BLUEFIELD, Va. — On the long bus ride to the Region IV wrestling meet in Martinsville last week, Graham High School wrestlers Charlie Holbrook and Jamey Ball had some tips for their cousin, Chase Stasheen.

He apparently was listening as hard as he’s been working all year.

Stasheen (103 pounds), Holbrook (152) and Graham teammate Ben Gross (140) all qualified for the Group AA state wrestling tournament starting Friday at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.

“I’ve been practicing with my cousins over the summer,” Stasheen said. “They know a lot. They just teach me and give me a lot of tips and stuff.”

With final plans being made for the state meet, Holbrook said Tuesday, “It’s a good feeling, having my cousin going with me.”

Stasheen, a slim 10th-grader, pinned an Abingdon grappler in the first few seconds of a regional match and eventually qualified for his first state meet. After the pin, Stasheen said, the referee “just tapped the mat. I didn’t know what happened, really. He told me I’d done a good job.”

Stasheen had five top-four finishes in tournaments in the regular season and was 27-14 overall.

It’s the second straight trip to the state event for Holbrook, a junior who has already achieved 101 wins — the first Graham wrestler to surpass 100 wins before his senior year. Four other G-Men achieved that milestone in their senior season.

Gross, also a junior, had two tourney championships and four top-four finishes this season, competing at 140 pounds and posting a 32-9 record. He said, “It was a really big dream of mine to make it (to the state meet) this year.”

Gross and Holbrook took first place in the Southwest District tournament. All three wrestlers finished fourth in Region IV. The top four in each weight class advance, but the fourth-place wrestler will start by facing off with No. 1 in their weight class.

Graham head wrestling coach Tim Woodward said that the No. 4 spot is “the toughest route to go” through the state-level bracket, “but fourth place gets you there. You’ve just got to make the best out of it.”

“I tell them, ‘You’re doing it the hard way. ... If you win, that’s great; you’ve pulled off an upset. If not, you’re down in the wrestle-backs and you’re shooting to stay alive on Friday and come back on Saturday morning to finish in the top eight in the state.’

“There are a lot of kids who wrestle their whole career and never make it to the state once. ... They need to keep in mind that they’re one of the 16 best wrestlers for their weight class this year in the state of Virginia.”

Gross said, “My philosophy is, you face tougher people, you’re going to get better. You learn from your mistakes. I’ve always wanted to go against the best competition, even if I lose, to see how much better I can get, to see how far you can actually take your abilities.”

Woodward said, “All three of these kids have worked hard all year. They’ve all improved, and hung in there through injury and illness ... and they’ve come on strong here at the end. They’ve peaked at the right time of the year.”

Woodward said Holbrook’s 101 wins is “really an incredible feat” for his junior year. “He’s a good student of the sport. He knows what’s going on with it. He borrows, he looks at other wrestlers’ styles and tries to incorporate things that work for other people. He’s just an all-around good kid.”

Stasheen only won six matches last year in his first varsity season. This year, Woodward said, “he’s improved in everything he’s done. That hard work’s paid off.”

Looking to the state meet, Gross said, “It’s really the big show. You get out there, and it’s a whole lot different. ... A lot more fans, just a bigger experience. ... That’s something I’d like to see. Wrestling, you don’t get a lot of recognition for it. It’ll be nice to see a crowd for once.”

Woodward said Gross has himself to thank for his advancement. “During the summer, he wrestled in tournaments. He got into the weight room a lot,” the coach said. “He just worked to improve himself. And it’s shown, this year.”

Gross said, “I just needed to get my conditioning up, and get a little stronger. Start working on my speed a little bit.”

Holbrook (35-7 this season) said his repeat state appearance came simply from “working harder” and gaining “more experience. You know what to expect.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

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