River Hill's Daniel left no doubt on wrestling mat

The conclusion of a high school wrestling career is a joyous occasion for most teenagers. It means that they can trade their singlet for shorts and tee shirts, their headgear for baseball caps, and their strict diets for burgers and hot dogs off the grill.

But when River Hill senior Cory Daniel had his hand raised after his second consecutive state title on March 7 at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, it meant that he had only three weeks to prepare for the NHSCA High School National Championships in Virginia Beach.

"There was no rest, it was all getting ready, training for nationals," coach Brandon Lauer said. "He didn't take any time off, he stayed on the mat."

After taking an off day on Sunday, Daniel was back at it on Monday, practicing at UMBC, Mount St. Joseph, River Hill; anywhere he could be pushed to become better.

"I had a big tournament to prepare for and I knew that I had to put in the work to be ready," he said.

Riding an impressive 88 consecutive win streak, Daniel — the Howard County Times and Columbia Flier Wrestler of the Year — had little left to prove before putting on a University of North Carolina singlet next fall. But as long as there were more opponents to wrestle, Daniel had no interest in resting.

"I think when Cory decided he wanted to wrestle in college, it's because he enjoys the challenge, he enjoys the competition, and it's all on him," Lauer said. "That's what drives him."

At Virginia Beach, the three-time Howard County champion who has been wrestling since he was eight years old plowed through wrestlers from New York, Virginia, West Virginia and Texas without allowing a takedown to advance to the national championship.

There, he lost to two-time Georgia state champion Matthew Moore of Apalachee High School, 7-6, in triple-overtime. It will likely not be the last time Daniel and Moore compete, as Moore has also committed to wrestle for the Tarheels next year.

"To be a finalist is pretty special," Lauer said. "Losing in triple-overtime was difficult, but he wrestled a great match against a great opponent and just fell a little short."

Daniel was not discouraged by the loss.

"I'm very proud of what I did, and Matthew Moore is a great opponent," he said. "I just made a few mistakes at the end. I'm looking forward to training with him the next few years."

While a loss after more than 90 straight wins might be looked at as an advantageous lesson for some wrestlers heading into a Division I wrestling room, Daniel has never had a problem humbling himself, or tempering his confidence.

As a freshman, Daniel finished 31-12 and did not place at the state tournament after finishing third in the county and fourth in the region. One year later, he improved to 42-8, winning his first county and regional titles, but taking a disappointing sixth at the state tournament. Of course, that 3-2 loss to Huntingtown's Colton Rowe as a sophomore was the last time he would lose in high school. With his 46-0 record this season, Daniel set the all-time record for wins at River Hill with 162 against only 22 losses.

"I was counting down the wins and getting antsy," Daniel said of setting the daunting record. "I was able to get that far because of all the time in the practice room."

Daniel, a two-time all-county tight end in football, has also experienced great success — a state championship two years ago — and failure on the football field, losing in the state semifinals in November.

In fact, after completing his wrestling career at UNC, he plans to attend a regional combine in hopes of playing in the NFL.

Despite being one of the most physically advanced athletes to ever come through Howard County — the result of a decade of disciplined dieting and rigorous training — Daniel is anything but an arrogant, boastful showoff. He has always won and — much more rarely — lost with a quiet professionalism, as if the wrestling mat is simply a small arena to display the countless hours of work that he puts in before the actual competition.

"He's really physically imposing but he's pretty shy and quiet," Lauer said. "He's laid back and just wants to hang out with his friends."

It helped that many of Daniel's friends were on the wrestling team, including longtime practice partner and fellow state champion Logan Kirby, as well as his younger brother, 160-pound freshman, Brady.

"This year, having my brother in the room was a real thrill," Daniel said. "I know that he can do what I did and even more."

That made it easy for Daniel to lead by example. When he traveled to offseason tournaments or participated in summer club practices, his teammates joined him, not because they felt obligated, but because they wanted to hang out together.

