SALEM — In what was likely his last wrestling season, Chatham junior Gabe Medlin reached a level of wrestling success he had never known before.
In his first year at Chatham after three years of wrestling at Hargrave Military Academy, Medlin reached the podium for the first time in his career Saturday at the VHSL Class 2 Wrestling State Championships at the Salem Civic Center.
Medlin lost to Patrick County senior Alfredo Gutierrez in the 126-pound consolation semifinals early on Saturday, and he was pinned in 1:21 by Nandua’s Matthew Taylor in the fifth-place match, giving him sixth place.
He had made the VISAA wrestling meet each of the last three years, but he never placed. Medlin said he’ll likely graduate from Chatham in December, so he was thankful to leave high school wrestling on a high note.
“I’ve always been in the ninth or 10th range, and finally I got into the top six, so I’m happy about that,” he said. “I wish I could have gotten a little higher, but I’m not going to look down on that. I still finished in the top six.”
He finished his season with a 25-13 record.
Medlin lost his first match of the tournament Friday to Taylor as well, a fall in 1:32. But he regrouped to win by fall in 1:50 over Stonewall Jackson’s Jesse Lemon and by 6-4 decision over Nottoway’s Austin Williams to make it to the second day of action.
“It took a lot of tenacity to lose that first match as bad as he did and fight back — two crucial wins or you’re out, and he did well,” Chatham head coach Brent Walton said. “I’m very impressed with how he worked.”
Against Gutierrez, Medlin trailed 7-0 in the third period before earning his first point on an escape. Gutierrez added another takedown to finish with a 9-1 major decision. In the fifth-place match, Taylor led 5-0 after the first period courtesy of a takedown and three-point nearfall. Taylor earned the fall in the second period.
Still, Walton could see his strategic progress throughout the day. Freshman teammate Colin Lester came along for the trip to help drill and practice in between matches.
“It’s a lot of mental work [after a loss],” Walton said. “The physical work’s done. You can’t change anything physical here. It’s a lot of going over game plans too. ‘Get over the loss, look at the kid you have next, find out what you can game plan for and execute.’ He’s a very cerebral-type person. He likes to think and strategize, so that part wasn’t as hard as it usually is. He’s up for the challenge.”
Throughout the tournament, Medlin won with a smile on his face and lost with equal grace. It’s tough to make it to the state meet and come away without a championship, but he said he was grateful for the experience nonetheless.
“I knew it was my last season. On top of that, it was my first year wrestling public school since middle school, so I wanted to make the best of it,” he said. “I originally wasn’t going to wrestle this year, I was gonna work, but my coaches talked me into it, and I’m glad they did. I wouldn’t be here without them talking me into it.”
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.