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.
River Hill (2000-2004, 2009, 2012) has won six county tournaments since 2000, when coach Brandon Lauer won his third county title as a senior.
“It was neck-and-neck the whole time and it was exciting and fun for both teams and the whole county,” Lauer said. “Every match is important ... we had opportunities all tournament to get points here, get points there ... and that’s the way it goes.”
River Hill’s five county champions were two more than any other team.
“We went five for six (in the finals) and that’s always a good confidence boost going into regionals,” said Logan Kirby, who defeated Mt. Hebron's Ryan Hassan, 2-0. “The freshmen have stepped up ... I’m proud of our team.”
Wilde Lake’s Tola Morakinyo (170), who pinned his way through the tournament in a total of 3:32, earned the Glenn DeVane Outstanding Wrestler award. Morakinyo is undefeated this season after losing to Cory Daniel in last year’s county finals and placing third in the state tournament.
“This is my last year, I had to get my name up on the wall and make history,” Morakinyo said. “I’ve still got two more weeks, but this is definitely a great start.”
Oakland Mills senior Zach Hensley (120) became a three-time Howard County champion in front of his home crowd, while Reservoir’s Mason Kilcarr (132) and Wilde Lake’s Malik Jackson (145), both juniors, earned their second titles.
“This is something I really wanted to do,” said Hensley, who got a pep talk from his former practice partner — three-time state champion Tony Farace — before his championship match against Reservoir's Trent Kilcarr. “He told me to wrestle my match and he told me good luck right before I went out there.”
Kilcarr's match against Wilde Lake's Daniel Andrews got off to a rocky start when his vision was blurred by an inadvertent poke to the eye.
"Everything was blurry but I just got things back together," said Kilcarr, who scored a pin with nine seconds left on the clock in the third period. "He was really strong. I couldn't work anything on top. I would have hand control and he would try to break it up, and I would just throw it over and get the half. After the third time he did that I just sucked it in and got the W."
Jackson is Wilde Lake’s first two-time county champ since Alvin Harris and Zathy Ndiang won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
“Coming into my second county finals match I was ready, I wasn’t the same young kid that I was before,” said Jackson, who defeated Mt. Hebron sophomore Connor Strunk, 7-3, in the finals.
Centennial freshman Austin Kraisser, whose older brother Nathan won four county and state titles between 2009 and 2012, won the 138-pound title.
Brian Kraisser also won two county titles in 2009 and 2010.
“The last six Centennial county winners were Kraissers and I wanted to keep that line going,” said Austin Kraisser, whose father Cliff was a 1980 county champ. “I got (the first) one out of the way and hopefully I can do the same things at regions and states. It’s always the first one that’s the toughest.”
Wilde Lake’s Jordan Trinh (126), Mt. Hebron’s Joe Kendrick (152) and Hammond’s Bryan Overton (160) all became first-time champions as seniors.
This is the first time since 1993 that Wilde Lake has had three county champions.
“Starting with my brother (Ethan) entering in ‘07 with Zathy and Alvin, they really started a whole new style of wrestling at Wilde Lake ... we don’t get a lot of people with experience, but we train them, we throw them to the wolves, and we learn fast,” said Trinh, who defeated River Hill freshman Sean Guthier, 1-0.
Kendrick, a returning state placewinner who is 28-3 this season, was given the fourth seed. But he used that as motivation, knocking off top-seeded defending county champ Sam Rowell in the semifinals, before beating Centennial’s Sameh Boulos, 3-0, in the championship.
“My seeding really motivated me to do better and do what I did here tonight,” he said. “I was a little angered, it was confusing. But as soon as I came to the realization that I was fourth and nothing was going to change that, it made me work harder.”
Rowell missed the entire regular season while recovering from surgery, but returned just in time for the postseason.
Overton defeated a defending county champion — Atholton's Pat Mullens — to get his title.
"I knew he was fast, I knew he was strong, I knew he was going to come at me quick and that's exactly what he did. So I tried to play it safe for a little bit and it didn't quite work so I just started going at him," said Overton, who scored the winning reversal with one second left in the second period. "I knew I had about 30 seconds left, and I had to pull something out because I needed the points. I rolled him and put him on his back."
Howard County wrestling tournament finals
106: River Hill's Michael Beck dec. Mt. Hebron's Jeff Hayden, 4-2.
113: River Hill's Taariq Mohammed pin Glenelg's Chris Winter, 2:40.
120: Oakland Mills' Zach Hensley maj. Reservoir's Trent Kilcarr, 9-1.
126: Wilde Lake's Jordan Trinh dec. River Hills Sean Guthier, 1-0.
132: Reservoir's Mason Kilcarr pin Wilde Lakes Daniel Andrews, 5:51.
138: Centennial's Austin Kraisser pin Glenelg's Ryan Carter, 5:03.
145: Wilde Lake's Malik Jackson dec. Mt. Hebron's Connor Strunk, 7-3.
152: Mt. Hebron's Joe Kendrick dec. Centennial's Sameh Boulos, 3-0.
160: Hammond's Bryan Overton dec. Atholton's Pat Mullens, 3-2.
170: Wilde Lake's Tola Morakinyo* pin Glenelg's Anthony Pagnotta, 1:06.
182: River Hill's Brian Kirby dec. Oakland Mills' Dominick Clarke, 4-3.
195: River Hill's Cory Daniel maj. Oakland Mills' Robby Happy, 14-5.
220: River Hill's Logan Kirby dec. Mt. Hebron's Ryan Hassan, 2-0.
285: Glenelg's Sean Twigg dec. Oakland Mills' Roy Kadje, 3-1 OT.
106: Tim Null (G) dec. Troy Kilcarr (Re), 5-2.
113: Noah Polonsky (WL) pin Matthew Nickell (C), 2:22.
120: Parker Griffie (G) dec. Brandon Wilson (MH), 6-2.
126: Joe Quattrone (Re) dec. Zack Shackelford (G), 3-1.
132: Lee Carter (RH) dec. Michael Budock (G), 2-1.
138: Anthony Solis (Ha) pin Hans Wicklein (Re), 4:06.
145: Austin Pagnotta (G) dec. Bradley Montecino (OM), 5-2.
152: Sam Rowell (Re) dec. Troy Walter (G), 8-1.
160: Jaron Smith (OM) pin Nick Lucchesi (MH), 3:52.
170: Wesley Beattie (Re) dec. Lyle Fugate (MR), 9-3.
182: Jared Rodriguez (Ho) inj. def. Vincent Stout (MR), :56.
195: Austin Twigg (G) maj. Chris Park (MR), 15-5.
220: Michael Sullivan (Re) dec. Craig Burris (G), 2-0.
285: Justin Nestor (RH) dec. Ne'co Jones (WL), 5-3.
Final team scores
1. Glenelg, 224.5
2. River Hill, 216
3. Wilde Lake, 177
4. Oakland Mills, 144.5
5. Reservoir, 139.5
6. Mount Hebron, 130
7. Marriotts Ridge, 78
8. Hammond, 73
9. Centennial, 68
10. Howard, 53
11. Atholton, 46
12. Long Reach, 4