On Thursday afternoon, gear in hand, two George Mason High School wrestlers hopped in a van for the 230-mile drive to Salem for the annual Single A State Wrestling Tournament at the Salem Civic Center. Freshman Hunter Sulc and junior Grant Hagler earned their way into the tournament by virtue of third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively, in the regional tournament last weekend.
The tournament itself began on Friday morning, and it began well for both young men. Sulc started his day off with a 9-5 victory over Sam McGill of Washington & Lee High School, while Hagler earned a 7-4 win over Brad Smith of Lancaster High School, the number one wrestler from Region A.
From there, the tournament got much tougher for Hagler, who met last year’s third-place finisher and eventual runner-up Nathan Tomlin of Parry McCluer High School in the quarterfinals. The two battled for the full six minutes, but Tomlin came out on top with a 4-0 victory.
An early round upset then put Hagler against eventual fifth-place medalist Ty Wade of Riverheads High School, whom Hagler had faced and lost to twice the previous week. Although the match was the closest of the three, Hagler’s season ended with a 5-1 loss to Wade.
Despite joining the team late this year, Hagler had his best season to date, earning third place in the Bull Run District, fourth in Region B, and coming within one win of medaling at the state tournament.
After Sulc’s first-round victory, he matched up against the number one wrestler in his weight class from Region C, Jonathan Lancenese of James River High School. Sulc came out aggressive from the first whistle and controlled the match the entire time. After going up by five points, Sulc turned Lancenese to his back in the third quarter to finish the match with a pin. This set up a match-up of two freshmen in the semifinals as Sulc would face Elliott Pedigo, a freshman stand-out from far-off Grundy High School.
The match went back and forth as each wrestler was unable to really take control of the other. Going into the third period, Sulc was down by a point and in the bottom position.
Moving well off the whistle, Sulc almost secured an escape before going out of bounds. On the reset, however, he made one small mistake, hanging his head, and gave Pedigo the opening he needed to lock up a cradle and put Sulc to his back, finishing the match.
The loss dropped Sulc into the consolation bracket. In his next match, Sulc struggled against Brett Steffey of Castlewood High School, eventually getting pinned in the second period, and in his match for fifth and sixth he was caught early by Strasburg High School’s Todd Dean to lose his final match by pin.
“These two guys worked their butts off the last month and I couldn’t have asked any more of them,” head coach Bryan Harris said. “Grant wrestled well against a couple of really tough kids here and Hunter’s inexperience caught up with him at the end, but they are both fired up to get back here next year and finish higher on the podium.”
In addition to being the first Mason freshman to medal at the state tournament in over a decade, Sulc also finished the season with 35 wins. This is a new record for wins by a freshman at Mason, and occurred despite the team’s final regular season meet being cancelled because of weather. The previous record of 28 wins was set by Nick Pitas in the 2002-03 season. Pitas went on to wrestle for four years with American University.