The 29th Annual National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Nationals was wrestled March 23rd-25th in Virginia Beach, VA. This annual tournament features wrestlers from all over the United States and beyond. The field is separated into middle school, freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior divisions wrestled on 40 mats over the course of three days. Over 4,000 wrestlers attended this year’s tournament featuring hundreds of state champions and state place winners.
The ‘Virginia Beach’ nationals as it is often referred to is one of the premier high school wrestling events anywhere as it can pit state and national champions against one another in nearly every round from the opening round to the finals. Athletes who have already committed to colleges and up and coming prospects alike are seen by college coaches. Today’s stars of the sport like Olympic gold medalists Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner and collegiate champion Zain Retherford were once NHSCA Champions and have been spotted watching the talent on the floor.
A handful of local wrestlers traveled to Virginia Beach to compete in this year’s event. Niagara Falls sophomore and 2018 NYS Champion Willie McDougald earned All-American status with a runner-up finish in the 132-pound bracket to California’s Chase Saldate from Gilroy H.S. a, 4th place finisher in the California state tournament.
McDougald’s bracket was filled out by 128 wrestlers from all over the country. He started with three straight first period pins to earn his way into the round of 16. Two decision victories both by two points put Willie into the semi-final and guaranteed another All-American finish. Willie was 4th in 2016 and 2017 as a middle schooler and freshmen, respectively.
“I took second, so I got a lot to work on” said McDougald after the finals loss. “After nationals I went to the wrestling room and worked on some stuff that I needed to. I’ve got another national tournament coming up soon (FloNationals) in about two weeks…hopefully I’ve improved since then.”
Niagara-Wheatfield sophomore and two time NYS finalist Justin McDougald also earned All-American with a 6th place finish in the 126-pound bracket. Justin earned two early round pins, an 8-0 major decision, and a tight 3-0 win to get himself into the quarter finals. A 3-1 loss to Florida 2A state champion Chris Rivera from Fort Myers would drop McDougald into the wrestlebacks. Two more wins both by 3-1 decisions put Justin into the consolation semifinals. A loss in the consolation would set up a rematch with Rivera where McDougald would lose a close 4-2 decision for 6th place.
Both Willie and Justin will participate in the FloNationals April 6-8 in Indiana, PA.
Other area athletes wrestling in Virginia Beach were:
Julian Martin, 120-pounds – Lake Shore
Mike Catanzaro, 128 – Williamsville North
Ronnie Jones, 138 – St. Joe’s
Ben Parish, 138 – St. Joe’s
Ryan Stencel, 145 – Lancaster
Jake DeWolf, 138 – Niagara-Wheatfield
Josh Thibeault, 160 – Niagara-Wheatfield
Warren McDougald, 145 – Niagara-Wheatfield
Bryce Rowe, 170 – Chautauqua Lake
Vinny Catanzaro, 138 – Williamsville North
Team scores for each state were recorded as well. The NYS middle school ‘team’ took second overall behind Georgia, 214-183. 34 states represented at the middle school nationals.
NYS Freshmen took 5th out of 44 states. Sophomores took 6th out of 47 states and NYS Juniors placed 5th out of 47 entered states. The NYS Senior team placed first out of the 47 states entered with 247 team points and crowning three NHSCA champions, one second, one third, one fourth, one fifth, three seventh, and two eighth placers. Team Ohio was second with 208.5 points.