Powhatan’s varsity wrestling team is entering the new season with a look you don’t see every year.
Several experienced wrestlers are coming back, yet the team will be senior-less this 2019-20 campaign.
So when it comes to leaders on the mat, the program is turning to its juniors.
“That’s a big thing for this year, is us stepping into that leadership position as juniors,” said junior Sean Hall, who last year placed third in the 126 weight class of states. “Us being younger, we still have a couple more years to grow, so us growing together can really help each other – just everyone benefiting from everyone else.”
“They’ve handled it really well so far,” Powhatan head coach Jonathan Tanaka said. “Hopefully we can just continue that.”
Powhatan last year as a team took fifth place in states and finished second to Eastern View in regionals. Class of 2019 standout J.D. McMillin, wrestling at 120, became the program’s third individual state champion his senior year.
This season, Powhatan’s team goals are to win the Region 4B team tournament and place among the top 3 in states. And if the Powhatan Indians are in the top 3, then that means they had several of their wrestlers place and do really well. Last year they took eight wrestlers to the state tournament, and they’re looking to try and take more this year.
In addition to Hall (126), the Indians return two-time state qualifiers Linwood Hill (195 or 220) and Gavin Timmons (132). Tanaka noted that Hall – who also earned state runner-up honors as a freshman and earned third as a sophomore after missing much of the season due to a shoulder injury – put together a really good offseason.
And he’s built up his strength, so he’s “a bit more filled-out for that weight,” Hall said. He’s complemented lifting for about eight months with practices three times a week and runs. Against opponents on the mat this year, he’s looking to get into more scrambles and ride tough on top.
Timmons – who last year shifted up a weight-class to 132 right before the postseason with Hall’s return and is projected to wrestle at 132 for this season – wants to place at states this time around. He feels his aerobics have definitely improved thanks to both the increased mileage of his running from this past summer and the caliber at which he ran throughout this most recent cross country season. He also spoke to improving his upper-body strength.
“I was lacking that last year and I felt it,” Timmons said. “But this year I think I’m able to pull some more strength together so I can hit the moves that I want to hit in the match.”
He added of the team: “I think everyone in general has gotten stronger this year.”
Hill wrestled 220 the last two years, but he’s noticeably cut down his weight since last season, and in addition to teammate Micah Holt being able to contribute at 220, his coaches feel that the 195 class is a little bit better weight for Hill.
Tanaka said Hill is a lot faster this year, and the coaches are challenging Hill to see if he can be more of a leader, a little more vocal and a really good role model and example for the younger wrestlers.
Tanaka also noted that both Hill and Timmons have the ability to place in the state tournament.
“This year it’s a matter of trusting that ability and making sure that they see the competition they need to see in order to get there,” Tanaka said.
He added that Hayden Fitzsimmons, who last year placed 6th in regionals in the 160 weight class and is jumping up to 182 this winter, “had an awesome offseason.” Fitzsimmons decided not to play football this year and wanted to focus just on wrestling; he lifted throughout the summer and fall seasons and wrestled this fall.
“He looks really good; really excited for him going up to 182,” Tanaka said of Fitzsimmons. “Really excited for him to test the waters at that weight class.”
AJ Gaskins and Andrew Cheatham, who last year placed 5th in regionals as a freshman, both have been considered for the 145 class, and Cheatham is also a candidate for wrestling even further up at 152.
“As a ninth grader at 138...I thought he wrestled really well last year; we were really impressed with him, he had to wrestle a lot of upperclassmen throughout the year,” Tanaka said of Cheatham. “This year it’s gonna be: how fast can he transition to 145, 152 or wherever he ends up, how well he can acclimate to those weights. Obviously he’s been wrestling a long time and it was really cool last year to see him have some success as a 9th grader…a lot of kids, especially at that weight, really struggle making the transition.”
And with older brother Colby Cheatham having enjoyed a standout wrestling career as a state placer and two-time state qualifier, Andrew has the chance to try and best his brother’s marks, as becoming a three-time state qualifier and placer are still among the possibilities for the sophomore.
Powhatan has seen a strong influx of newcomers – mostly 9th and 10th graders and several student-athletes from the JV football team – join the program. They helped raise the number of wrestlers in the room to 38 as of Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Some of the newcomers include student-athletes who were part of Blackhawk Gym, wrestled for a few years, took some time off and then came back to the sport.
“Really, really happy when we get those kids back because it validates that: number one, that our program is something that is worthwhile and that kids want to be part of,” Tanaka said. “And at the same time, obviously there’s a reason why they want to come back, whether or not it’s the sport or their friends or whatever the case may be, but it’s just cool to see that those kids have made that decision on their own.”
Powhatan will test itself against some of the region’s best, taking on teams ranging from Spotsylvania to Hanover, Lee-Davis and George Wythe-Richmond to Dinwiddie, whom the Indians are slated to host in their first 2019-20 home meet on Tuesday, Dec. 10 (6 p.m.).
“It makes our region a little deeper,” Tanaka said. “Personally we think it’s going to be a good thing for us…we always want to challenge our guys, we always want our guys to be prepared for the state tournament and we think the best way to do that is to be able to grind through that regional tournament and be able to push through and wrestle some quality kids.”
The Indians will host Dominion District and Region 4B opponent Monacan on Senior Night (Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, 6 p.m.). Although Powhatan won’t have any senior wrestlers that night, Tanaka wants to recognize Ryan Steinruck and Isaac Trent; both seniors aren’t wrestling this year, but they’ve given multiple years to the program.
“Both of them have been stellar kids, stellar student-athletes as far as kids that give you everything they have in the practice room,” Tanaka said.
In addition to Coaches Tanaka, Richard Fitzsimmons and Zach Olson, Powhatan Wrestling’s staff will feature Powhatan High School Class of 2013 standout Thomas Smith, who also graduated from and wrestled for Ferrum College and is a former state place-winning wrestler, and three-time state champion Lam Le, who is coming back into the fold after coaching at Powhatan when Tanaka first started, and who worked with wrestlers like Sean Hall when they were at Blackhawk Gym.
“It’s been really cool to have some familiar faces come back around and it’s one of those things where…we as a coaching staff as a whole, we want people to…enjoy the success that we have every year because they were all a very critical part of it,” Tanaka said.
Hall is among those looking forward to Powhatan’s season beginning on Dec. 7.
“I think – as long as everyone’s putting in the work – we can be state champs,” Hall added.
- This article includes an update to the print version to reflect the correct number of wrestlers taken to the 2019 state tournament.