Changing a culture from one that has been falling short to one that finds ways to win is never easy, and first-year wrestling coach Jamie Smith is well aware of the challenge he is undertaking this winter at Calvert Hall.
Yet the former Towson University football player is happy to have the opportunity to attempt to revive a program that has won only four of 42 dual meets in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference since the 2010-2011 season and has not won a championship since the 1998 season in the now-defunct Maryland Scholastic Association.
Smith’s strong suit is using positive reinforcement buttressed with a healthy dose of hard work to create a fun atmosphere for the Cardinals to begin what he hopes will be an incremental climb toward the top of the conference.
The coach is also a big proponent of plant-based diets, which fits into his philosophy of his wrestlers not having to lose weight in order to compete in a prescribed weight class.
“You can shed enough pounds by just eating right,” he said. “Dinosaurs didn’t survive because they didn’t evolve. Some people don’t keep up with the times, but we’re trying to stay on the cutting edge of things.”
With all of that in mind, Smith and the Cardinals still have a mountain or two to climb as they prepare to host Boys’ Latin today at 4 p.m.
Not even the most cockeyed optimist would expect Calvert Hall to suddenly turn things around this season, although the Cardinals are showing signs of improvement.
“My focus is being successful now,” said Smith, who wrestled and played football at Dulaney before playing mostly on special teams on the gridiron for the Tigers. “We’re trying to improve from match to match. I tell the guys all the time to trust the process. I try to make it fun for them, though. I ask them, ‘What’s your favorite move? Let’s work on that.’ I see a lot of our young guys developing before our eyes.”
The development process includes getting as many matches as possible under their belts before the MIAA championship meet that begins Feb. 10 at Mount Saint Joseph.
“We’re looking to shock people in February,” Smith said.
To that end, the coach has entered his team into a slew of dual-meet tournaments this winter, which means that many of the Cardinal grapplers will have as many as 45 matches to draw experience from when they take to the mat for the championships.
“I don’t want my guys looking for any easy passes,” Smith said. “That’s one of the great things about being a coach here is that the LaSallian mission and I are one and the same. I’m a wrestling coach, but I’m in the business of helping these guys to become good young men.”
The core of the team is solid, with senior Declan McCarthy (170-pound weight class), junior Henry Scott (152) and freshman Michael Edwards (182) leading the way.
McCarthy is a prime example of Smith’s exhortations for his wrestlers to be ready to pounce at all times. The Cockeysville resident has 15 pins to his credit and sports a 20-11 record.
“We want them to attack and be aggressive,” Smith said.
McCarthy said his biggest win this season was a triple-overtime triumph at the Mount Mat Madness tournament over an opponent from archival Loyola Blakefield to whom he had lost in a dual-meet setback.
McCarthy is hoping that after he graduates, Calvert Hall wrestling will come out of its shell.
“Some of the freshmen here didn’t even know we have a team,” McCarthy said. “But the more people that know about the program, the more competitive we can become.”
Scott, who boasts a 24-9 record this winter, is preparing for a banner conclusion to his junior campaign.
“A state [independent schools] championship would be my signature win this season,” he said, noting that he can see the squad improving as the season progresses.
Edwards, who also plays football for the Cardinals, might have the most daunting task of the threesome, in that he is mostly competing against opponents at least two years older than he in the 182-pound bracket.
His 19-14 record is indicative of how tough the junior varsity outside linebacker has been.
Having started wrestling in the first grade in a Fallston-area youth league, Edwards knows his way around a wrestling mat.
“I’m just looking to get better,” Edwards said.
Still, it took Smith’s aggressive style to get Edwards to the point where he has compiled the second-most takedowns (to McCarthy) on the team.
“He said he didn’t like to shoot,” Smith said. “I told him this is what we do at Calvert Hall now, and he’s learned how to shoot.”
Edwards decked two rivals at the Mount Mat Madness, proving his coach’s point that being proactive can also be very productive.
The Cardinals are also expecting good results from Erik Elhers (126) and Vincent Thuman (138), both of whom are seasoned grapplers with a considerable upside.