Looking for events that would bolster his wrestling program, First Flight High School coach Russell Kepler and his buddy, Kyle Briglia, had an idea: stage our own tournament.
The result is the second Battle at the Beach, a 10-team, dual-meet tournament scheduled for Jan. 5-6 at First Flight High.
“It’s a great format to get your teams and fans plenty of wrestling,” Kepler says. “More bang for your buck.”
All 10 teams will wrestle each other in a dual-meet format on three mats set up in the gym. Each team will wrestle four matches Friday and five Saturday.
The field includes the host Nighthawks, Manteo High; Cape Hatteras Secondary School;, Pasquotank and Laney High from near Wilmington. Four Virginia schools will compete, including Glen Allen, which tied for 10th at last season’s 5A state tournament, Atlee, Fairfax and Hermitage. Blake High from Maryland rounds out the field.
Distance and travel considerations make it difficult for local schools to schedule mid-week non-conference matches, particularly Hatteras. The local tournament provides a competitive and tournament experience not only for First Flight, but for Manteo and Hatteras as well.
“It gives back to everybody,” Kepler says.
The first Battle at the Beach was held two years ago and was successful enough that Kepler and local organizers wanted to make it an annual event. Bad weather in the region prohibited team travel and scuttled last year’s event, but organizers revived it for this season.
First Flight returns a pair of state champions in seniors Arien Leigh and Jeremiah Derby. Leigh won the 2A title at 106 pounds last year. Derby was state champ in 2016 at 113 pounds and runner-up last season at 120 pounds. The Nighthawks graduated two-time state champ Carlos Martinez. Those three wrestlers were the only state qualifiers and they carried the team to a fifth-place finish, after winning the team title in 2016.
Kepler says that this year’s team is deeper, with competitors in nearly all weight classes and enough depth in the wrestling room to challenge each other in practice. He looks forward to the tournament, as a measuring stick for his team and a chance to reconnect with old friends.
“It’s just great competition,” he says. “We try to wrestle people better than us, to see how we measure up. I always want to win, but sometimes you learn more from a loss than you do a win.”