The Robinson wrestling team had every reason to celebrate last weekend. They captured the Northern Region championship on Saturday, claiming a trophy that had gone to arch rival Westfield four of the previous five years.
But the Rams didn’t leave the Hayfield gym feeling satisfied. After all, seven of their wrestlers had suffered final-round losses, a letdown that was only compensated by the fact that they had so many contenders get that far in the first place.
“We had nine finalists and two champions, so that was really disappointing,” said Robinson junior Jack Bass, who earned the 152-pound region title. “We won, but we didn’t win like we should have won. It wasn’t our best tournament. I feel like this weekend should be.”
Heading into the state tournament, which runs Friday and Saturday at Oscar Smith High in Virginia Beach, the Rams can reflect back on a regional meet that saw many of its wrestlers put forth a stellar team effort in the semifinal round. All nine Robinson semifinalists advanced to the finals, giving them a 16-point cushion over Westfield heading into the last round. Though each of the Bulldogs’ four finalists emerged victorious, it wasn’t enough to hold off a Robinson team that got clutch performances out of its last wrestlers.
After his team’s first four finalists lost their matches, Bass went up against Annandale senior Archie Elba knowing he needed to stop the bleeding.
“It was a close team race, but I didn’t let it get to me,” Bass said. “I knew that if I took care of my match, we would be fine.”
Bass wanted a quick pin, and that’s exactly what he got, pinning his opponent 39 seconds after the bout began. The win kept Bass undefeated in Virginia and improved his season record to 31-2. A state finalist his freshman year at Robinson, Bass moved to Texas for his sophomore year and nearly finished with an undefeated season until he lost on a caution in triple overtime of the state finals.
More important than the individual feat was the impact Bass’s regional title had on his team’s fate. It essentially handed the crown to Robinson before teammate Jake Pinkston sealed the deal in the championship heavyweight match. Pinkston, also a junior, won the 285-pound division with a final round decision against Mount Vernon senior Vika Mathias. That result brought Robinson’s tournament point total to 232.00, ahead of Westfield’s second-place 224.00. Mount Vernon finished in third place with 155.00, and Lake Braddock claimed the fourth spot with 146.00.
“It came down to we were able to survive in the end,” Robinson coach Bryan Hazard said. “Jake won and Jack won, and that put us over the top. We put nine in the finals, which is amazing. We just hope that kind of success can carry over to this weekend.”
Saturday’s outcome cemented the reign of a Robinson team that won its first Concorde District title since 2010 a week prior to the regional triumph. That result marked another slip-up for Westfield, which had won eight of the previous nine Concorde District championships.
The two rivals have slugged through their usual back-and-forth battles this season. Westfield won the regular season dual meet, 34-29, but came up 21 points short of their foes in the district meet three weeks later. Owing to its four third-place finishes and two fourth-place finishes in Saturday’s regional meet, Westfield will take 10 wrestlers to states this weekend, while Robinson will bring nine.
Hazard hopes his team can repeat the success it found two years ago, when his team won Robinson’s first state wrestling championship since 1985. That accomplishment was a dream-come-true for Hazard, a 1991 Robinson graduate who longed to one day come back to coach his high school’s wrestling team to glory. He took over as the Rams’ coach in 1996 and finally led his team to the school’s fourth state title in 2011.
Reliving that success won’t be easy, but the Rams are hungry to avenge past failures. Bass, Pinkston and Dallas Smith all lost their championship matches at the state tournament in 2011.
“We’ll have some brutal, brutal draws,” said Hazard, whose team carries a district record of 4-1 and a dual meet record of 9-2 this season. “But the state meet is one of those things, we go to enough tournaments during the year. We meet the top teams in the nation so that when we do get to the state tournament, our team is battle tested and it’s not out of this world the biggest thing that they’ve ever had to do.”