The James River wrestling team took third place in the Class 2 state tournament, paced by two champions, at the Salem Civic Center Monday night. Juniors Hunter Forbes and Carder Miller brought home first place medals for the Knights, who had eight wrestlers earn medals.
Forbes continued a family tradition with his championship at 160. Hunter has two uncles who won state championships for River, including three-time champ Chance Craft who won in 1998, ’99 and 2000. Jason Cuddy, who is a current River assistant, is also Hunter’s uncle and he won a title in 1999.
“Hunter told me on the first day of practice he was going to go undefeated and win a state title and he did just that,” said River coach Bobby Stewart. “He set a goal, meditated on it, focused on it and did it. The Forbes, Cuddy, Craft legacy lives on here at James River with another Forbes coming up in the ranks. The future is bright.”
Hunter ended the season with a 19-0 record. He opened with a 15-0 win over Poquoson’s Samuel Villasenor, then pinned Jeffery Hildebrand of Buffalo Gap in the semifinals. He went up against Tanner Baugher of East Rockingham in the championship match and won 7-0 to finish the season as undefeated champion.
Miller came in at 7-0 and also finished the season unbeaten. He opened with a 1:17 pin over Zach Blevins of Graham, then pinned Cameron Martinez of Stonewall Jackson in the semifinals. In the finals, Carder beat Michael Oliver of Amelia County, 3-1.
“This kid is a beast,” said Stewart of Miller. “He is the type of wrestler I am trying to create here. He has a lot of talent. I just met Carder this year and he is very impressive and we hope we get a repeat again next year. Both Hunter and Carder back in the room next year will elevate everyone to work harder. That’s what we need, internal motivation in the room.”
Third place went to Mason Stewart at 145. A returning state champ and son of coach Stewart, Mason dropped a 2-0 match to Region A champion Joseph Chiapazzi in the quarterfinal round. Mason then wrestled back to finish third, including a win over Glenvar’s Trey Lawrence, who beat Stewart in the region championship match.
“What a tournament!” said proud dad Bobby Stewart. “Did we want another championship? Yes, of course we did. He fell short in a 2-0 loss to Poquoson but he didn’t lose focus. He went through the bracket and avenged two losses from earlier in the year and told me that was his reward and championship. He told me avenging those losses meant more to him.
“His career in high school is over and he is happy and satisfied. I cannot ask for anything better. He is the reason I am here and I thank him for his effort and hurdles he went through to help aid in building the program along with the others.”
Timmy Bennett finished fourth at 106 after advancing to the semifinals. Fifth places went to Craig Bowyer at 113, Jason Cuddy at 126 and Addison McCaleb at 182. Cuddy was one of the pre-tournament favorites but lost in the semifinals.
Dakota Gilliam, another junior, took sixth at 285 to give River eight medalists in the tournament. That was good for 112 ½ points and a third place finish behind Poquoson at 167 ½ and Lebanon at 122 ½. Glenvar, a fellow Three Rivers District team, was fourth with 92 points.
“What a strange trip it has been,” said coach Stewart. “I want to first say I am proud of my team. I am proud of the state championships and state placements we brought home to the community and to the school. I am happy and thankful we were able to have a season. I am appreciative of the administrative support I have had this year. I want to make those statements first and foremost.
“I don’t want people to misconstrue when I say I am not satisfied. We had a goal and we didn’t achieve it as a team. We had stellar performances out of our seasoned guys and that makes me smile, but we have work to do. We have to get back to working on the things that will pull us over the top in the high pressure matches. Our eyes were set on a team title contention, or we thought at worst case we were a shoo-in for second.”
Of the eight Knights who placed, six are underclassmen, so the future is bright for James River wrestling.
“The season is over but the work is not,” said Stewart. “We will take a short break and regroup, then get back at it. See, not being satisfied isn’t unappreciative or unthankful. It is competitiveness. It gets misinterpreted sometimes like passion. Passion always looks like aggression to the unmotivated.
“Being unsatisfied with results looks overboard to the non-competitive and James River High School wrestling is neither.”