Mason Stewart’s father is in his corner.
No, really. The James River High School wrestler’s dad, Bobby, is the Knights’ head coach, and the old man had a mat-side view of a thrill of a lifetime Saturday.
The elder Stewart was brought to tears as he watched his son claim the VHSL Class 2 state championship at 138 pounds with a 5-2 decision over Skyline’s Jaylon Burks at Salem Civic Center.
“I couldn’t be more ecstatic,” said Bobby Stewart, who finished third in the state when he wrestled at Lord Botetourt. “I fell short. You always want your kid to [succeed]. I’m just so proud right now.”
Father and son shared a jubilant bear hug seconds after the match ended.
“It makes me happy seeing him happy,” Mason Stewart said. “When he cries, I cry. When I cry, he cries.”
James River’s team placed third overall as the Knights scored 104 points to finish behind only repeat champion Poquoson (140) and runner-up Strasburg (106 1/2).
“It’s the best in school history,” Bobby Stewart said. “The biggest thing we were gunning for was a team second [place]. If I don’t get a trophy here, I’ll still buy one and put it in the wrestling room.”
Mason Stewart took the gold medal on a night when three other Timesland wrestlers — Alleghany’s Victor Goldberg (113), Glenvar freshman Trey Lawrence (132) and Marion’s Will Moss (285) — placed second.
Stewart’s championship bout against Burks was tight with the Strasburg junior holding the upper hand early.
“I locked up a cradle in the third period,” Stewart said. “He was gassed. I could feel him breathing hard. I got the two back points and held him the rest of the period.
“It felt really good to beat a strong opponent. I’ve been watching him the last two days. He dominated everyone. I knew it was going to be us in the finals.”
If Stewart had the same feeling during much of the 2019-20 season, his record didn’t show it.
He came into the tournament with 12 losses and eight of those were pins after he was ahead on the scoreboard.
“Bad positioning,” the James River junior said. “I had little, short guys, stronger than me, turning me over and pinning me.”
James River’s third-place team finish was buoyed by Chase Cuddy (113), Addison McCaleb (182) and Levi Walker (285), who finished third in their respective divisions, while Hunter Forbes (145) was fourth.
Forbes is graduating, but the Knights return a strong core.
“I think most of the people on my team know what to do next year,” Mason Stewart said. “We’re going to bring it next year.”
Glenvar is another program on the rise as the Highlanders placed fourth with 90 points.
Lawrence nearly gave Glenvar an individual champ as he led the 132-pound final 1-0 after an early escape, but the ninth-grader was unable to hold off the Strasburg senior despite a warning for stalling against Strasburg’s Skylar Stickles.
“He got me with a bar and I couldn’t get my arm out,” Lawrence said. “I tried standing up with him. He had me up on his back and I was like, monkey-hanging on him.
“He took me back down. He got the stall call so I was trying to wrestle him but I couldn’t get it. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s not dead last so I’m happy with it.”
Fellow freshman Jake Cline (120) and seniors Caleb Shelton (138) and Christian Smith (170) placed third for the Highlanders.
Patrick County got fourth-place finishes from Alfredo Gutierrez (120) and Owen Smith (132).
“We just bust our tails in practice,” Lawrence said. “We turn the heat up to make it 100 degrees every day.”
Cline’s father, Jason, is Glenvar’s head coach. Lawrence’s dad is Highlanders assistant J.R. Lawrence, who was decked out in a bright yellow shirt and Glenvar-green bow tie.
“I was trying to get him to wear pink or bright red, but he wouldn’t go for it,” Lawrence said.
Goldberg wrapped up his Alleghany career in the 113-pound final, but he was pinned by Poquoson’s Karon Smith, who took out Cuddy in the semifinals with 17-2 technical fall.
“He was quick, that’s for sure,” said Goldberg, who finished 25-6. “I think I had him on muscle, but he just had a shot on me.
“I took every match like it could be my last. It’s different world here. I feel happy from where I started.”
Moss was a picture of dejection after he was pinned by Madison County sophomore Jacob Sacra in 5:26 in the 285-pound final.
The big Marion wrestler took advantage of the fact he was in the night’s final match to linger in his coach’s chair in the corner and contemplate how close he came to repeating his 2019 title in the final match of his career.
Moss grabbed an early 2-0 lead, but the 6-foot-6 Sacra’s legs were just too long and powerful to overcome.
“He was a hell of a lot stronger than he was last year,” Moss said. “I was not able to keep going, having to lift all that muscle and weight. The saying is true. Muscle does weigh more than actual fat. I’ll give him that one.”