Barr sets high mark with 100th win

Jimmy LaRoue

What could have been a devastating loss for Warhill wrestler Malik Barr early in his career became a chance at redemption just a week later.

At that point, Barr was a sophomore wrestling at 145 pounds in his second season on the mat when he faced off against New Kent’s Wyatt Terry and suffered a 17-3 blowout loss — a technical fall in wrestling terms — in the 2016 3A East Conference 25 tournament.

The following week in the region tournament, Barr met Terry again in the consolation semifinals. This time, a berth in the Group 3A state meet was on the line. In the rematch, Barr picked up a one-point win.

That’s when Warhill coach Scott Lish saw evidence of Barr’s mental makeup, and he could learn lessons in defeat and bounce back.

“I’m thinking holy crap, this kid just tech’ed us a week ago, and Malik ended up beating him 4-3,” Lish said. “And that’s when I knew that this kid — and again, it goes back to the mental toughness — (wouldn’t) fold. He had every reason to think, ‘Oh, this guy just beat me by 15 points last time.’ He came back and won by a point.”

Not only that, Barr came back to score the deciding point in the last 20 seconds of the match.

“That was the key, pivotal moment in his career at the high school level,” Lish said.

From that moment, Barr, along with Lish, saw his potential on the mat. Lish hopes for a strong performance from Barr — who is now a senior — and the rest of the Lions’ wrestlers at this weekend’s Class 4, Region A wrestling tournament at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.

It helped ease a difficult decision for Barr to quit football to focus solely on wrestling.

“It was heartbreaking ‘cause I was playing football since I was 5, and then ever since I came onto wrestling, I’ve been doing that for (just) four years now,” Barr said. “And my junior year last year, I just quit halfway through the season of football, and I just wanted to work on my skills for wrestling and go as big as possible there.”

Barr, wrestling at 152 pounds this season, beat Terry again in a more convincing 7-1 fashion to earn his 100th win. It’s something just one other Lions wrestler, Trey Drummond, has accomplished. Drummond did so in 2016, Barr’s fateful sophomore season.

“Ever since my sophomore year when I witnessed my teammate Trey Drummond — he had the first 100th win, I always wanted to get up and (do) what he did. I just trained hard and worked harder.”

Barr’s mat success is setting the Lions wrestling program on a higher plane. Lish, along with assistants Brandon Waltrip and Bill Stark, are setting higher expectations for the program, and the likes of Barr and the rest of the team are meeting and exceeding them. An example of that was beating perennial region and state contender Smithfield for the first time ever — 33-31 — Jan. 30.

Besides his mental toughness, Lish said Barr — “he’s a perfect package” — is focused, strong for his size, smart and has a long reach he uses to his advantage.

Barr hopes to wrestle in college and to study criminal justice. He said Division I Old Dominion and George Mason, as well as Division III Ferrum — a school about halfway between Roanoke and Martinsville in western Virginia — have all shown interest.

“Whatever Malik chooses to do in life, the lessons he’s learned from wrestling and a great family, he’s going to be fine,” Lish said. “He’s going to be great.”

Short term, Lish is confident Barr can improve from last season’s results, in which Barr finished third in the region and fifth in the state. Barr hopes his increased stamina will be the difference, especially in the third and final period of a match.

“I think he’ll win the region,” Lish said. “I definitely think he can win the region. Depending on how the seedings go at states, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the state finals. We’ll just see from there.”

Barr aims to be a region and state champion, eclipse Drummond, and along the way, continue to elevate the Warhill program and set its goals higher.

“He just set the bar high, and I just want to set it higher,” Barr said. “To see him accomplish what I’ve wanted to do, I want to do everything better than he did. I wanted to have a better record, get up to 100 (wins), try to be the first state champion. When he set the bar high, I saw that and I was like, alright, I want to train hard, and work hard and try to do everything better than he did. And hopefully nobody else will come up behind me and do for a long time.”

Want to go?

What: Class 4 Region A wrestling tournament

Where: Churchland High School, Portsmouth

When: Friday and Saturday

Admission: $8 for each day, or $15 for both

Local teams: Warhill, Lafayette and Jamestown

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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