As the last seconds ticked away in David Ray’s wrestling championship match Saturday, few in the crowd of 5,000 at the Salem Civic Center realized they were watching the George Mason High School senior make history.
With his 15-4 trouncing of Holston High’s Timmy Wolfe, Ray not only captured the state title in the Group A 152-pound weight class, but he put the finishing touch on the finest single season by any wrestler in George Mason High School history. The win brought Ray’s season record to 39-0 as he became what is believed to be the only Mason wrestler to complete a season undefeated. “We have been searching the archives for a while now,” said Head Coach Bryan Harris in reference to a question regarding the uniqueness of Ray’s feat, “but we can’t absolutely confirm it is the only undefeated season in Mason’s history. There is no doubt, however, that it is hands down the best season ever,” continued Harris. “We have extensive records from the mid 90s and no one has done it since then. Before that time, to have more than 20 or so matches a year was almost unheard of, so to finish at 39-0 blows away any other undefeated season, if one does indeed exist.”
The ease with which Ray cruised through the championship match belied the tense moments that transpired during his semifinals match earlier that day when he needed overtime to snag a 4-2 victory over Region C’s champion Zach Hill of Glenvar. Using a stalling tactic which worked to perfection to keep the score low, Hill was able to guide the match into sudden death overtime where he hoped to catch Ray making a mistake.
“Hill did a good job of avoiding David all match,” said Harris.
“David is a scramble style wrestler who gets a lot of points and pins off of an opponent’s inability to keep up with him. Hill is definitely not that style of wrestler and he knew his only hope of beating David was to slow the action, keep the score close, and hope for a mistake or penalty call. He got one in the final seconds of regulation to send the match into overtime, so obviously his strategy worked to some extent.”
“Fortunately, David got a clean shot during the overtime and was able to take him down for the win,”
In the finals it was all Ray all the time. Starting with a takedown in the first 20 seconds Ray had Wolfe on his back midway through the first period and had an 8-4 lead at the start of the second period. A quick reverse and more back points gave Ray a 12-4 lead, which he took into the third period. After some maneuvering and unsuccessful attempts by Wolfe to escape, Ray put him to his back and held him there until the final seconds of the match. Three more near fall points made it 15-4 Ray and the celebration began. The lopsided score of Ray’s finals bout might cause one to suppose it was an easy match to watch but Harris did not see it that way.
“Coach P (Mason’s assistant coach, John Pitas) and I were nervous wrecks,” conceded Harris.
He continued, “First, it was his final match and we didn’t want anything to go wrong. So we made sure we followed all our pre-match rituals exactly. Second, David’s style of wrestling is so freewheeling that refs who are not familiar with it sometimes have trouble making the correct calls. There were a couple of times it looked like David was in trouble, but he was in full control and the ref awarded Wolfe some points.
“At one point it was tied 4-4 and it really should have been 8-0 in favor of David. Fortunately, as the match progressed the ref figured it out and we could relax a little. Still, neither of us has any fingernails left,” said Harris.
Not to be overlooked during the weekend was a fine performance by Jake Schwind who closed out his career with a third-place finish at 171-pounds. After a tough 6-4 loss in the semifinals to Josh Adams of Chilhowie, Schwind stayed focused and came roaring back to beat Daniel Bradford of Floyd County and Will Wright of Rural Retreat and ensured his trip to the medal stand.
Teammate Manuel Veiga-Diaz, who also earned a trip to the state tournament with a third-place finish at last week’s Region B tournament, wrestled well but finished out of medal contention, going 1-2 on the weekend.
“It is great to have a champion and Jake wrestled a terrific tournament too,” said Harris, “but we are also excited by Manuel’s performance. Most fans don’t realize he has been wrestling only one year.”
Harris added, “To have come this far in that time is a noteworthy feat. We look to Manuel to lead us next year and be the inspiration for the team as we work toward the 2010 state tournament.”
As a team Mason finished in 15th place on the strength of the labors of the three wrestlers. Harris expressed optimism that next year would be better. “We have a good group of wrestlers returning,” he said. “Manuel, Teddy Rueckert, Natan Lairlari, Jackson Thomas, Alborz Alaeddini and Danny Seidita will anchor our team and we look to talented eighth graders Nate Cooper, John Glover, Tyler Waters, Ari Ulzii and Jake Facas to step in and help take us to a big finish.”
He concluded, “Who knows, maybe we’ll have another state champ!”