­sec­u­tive re­gion cham­pi­onship this win­ter. Bring­ing back de­fend­ing re­gion cham­pi­ons Bran­don Wit­ten­berg and River Cur­tis, the Bob­cats put lo­cal op­po­nents on no­tice when they pro­duced six out of the 14 in­di­vid­ual cham­pi­ons at the 30-team NOVA Clas­sic in De­cem­ber.

The Rams didn’t boast that kind of fire­power, but they did main­tain plenty of depth. As the post­sea­son got un­der­way last week, though, Haz­ard saw some­thing more promis­ing in his charges: They were get­ting bet­ter.

“The im­prove­ment that we’ve seen over the last month and a half from some of these kids is re­mark­able,” Haz­ard said.

No one im­proved more than Will Mer­ritt. The se­nior spent last sea­son toil­ing away on Robin­son’s ju­nior var­sity, and he en­tered the sea­son as the Rams’ backup be­hind Hay­den Rock­man at 160 pounds. Then Donny Warter dropped down from the 182-pound class to 170, leav­ing a va­cancy that as­sis­tant Coach Michael Mukai en­cour­aged Mer­ritt to fill.

Ex­tra lunches, din­ners, chicken, rice and pro­tein shakes only boosted Mer­ritt from 159 pounds to 165, but that didn’t stop him from be­com­ing Robin­son’s new starter at 182. Mer­ritt used su­pe­rior car­dio to out­last three op­po­nents in triple over­time over the week­end, earn­ing him a six­th­place fin­ish that qual­i­fied him for next week­end’s 6A state tour­na­ment in Vir­ginia Beach.

“If some­body came up to me at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son and said, ‘Hey, you’re go­ing to wres­tle 20 pounds un­der and go to states,’ ” Mer­ritt said, “I would have laughed at them and said, ‘You’re funny.’ ”

An­dre Turets also bat­tled through three triple-over­time matches in the con­so­la­tion rounds, win­ning two of them to se­cure sixth place at 195 pounds. Warter, mean­while, grinded through sev­eral tight fin­ishes of his own to grab fifth place at 170.

Robin­son’s Nik Ger­ard out­lasted West Spring­field’s An­thony Bruno for a 7-5 de­ci­sion in the 120-pound fi­nal, and Sam Book fol­lowed with a sec­ond-pe­riod pin at 126. Mukai ex­e­cuted a late rev­er­sal to pin his old mid­dle school team­mate, James Momon of South County, at 220.

REZA A. MARVASHTI FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Robin­son’s Nik Ger­ard, top, out­lasts West Spring­field’s An­thony Bruno in Satur­day’s 120-pound fi­nal.

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