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The Dukes rise to the top

When I entered the gym at Nottoway High School on Jan. 23, I didn’t know I’d be covering the 2020 James River District team champion.

The two teams in my coverage area were Cumberland County High School and Randolph-Henry High School.

I knew I’d be covering some standout individual wrestlers, though. I’d heard enough from Dukes Head Coach Charles “Burrage” Bristol and Statesmen Head Coach Zack Mowery that a couple of the wrestlers on their teams were among the best — if not the best — in the state.

Mowery has been leading Randolph-Henry for a while, and the Statesmen are typically pretty strong, so it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise if they had won the tournament.

But I had been hearing a lot about what has been going on at Cumberland: A program that had shown some promise last season had taken off. Bristol came in as head coach for the 2019-20 season and brought with him a wealth of recruits.

“We have eight returners, and I believe we have 28 total wrestlers, so we were able to recruit 22 new students,” he said in my initial interview with him.

When I first met Bristol and saw the Dukes in action a week into 2020, the team had already nearly doubled its number of team wins from the 2018-19 season, with nine compared to five.

But it is still a big leap to go from having a few standouts to being the top team in a district that includes the likes of Goochland High School, a Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 3 school, and Nottoway High School and Randolph-Henry, both of which are VHSL Class 2 schools. Cumberland is the smallest — VHSL Class 1.

I suppose my first hint that Cumberland might be in the running for the district crown Jan. 23, though, came when Joseph Nowak, the school’s athletic director, let me know that all 11 of the Dukes’ wrestlers competing in the tournament would be participating in the final matches determining who would finish first and second as well as third and fourth in the different weight classes. This would allow the potential for a lot of points for Cumberland.

In the end, the Dukes finished with 145, which put them 25 points ahead of their nearest competitor on the night — Goochland.

After the tourney, Nowak told me Cumberland had been in a good position to have a shot at the title because it entered the most wrestlers in the event out of any of the six schools competing. The Dukes had 11. The Bulldogs and the Statesmen were closest to that, each entering 10.

Cumberland had three individual district champions: senior heavyweight Blake Barker, freshman 126-pounder Cole Dalton and senior 152-pounder Trevor Dayton.

Dukes placing second included 113-pounder Celeste Mitchell, 132-pounder Trenton Thomas, 160-pounder Trequan Trent and 220-pounder Thomas Trowbridge.

Dukes placing third were 138-pounder James Miller, 182-pounder Jake Price and 195-pounder Mark Tuttle.

Cumberland 170-pounder Kristen Caleb placed fourth.

When all was said and done, I was excited to be taking a team photo of the Dukes in celebration of their first district tournament title since 2013.

Congratulations, Cumberland! And I wish the best to the Dukes at regionals and beyond.

Titus Mohler is the sports editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Titus.Mohler@FarmvilleHerald.com.