"He really took on a more active role helping the team and leading his brother," Lauer said. "Brady will be back, and we're getting Brian Kirby back (from a leg injury), but it's tough to see Michael Beck, Logan Kirby and Cory go. They were the anchors of the team."

Daniel has already begun preparing to wrestle heavyweight for UNC next year, where he'll join Nathan Kraisser, a four-time state champion out of Centennial. But don't expect Daniel to drastically change his physique or style to adapt to heavyweight wrestling.

"We're seeing a shift in what the heavyweight wrestler looks like. They're not just looking for guys who max out the scales," Lauer said. "College wrestling is a totally different game. You're wrestling state champs every match and, frankly, no one cares about your high school accolades."

Never one to rest on his laurels, Daniel is happy to reflect on his past accomplishments and appreciate those who helped him get there, but eager to seek out the next challenge.

"I'm glad to have wrestled these last four years at River Hill, it's been an honor. My coaches, and fans, my brother, my family (parents Jack and Denise), especially my dad," said Daniel, who also enjoys playing tennis and ping pong. "I can't wait. I'm so excited to wrestle next year for UNC."

Also named first-team all-county:

106: Matt Shealy, River Hill

County: 1st. Region: 4th. State: DNP.

Shealy (32-14) went from winning the JV county title as a freshman to the varsity county title as a sophomore. In the county tournament, he avenged losses earlier in the season to Oakland Mills' John Rynn and Glenelg's Sam Kraus, and then edged Howard freshman Darian Kassiri in the finals.

113: Josh Kendrick, Mt. Hebron

County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: DNP.

One year after watching his older brother, Joe, win his first county title, Josh (33-7) got his turn to do the family name proud, defeating Oakland Mills' Julian Capino in the county finals. At the regional tournament, Kendrick overcame a first round upset to Glenelg's Collin Silk, wrestling all the way back to take third. In only two years, Kendrick has already won 66 varsity matches.

120: Michael Beck, River Hill

County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 1st.

After finishing 38-1 last year with his only loss coming on a freak pin in the state quarterfinals, Beck (45-2) made sure he got what he was looking for this year. The three-time FILA All-American edged his old nemesis, Mt. Hebron junior Jeff Hayden, in the county, region and state finals. Beck recorded 23 pins this season, and scored 65 of a possible 66 county dual meet points for his team. He finishes with a career record of 121-14, and earned All-American status by placing sixth at the Senior Nationals. He hopes to wrestle for Maryland next fall.

126: Noah Polonsky, Wilde Lake

County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: DNP.

Polonsky (34-7), whose older brother Alex won a state title for Wilde Lake in 2010, became the first member of his family to win a county title, edging Reservoir's Troy Kilcarr in the finals. Polonsky went on to place third in the region for the second straight year, and scored 20 pins this season, including one in only 10 seconds.

132: Mason Kilcarr, Reservoir

County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 1st.

Kilcarr (36-1) will go down as one of the best wrestlers to ever come through Howard County. He finishes his Gators career with a four-year record of 142-18 for a stellar 88.8 winning percentage; won the Grapple at the Brook tournament three times, and is a three-time Howard County champion, winning each one by pin fall. He lost to Broadneck's Cameron Harrell in the regional and state finals last year, but would not be denied this year, shutting out Broadneck's Connor Joyce, 4-0, in the regional finals, and North Hagerstown's Hunter Faith, 5-0, in the state finals. He hopes to wrestle for George Mason next year.

138: Hans Wicklein, Reservoir

County: 1st. Region: 4th. State: DNP.

A testament to persistence, Wicklein (26-12) was never a dominant varsity wrestler, but benefited from hard work and a strong practice partner to end his high school career as a county champion. He edged Oakland Mills junior Matthew Claxton in the county finals, then earned his first trip to Cole Field House by battling to a fourth place finish at the regional tournament.

145: Austin Kraisser, Centennial

County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 1st.

