Gardner takes second at Virginia Beach Nationals

Fredonia’s Dakota Gardner took second place this past weekend at the Virginia Beach National wrestling tournament at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

The six-day tournament consisted of 6,000 matches over 36 mats. Gardner competed in the 138-pound division with 71 other wrestlers.

In his first match, Gardner took care of Florida’s Joe Tucker with a 1:33 pin. In his second match, Gardner used a 16-1 technical fall over North Carolina’s Trent Wimbley. Gardner followed that up with a 7-0 win over DeAndre Reed of Maryland.

“These guys at this tournament are so close,” Dakota’s father, Jude Gardner Sr., said. “One or two points separate these guys from each other. (Looking at the first three matches), it says he was focused and on a mission. He told me before he was going to go back to his old self and he was going out there to wrestle and make sure they never wanted to wrestle him again.”

Gardner then outdualed Kentucky’s Ben Barton, 15-11, to advance to the semifinals. There, he edged out Peter Tebesco of Massachusetts, 3-0 to advance to the championship match against Maryland’s Kevin Budock.

Budock is a two-time Maryland state champion and a two-time national finalist. In the finals, Gardner fell, 3-0.

With his second-place finish, Gardner received high school All-American status.

“It is the most recruited tournament in the country for high school wrestling,” Gardner Sr. said. “College recruiters are all there and watching. He has had some guys from Lehigh, Brown, Maryland and Cornell approach him. Lehigh was there checking him out thoroughly.”

Before leaving for Virginia, Gardner trained with Fredonia High School coach Joe Santili in preparation for the tournament.

“Joe Santili has took time to really work with Dakota 1-on-1 to get him ready for nationals and he did a really nice job,” Gardner Sr. said. “They went to Darwin’s and the school mats. Joe took Dakota under his wing and helped a lot. Dakota’s success at Nationals is big part of that.”