Any team hoping to defeat River Hill this season may have to specialize in a very specific section of the middle weight classes to do so. Because from about 170 pounds on up and all the way through to the lightweights, the Hawks have been pretty tough to beat so far.
On Tuesday night at Mt. Hebron, five big guys — Cory Daniel (170), Omar Messallam (182), Logan Kirby (195), Jacob Benedict (220) and Jason Johnson (285) — and three little guys — Michael Beck (106), Taariq Mohammed (113) and Lee Carter (120) — were close to perfect. Those five wrestlers combined to win 16 matches with 12 pins, ten of them in the first period, leading River Hill to dominant victories over Hammond, 62-13, and Mt. Hebron, 61-16.
Freshman Brian Kirby, at 138, also pinned twice, proving that his team does not just excel at the extreme ends of the weight spectrum.
With the wins, the Hawks improved to 8-0 in the county standings, inching closer to their sixth county dual meet title and first since 2009.
The tri-meet was River Hill's first action since soundly defeating defending 1A/2A state dual meet champion Glenelg, 37-22, last Tuesday.
"We had some important training days that we went through at the end of last week and I kind of beat the guys up a little bit, really pushed them, so I was interested to see how they did, and they wrestled really well," River Hill coach Brandon Lauer said. "We took care of business tonight, we're two steps closer."
While the Hawks have a solid varsity wrestler at each of the 14 weight classes, their group of upperweights this year may be the best they've ever sent out on the mat. River Hill's five upperweights combined to win almost 150 matches last year, and they're well on their way to exceeding that total this year.
"It's been great practicing with Logan, JJ (Jason Johnson), Omar, Cory. You just get a lot of experience wrestling with all of them," said Benedict, a senior who has wrestled for the River Hill varsity since filling in part time as a freshman. "We're just going to keep on improving the whole season and see what happens."
And for as much talent as the Hawks have at their disposal, none of the wrestlers can boast an undefeated record. That's because of the stiff competition they've faced at the Keaser Classic Duals in early December, when they lost to Winters Mill and Century, and the McDonogh Holiday Duals just before New Years, when they lost to Good Counsel, Old Mill and McDonogh.
River Hill will get another tough challenge this weekend when it competes in the Cavalier Duals at Archbishop Spalding. There, the Hawks will face Lackey, George Marshall (Va.) and Hatboro Horsham (Pa.) in pool competition on Friday, and could get a crack at the likes of Georgetown Prep and Spalding, both elite private schools, on Saturday.
"We want to compete against private schools that are getting guys from all different school districts. If we know we're competing against them, when we wrestle other public schools it gives us some confidence," Lauer said.
While there was little drama during River Hill's wins on Tuesday, the opening act to the tri-meet came down to the final bout as Mt. Hebron edged Hammond, 39-35, on Alex Bisant's pin with 20 seconds left in the first period.
At one point, Hammond had built a 32-18 lead after consecutive pins by Bryan Overton (160), Josh Thibodeaux (170), Michael Waters (182) and Humphrey Anuh (195). But pins by Ryan Hassan (220) and Jeff Hayden (106) down the stretch set up the Vikings comeback. Another turning point came earlier in the match, at 138 pounds, when Alex Hansen fought back from a 7-0 first period deficit to score a pin with less than 20 seconds left in the final period.
That match also featured a possible county championship preview as Mt. Hebron's Joe Kendrick and Hammond's Jonathan Goodwin met at 145 pounds in a showdown between undefeated wrestlers.
In the end, it was Goodwin who kept his record perfect, catching Kendrick in a spladle (split cradle) in the first period and then riding that momentum to a convincing 14-3 win.
"At the very start my stance was a little high. He took a shot and got in deep. I funked him right away and … went to the spladle. That's been working a lot for me," said Goodwin, who missed the county tournament last year when he reinjured a previously broken ankle. "When I hurt myself last year all I could think about was getting in there during the offseason and getting ready for this year, because I've only got one more shot."
Kendrick, who also missed the end of last season due to an injury, appeared to have Goodwin in a bad spot in the first period before the spladle.
"Had Joe got that takedown it may have built his confidence a little bit higher, and now you're talking up two instead of down five, so that was a significant change in the match," Mt. Hebron coach Todd DeCrispino said. "You have it, you're almost there, and all of the sudden you're scrambling to get off of your back."
Goodwin, who was coming off of a Northern Patriot Classic championship over the weekend, recently dropped to the 145-pound weight class when teammate Raven Coleman-Brooks vacated that spot after being sidelined by a knee injury.
"My goal is to stay down at 145. It was a tough cut and I made it down after Raven got hurt ... I went down for the team," said Goodwin, who improved to 20-0 on Tuesday. "That happened last week on Monday, and I got down on Friday for the (Northern) tournament."