Losing a close match in the state finals last year as a freshman only steeled Kraisser's (38-1) determination, and the results were evident on the mat this winter. His only loss came to two-time Beast of the East champion Alfred Bannister of Bishop McNamara in the Mount Mat Madness finals, and he won 19 of his matches by pin, including the county championship. He scored a major decision in the regional finals, then pinned his way to the state finals, where he edged North Hagerstown's Brendon Colbert, 3-1. In only two years he has already won 76 varsity matches.

152: Malik Jackson,

Wilde Lake

County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 2nd.

The three-time county champion has been one of the most exciting wrestlers in Howard County to watch over the past few seasons. This year he tallied 85 takedowns and 18 pins, and earned his 100th career victory with an 8-4 win over Bel Air's John Cross for his first regional title. Jackson (38-3) came up just short of his first state title, losing 5-3 to Churchill's three-time state champion Hunter Sutton, but will be remembered as Wilde Lake's first three-time county champion in 20 years.

160: Jaron Smith, Oakland Mills


County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 1st.

One of the most inspiring stories of the season, Smith (15-1) was sidelined for most of the winter recovering from an ACL tear. He returned just before the county tournament, losing on senior night to Century's Wes Dantzler. But once Smith got his legs back under him, he was unstoppable. The Snowverlea Invitational champion earned tough wins over River Hill's Brady Daniel and Atholton's Zachary Smith in the county tournament to earn his first title, then pinned his way through the South region in less than five minutes of total mat time to lead his team to an improbable regional title over state dual meet champion Kent Island. At the state tournament, Smith earned a rematch with Dantzler and made the most of it, controlling the match, 8-2, for his first state title.

170: Joseph Zoller, Glenelg

County: 1st. Region: 2nd. State: DNP.

Zoller (36-4), who missed most of last year with a leg injury, finished his high school career the way it started, on a strong note. As a senior, he won Mount Mat Madness, the Patriot Classic, and his first Howard County title. He was also a regional finalist and won two matches at the state tournament. Three years ago, as a freshman lightweight, Zoller led his team to a state dual meet title. He finishes his Glenelg career with more than 90 victories.

182: Jared Rodriguez, Howard

County: 1st. Region: 2nd. State: 1st.

Rodriguez (41-3) will undoubtedly remember this winter for the rest of his life. After breaking out last year with 33 wins, he came into this season on a mission. In the county finals, he edged Reservoir's Wes Beattie, 6-5, on a takedown with less than five seconds left. Rodriguez lost to North County's undefeated Malik Smith, 6-4, in the regional finals, but that only helped him prepare for the state tournament. There, he beat Beattie again, 5-3 in overtime, in the semifinals, then escaped with 45 seconds left to beat North Hagerstown's JD McKoy, 5-4, for the championship. Rodriguez, who is Howard's third state champion, finishes with a career record of 96-27. He collected 16 pins and 69 takedowns this season.

195: Logan Kirby, River Hill

County: 1st. Region: 1st. State: 1st.

A state finalist as both a sophomore and junior, Kirby (46-1) was dead set on standing on top of the podium at Cole Field House this year, and that's exactly where he ended up, defeating Roosevelt's Casey Wokocha, 8-4 in the finals. Along the way, the Hawks team captain won his second regional title and third county title, pinning his way through the tournament. At regionals, he scored two quick pins and a tech fall. He collected 24 pins on the season, and led the Hawks to their third straight county dual meet title and second county tournament title in three years. He finishes with an impressive 142-22 career record and will wrestle for Harvard next fall. He also placed sixth at Senior Nationals to earn All-American honors.

285: Tyler Smith, River Hill

County: 1st. Region: 3rd. State: DNP.

Still just a junior, Smith (19-6) is primed for a strong senior campaign. A JV finalist last year, he was an asset on varsity this winter, leading the Hawks' charge to county dual meet and tournament titles. His last second pin at Glenelg memorably clinched the dual meet victory in the final bout, and his overtime victory in the county tournament finals capped River Hill's second county tournament crown in three years. After an opening round loss in the regional tournament, Smith battled all the way back to take third. He is also one of the top football linemen in the state.

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