Loyola Blakefield wrestling coach Steve Truitt faced a dilemma this winter. He needed to replace the leadership and nearly 300 wins he got from four-year starters Conan Schuster and David Mohler.
"They were like coaches in the room and definitely among the best wrestlers Loyola's ever had," Truitt said. "Conan (149) and David (148) ranked one-two in all-time wins. I really wanted to see how this team would do without them."
Seniors Walter Johnson (152 pounds) and Pat Smist (132) and junior Jake Nordhausen (195) have provided the solution to Truitt's problem
Under the leadership and on-mat performances of the trio, Loyola has gone 13-2 in dual meets, including 3-1 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
The Dons' only loss came in mid-December to McDonogh, ranked as the top team in the state by the Maryland State Wrestling Association (MSWA).
A strong work ethic has defined Loyola, which is ranked 15th in the state by MSWA and eighth in the metro area in the Baltimore Sun high school wrestling poll.
"We have a lunch-pail crew," said Truitt, who is in his 11th season. "It's definitely one of the hardest-working teams we have ever had. This group works very hard in the weight room and on the mat. They are not flashy, but they get the job done. They are a no-nonsense group."
Johnson is the Dons' premier wrestler. He could approach Schuster and Mohler's win totals before his four-year career ends.
He has a record of 113-35 and is 27-1 this season.
The MSWA ranks him sixth in the state at 152 and his only loss came to McDonogh's Toby Hague, who is listed as the state's top wrestler in the same weight class.
Johnson has already won Parkville High's Knightmare Invitational, the Falcon Invitational and best of all, Mount Mat Madness.
"I have watched him wrestle since he went through the Woodlawn program," said Boys' Latin coach Drew Haugh, whose team lost to the Dons, 52-17, on Jan. 15. "Walter has done nothing but get better ever year. He has come down to a great weight class and he's great for it."
Truitt said Johnson appears primed for a big postseason, seeking top finishes in the MIAAs and the Maryland Independent Schools state tournament.
He took third in MIAAs and fifth in states last year.
"I think he already has 80-something takedowns this year," Truitt said. "He is quick, fast and aggressive. He can wrestle anywhere and is tough on top, too."
Nordhausen (23-4) won the Knightmare and Falcon invitationals, and placed second at Mount Mat Madness.
He leads Loyola with 12 pins and ranks second on the team with 16 wins and only two losses.
"He is great wrestler," Boys' Latin coach Drew Haugh said of Nordhausen, who finished second at MIAAs last winter. "He is tall, lanky and gets good leverage in that way."
Smist (20-9), Neil Amaral (182, 15-10) and sophomore Nick Moreno (152, 20-6) are also Dons to watch.
Those four, along with four freshmen, Winters Mill Invitational tournament winner Matthew Lala (106, 16-9), Dominck Reyes (120, 17-7), James Moses (138, 17-10) and Alec Feurer (106, 2-3) give the program a boost.
"They always get the best junior league kids," Haugh said. "One of their best kids, freshman Dominick Reyes, is from Woodlawn's junior league. Johnson is from Woodlawn. They get kids from Manchester. They bring in the cream of the crop."
Juniors Matthew Callahan (113, 12-7), Marcellus Brown (126, 11-6), Austin Hurdle (220, 16-8) and Tyler Covey (285, 12-10) and sophomores Cody Schumaker (126, 12-6) and Kevin Wenger (145, 2-3) complete the team.
That talent helped Loyola beat Atholton, Calvert Hall, Oakland Mills, Gilman, Western Tech, Dunbar, Boys' Latin, Archbishop Spalding, Oakdale, Delaware's Salesianum and three schools from Virginia, Loudoun County, George Mason and George Marshall.
The Dons only losses are to Mount St. Joseph and McDonogh.
The McDonogh match stood out to Truitt.
"The match was that close," said Truitt of the 48-30 setback. "And our 106-pounder (Lala) didn't make weight then. So, in my opinion that would have been a 12-point swing. It's really a six-point match. This was our closest match with McDonogh in five or six years."