Bay Rivers District fans are an enthusiastic lot, but sellouts during the winter season are rare. Coaches are expecting packed gymnasiums at two schools Wednesday, and it’s little wonder because so much is at stake.
In boys basketball, Grafton (12-0 district) plays at Bruton (10-1) with first place on the line. In wrestling, Poquoson (5-0 BRD) hosts perennial champion New Kent (5-0) and Smithfield (4-1) in a tri-meet that will decide the district championship.
“Poquoson’s fans are going to have a ‘blackout’ (wearing all black), New Kent is going to be busing fans to the match, and we’ll of course bring as many as we can. This will be as big a crowd as I’ve ever coached in front of besides the Virginia Duals.
“I don’t think there’s a sport where the kids work harder than wrestling, and this will be a payoff for them.”
Grafton’s basketball team would carry a streak similar to New Kent’s wrestlers, had Bruton not beaten the Clippers in the Williamsburg area a year ago. It is Grafton’s only hoops loss against a district team in its past 33 games.
“That loss left a sour taste in our kids’ mouths,” Grafton coach Jeremy Jordan said. “We anticipate a big crowd and a big-game atmosphere, but our kids love playing in these kinds of games.”
Bruton coach Joe Dillard promises that the student body at his school will provide the big-game feeling Grafton savors.
“This is it right here; it will probably decide it all,” Dillard said, referring to the district championship. “There’s going to be a ‘blackout,’ and I expect it to be a sold-out crowd.
“We hope that gives us the home-court advantage you want in your building. Grafton better come prepared to play.”
The Clippers won the first meeting 67-56 earlier this season, breaking a tie with less than four minutes remaining and outscoring the Panthers 16-5 to finish the game. Both coaches believe their teams are much better now.
“We’ve improved in all aspects, particularly defensively,” said Jordan, whose team has held opponents to 50 or fewer points in nine of 16 games.
Dillard said, “Our biggest improvement (since the first Grafton game) is our composure and attention to detail.
“We’re defending and rebounding well, and our quarter-court offense is better.”
Nevertheless, Dillard would prefer an up-tempo style rather than a game played more in the quarter-court, where Grafton excels. While Grafton will play almost exclusively man-to-man defense, Bruton will attempt to push the tempo with three-quarter-court defensive pressure.
The game features perhaps the district’s two best players, Grafton forward Elijah Moore and Bruton wing Marcus Carter. Moore, a 6-foot-7 junior, averages 22 points and 8.5 rebounds, while Carter, a 6-2 junior, is averaging 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds.
Figuring out the top matches in the three wrestling duals is a bit tougher, because coaches often bump their wrestlers up or down a weight class to gain a strategic advantage. Regardless, the New Kent-Poquoson match — which is expected to settle the district crown — is expected to be close.
“I have them winning seven bouts apiece,” Wiatt said. “It could come down to bonus points (extra points for major decisions, technical falls and pins).”
Poquoson coach Eric Decker said, “We don’t want to swallow the pill that we’re supposed to lose to New Kent. There’s no doubt it’s New Kent’s match to lose, but they better come prepared.
“There’s no pressure on my kids because they’re supposed to lose, but that makes it fun because there’s no pressure on them. We can’t look past Smithfield, either.”
The Packers bring plenty of quality wrestlers likely to shine on the state level, particularly Carter Page (138 pounds), Nick Kennedy (182) and Chuck Sharon (195). What could leave the Packers on the short end of two close team matches is that they are comparatively weak in the five lighter weights.
New Kent and Poquoson, by contrast, have few holes in their lineups. The premier bout of the night could be at 152 pounds, pitting Poquoson freshman Ross Graham against New Kent star Brett Flora. Graham is tagged as a future state title contender, but Flora, third in the AA state tournament at 145 last year, has the edge in experience.
If Wiatt is correct, and the teams are expected to split the 14 bouts evenly, the 126-pound bout between New Kent’s Blake Hohman and Poquoson’s Kyle Poultney could be a key.
Whatever the matchups, they will be conducted amid the kind of frenetic atmosphere also expected up the road for the basketball game at Bruton.
“It’s going to be electric,” Decker said. “I told our athletic director (Ken Bennett) to put some chairs out, because there’s not going to be an empty seat in the place.
“It’s going to be standing-room-only. It’s going to be a very, very exciting atmosphere like most people haven’t seen around here in a very, very long time.”