SALEM — Since Dan River High School brought back its wrestling program six years ago after a 20-some-year hiatus, the Wildcats have had state qualifiers and state placers.
But one thing the program has never had was a state champion.
Junior Elijah “Bam” Moshenek became the first on Saturday, winning by 13-5 major decision over Appomattox County’s John Martin at 126 pounds in the VHSL Class 2 Wrestling State Championships at the Salem Civic Center.
Fresh off the mat, through deep breaths, he reflected on what it meant to place first and be his school’s first champion.
“I’m proud to represent Dan River,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and this was the goal.”
This year was his third trip to the state meet, and he finally found the success he had long hoped for.
“Freshman year I got fourth, wasn’t happy. Came back sophomore year and got third, still wasn’t satisfied,” Moshenek said. “Came here, got in the finals and won it all.”
After yelling and flexing at the crowd, Moshenek came off the mat and embraced his father and head coach Chris Moshenek.
“I knew this was gonna come eventually for him,” Chris said. “He just worked too hard to not ever get it, and it’s here, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Just as the early exits from the state meet took their toll on his son, the losses were similarly tough for Chris.
“It’s hard as a dad, it’s hard as a coach, it’s hard to watch him go through failing to achieve his goal,” he said. “But in the same thing, it’s great to watch him — yes, he’s down for a little bit right there, but then he comes right back and works even harder.”
Chris recalls last season, when Elijah lost in the semifinals at 113 pounds and declared he wouldn’t lose in the semifinals again.
“I’m really proud of him for continuing to drive forward and never give up,” Chris said.
Also in Moshenek’s corner was Averett University junior wrestler Sam Braswell, who has helped with training since they met last summer.
“He’s really improved my wrestling in every area,” Moshenek said. “I’m very grateful.”
He finishes his junior season with a 40-4 overall record.
Moshenek won his only match on Friday, a fall in 4:37 over Luke Heller of Stuarts Draft, sending him to the semifinals on Saturday.
In the semis, Moshenek and Colten Barke, a senior at Poquoson, labored through a scoreless opening period. Barke tallied a point first by getting an escape at the start of the second, but Moshenek led 2-1 following a takedown going into the third.
Moshenek chose the down position and was able to break free of Barke’s grasp to claim his third point and fend off Barke’s takedown attempts in the waning seconds.
With just one match remaining, Moshenek made sure to not disrupt his usual planning, lest he suffer another exit before he was ready.
“One step at a time, pray, good coaching, and don’t let seeding or anything like that distract you,” he said.
In the final, Martin scored the first takedown, but Moshenek answered with an escape and a takedown of his own before the end of the first period. He chose the down position to begin the middle period and quickly escaped, moving his lead to 4-2. Following a takedown and a three-point nearfall, Moshenek led 9-2 going to the third.
Moshenek tallied another takedown to open the final period, and he stayed just out of Martin’s reach thereafter en route to a 13-5 final.
With one year left in his high school career, Moshenek hopes to return to state next year and become a two-time champion. Until then, though, the feeling of winning — finally — will suffice.
“Best feeling I’ve ever felt,” he said.
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.