Glenelg coach Chris Rosas knows the importance of depth in tournament wrestling.
So even though his team trailed defending county and state tournament champion River Hill after Saturday morning’s semifinal round of the 44th annual Howard County wrestling championships at Oakland Mills High School, he knew that it was far from over.
With four wrestlers advancing to the championship round — nine more alive in the consolation bracket — there were still plenty of points on the table for the Gladiators.
In the end, all 13 Glenelg wrestlers placed fifth or higher, and the Gladiators won, 224.5-216, over River Hill for their fourth tournament title since 2007.
“Monday at practice after the seeding meeting I told the guys, ‘My goal, my challenge to you, is to place everyone top five.’ Looking at our seeds, looking at what we can do, I think it’s possible,” Rosas said. “A lot of guys have to wrestle above their seed … and they did it. They met my challenge.”
River Hill, which was 11-0 during the Howard County dual meet season, crowned five champs — Michael Beck (106), Taariq Mohammed (113), Brian Kirby (182) and defending champions Cory Daniel (195) and Logan Kirby (220).
Beck, a finalist last year as a sophomore, was injured since mid-January. But he returned to practice just days before the county tournament, where he beat Mt. Hebron sophomore Jeff Hayden, 4-2, in the finals.
"I couldn't practice for almost a month, and I came back this week and I've wrestled since Saturday. It's gotten me in shape a little bit but not as much as I'd like," said Beck, who improved to 28-0. "I wrestled with (Hayden) a lot in junior league. We were on the same Vipers team, we were practice partners ... so we know each other's styles and what we do. I think that's why it was such a low scoring match, because we both knew what we were going to do."
Mohammed, who has placed third each of the past two seasons, scored a second period pin in the finals.
"It's a lot of hard work. Four years of offseason stuff, training with the team," said Mohammed, who is now 32-4. "I had been training for four years. I was confident in my abilities so I just wrestled hard."
Brian Kirby made the county finals at 138 pounds last year as a freshman, but wrestled at 170 pounds for most of this season before bumping up to 182 just before the county tournament. He defeated Oakland Mills' Dominick Clarke, 4-3, in the finals on a takedown with just over 30 seconds left.
"I weighed in this morning at 178, so I was still giving up six pounds ... Dominick was a strong wrestler ... he knew what he was doing so it was a tough win but I got it," said Brian Kirby, who withstood a furious scramble in the final seconds. "It was tiring. I was definitely in the wrong position at the beginning but I kept moving my feet and eventually got on top."
Daniel (35-0) has been one of the most dominant wrestlers in Maryland this season. So it was somewhat surprising when Oakland Mills' first year varsity wrestler Robby Happy scored the first takedown of their championship match, 20 seconds into the first period.
"I think I went out there tough. He was just really warmed up for it and I guess he just wanted it a little bit more at the beginning there ... he worked for that first takedown," said Daniel, who eventually won, 14-5. "Overall it wasn't a bad match at all, I just didn't wrestle to my potential. Next week is regionals and two weeks is states ... and I need to get prepared for it. I'm glad I had a test like that."
Defending state heavyweight champion Sean Twigg was Glenelg’s only county champ, but seniors Chris Winter (113), Ryan Carter (138) and Anthony Pagnotta (170) all joined him as finalists. And Tim Null (106), Parker Griffie (120), Austin Pagnotta (145) and Austin Twigg (195) all wrestled back through the consolation finals to take third.
“You look at a guy like Chris Winter who’s been wrestling for about a year now, and he took advantage of an opportunity,” Rosas said. “He was a sixth seed and if he gets sixth place we don’t win. He got himself to the finals. As a senior he really wanted to go after it and he did it. I’m really impressed by him.”
By the time Sean Twigg defeated Oakland Mills’ Roy Kadje with a takedown in overtime, Glenelg had already clinched the title.
“We went into (the finals) pretty confident because we knew that (River Hill) needed some pins to catch us,” said Twigg, who also defeated River Hill’s Justin Nestor in triple overtime in the semifinals. “We knew it was the finals and you’re not going to have a bunch of pins.”
The only weight class Glenelg did not score points at was 160, where starter Joe Zoller has been out with a knee injury.