Building on the momentum of their record-breaking 2015–2016 season, the WAHS wrestling team finished the year with a dual record of 25-5, placed second in the Jefferson District behind Louisa County, and won the Conference 29 championship.
“We also finished the season with our highest-ever regional placing, coming in third out of 25 teams competing in the Region 3A West tournaments, including perineal powerhouses Cave Springs and Christiansburg, which has won the team state title 14 times in a row,” said head coach Adam Mulcahy.
Despite the strong finish, Mulcahy said the team got off to a bumpy start, splitting a pair of official duels in the Waynesboro season opener. “It was a reality check for us and the program, with guys coming in off the fall lifting but not doing much wrestling,” he said. “We were stronger, but it showed who’d worked in the offseason and who hadn’t.”
Also hindering the team was the fact that fewer athletes tried out than expected and only one football player, Dre McCullough, joined the squad.
“That severely limited our upper weight classes in numbers and continued to be a challenge for us,” said Mulcahy. “We didn’t fill the 220-pound weight class again this year and only had one kid in our program over 200 pounds. Most of the really good programs have a natural partnership where football players go into the winter and wrestle for agility, conditioning and body control, and then lift and train for football in the spring and summer. There’s so much evidence and research showing how wrestling benefits football and vice versa but, right now, we don’t have that connection [at WAHS], and it continues to be very difficult to overcome.”
In fact, according to Mulcahy, the problem is the absence of a wrestling culture beyond the high school environment. “We get one or two kids a year that have wrestled at Cavalier Wrestling Club, but that’s not enough to sustain a program, which is one of the reasons why the school has struggled to be successful in wrestling in the past,” he said. Compared to sports where WAHS tends to dominate the field year in and year out—like swimming, lacrosse, tennis and cross country, which all have booming youth and middle school programs as well as an active support network present within the community—wrestling lags wildly behind. “Currently our recruitment model is to bring in kids with no experience and hope to catch them as freshmen and retain them for four years to develop them into successful wresters,” said Mulcahy. That lack of experience presents a steep learning curve, which not everyone can weather. “It’s hard to go out there and lose a bunch early on in your career and stick with it,” explained Mulcahy. “It takes an incredible amount of discipline, humility, dedication, hard work and character.”
But for those who put in the time the transformation is an amazing thing to behold. “This year we started a middle school club team so that we could try and get more of our younger kids involved a few nights a week and hope that it grows in numbers and begins to feed our program,” he said. “That’s probably what I’m most proud of this season: As a staff, we had our first group of wrestlers that have completely come through our program and system—kids that began as eighth or ninth graders with us.”
Second on the coach’s list of season accomplishments was the team’s qualifying eight wrestlers to compete in the state championship. “The most we’d ever sent before was two,” he said. “These young men have worked so hard and have taken several years to reach that level and are being rewarded for it.” Just five years ago, the team had no representatives at the state tournament.
Of the eight WAHS wrestlers competing, Nate Riley and Will Davis were standouts. “Nate has become the all-time WAHS win-leader with a career record of 154-33 in VHSL-sanctioned events,” said Mulcahy. Prior to competing at states, Riley was 47-0 for the season, had 33 pins, led the team in team points scored, and was crowned the Region champion in the 182-pound weight class, becoming one of two wrestlers in school history to earn the distinction. And the performance did not go unnoticed. Riley earned offers from American University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University to compete at the NCAA Division 1 level.
Meanwhile, Davis recorded a 50-win single season, making him the second athlete in the program’s history to do so. Going into state competition, Davis was 50-6. “Will went 5-1 on the weekend at regionals to achieve the 50-win milestone,” said Mulcahy. “Even more incredible is the fact that he received just three forfeits on the season, meaning that his record reflects 47 actual wins in matches wrestled—a truly remarkable feat for any high school wrestler.
“These young men have exemplified what it takes to be successful. They led the team in summer workouts and fall sessions attended both in the weight room and actual on-the-mat sessions. In five years of coaching them, I’ve never heard a single complaint—they never missed a practice, match or tournament for any reason, even when injured. They have a level of unquestioned work ethic that epitomizes what it takes to be successful in this sport and for that reason they will forever have my respect.
“Asa [Shin] and Nate have been with me for 5 years, Anthony [Ramazani], Will, and Jabari [Gomez] for 4, and Dre for 2—you just cannot replace that kind of commitment and loyalty,” he said. “This program could never have been turned around without them and I know I’m going to really miss them. It’s due to their efforts that WAHS wrestling has become successful, not mine.”