Climbers Overcome

Collegiate senior Marcella Leonard-Jackson joked that she can hear junior Robert Woolwine cheering her on from about 30 miles way.

Leonard-Jackson is one of three girls on Collegiate’s wrestling team, in addition to Amanda Tan and junior Jenna Raggio. Leanord-Jackson wrestled in middle school, but was initially apprehensive about joining Collegiate’s team.

Former Jacob's Ladder Climber Marcella Leonard-Jackson wrestles for Collegiate School
Former Jacob’s Ladder Climber Marcella Leonard-Jackson works her way out of a tight spot on the mat.

“But they [her teammates] were like ‘No, please come out for the team, it will be fun.’ I did, and I’ve loved it every single year,” she said.

Collegiate’s girls were the only three at Friday’s VISAA championships at Meadow Event Park in Doswell. But Cougars coach Andy Stone said girls wrestling is the fastest growing high school sport in the country, and he expects to see more and more girls joining teams. There could even be a girls state championship in Virginia soon, he said.

“I think it’s a great thing, and a great thing that they’re role models for other girls in our school who like that bigger challenge, who like the contact sport experience,” Stone said.

He added that having girls as teammates has given the six boys on Collegiate’s roster a valuable perspective.

“The girls are just as tough as the guys as far as work ethic and wanting to be physical during the matches,”

Stone said. “I’m really happy to see it, and hopefully we’ll get more younger girls coming out for our team and other teams as well.”

Leonard-Jackson and Raggio said they’ve have had to overcome some challenges. Sometimes there’s not a female trainer to do skin checks before matches, and they said one team refused to wrestle them for “religious reasons.”

But the hurdles have never deterred them.

“From time to time, it is hard. It was harder in the beginning, just getting used to being around only guys all the time. Now it’s pretty normal,” Raggio said. “I love these guys, I’ll be sad to leave them.”

With just nine wrestlers, Collegiate has a small team. Stone said his goal going into the state tournament was to see growth in each individual wrestler.

The Cougars’ highlight of the night came when sophomore Walker Clemans avenged a defeat from earlier this season to Norfolk Academy’s Cooper Cazares in the 160-pound second round. This time, Clemans won 12-7. He and Stone said the win indicated the maturation their entire team has achieved this season.

The tournament favorites, Benedictine and St. Christopher’s, had relatively uneventful first nights. Many of the Cadets’ and Saints’ wrestlers are seeded first or second in their weight classes, and defeated their opponents with quick pins or major decisions.

Benedictine won the VISAA title four consecutive years (2014-2017). But St. Christopher’s has won it the past two years. The teams have been eyeing one another all season, preparing for a showdown this weekend.

Benedictine assistant coach Zacharia Cox said beating the Saints on this stage is one of the Cadets’ primary goals.

“It’s something we’d love to do. Without a doubt, we want to be back on top,” he said, adding that the final margin between the two Saturday could be razor thin.

Erik Roggie, St. Christopher’s junior and reigning state champion, said that as long as his Saints stay unified, he likes their chances to retain the title.

“If we all wrestle as a team, we’ll be in a good spot,” he said. Roggie won the title at 106 pounds last year and is favored in the 113-pound class this year.

A couple of individual matchups could play a major role in separating the two powerhouses. Benedictine’s Zane Cox and and St. Christopher’s Kevin Schork could meet in the 152-pound final, as could the Saints’ Cale Roggie and the Cadets’ Brenden Barnes in the 120-pound title match.

Benedictine senior Brian Daughtry, a 285-pound senior, echoed Roggie. Daughtry said whichever team stays together will hoist the trophy on Saturday. As of 8:30 p.m. Friday night, the Saints held a 126.5 to 108.5 edge over the Cadets.

“Team-wise, we all have the same goal. Just go out, wrestle for the man next to you,” he said. “Don’t wrestle for yourself, do it for the team.”

Reposted from Richmond Times Dispatch, 14 February, 2020

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