Three weeks ago, when River Hill junior heavyweight Tyler Smith took the mat in a dual meet against Glenelg, he needed a pin for his team to win, and delivered with one second left on the clock.
At the Howard County championships Feb. 22, Smith once again was one of the last two wrestlers on the mat, but this time his 4-1 double overtime decision over Hammond’s Jeremy Nelson amounted to more of a victory lap than a photo finish.
“Coach (Brandon) Lauer, right after Logan (Kirby)’s win told me, 'Don't worry, it's all covered. Just win for you’,” Smith said. “I was happy that I could come through with the win.”
Host River Hill won the 45th Howard County wrestling championships, crowning five champions, including Logan Kirby (195) and Cory Daniel (220), who each won their third county titles.
“We wrestled well in the finals and I was proud of our effort,” coach Brandon Lauer said. “You want to show up” when you host the tournament.
Surprising Reservoir led River Hill, the regular season champion, entering the final round. But when Howard’s Jared Rodriguez (182) scored a takedown with five seconds left to defeat Reservoir’s Wesley Beattie, the drama was essentially over.
Rodriguez did not qualify for regionals as a sophomore, but broke out last year with a 33-9 season.
"I really worked hard in the offseason ... whenever I want to do something and focus on it, I'll work as hard as I possibly can toward it, and if I fall short I always know that I put in 100 percent," Rodriguez said. "Obviously no one likes losing, but when I do lose, I always try to learn from it. Like losing to Wes Beattie earlier in the season, I practiced what I needed to work on because I knew there was going to be a rematch in the finals."
“Rodriguez stepped up with a huge win and that changed the complexity and didn't put all the pressure on Tyler,” Lauer said. “I thought we wrestled well all the way through. We had a good weekend. Ten guys out of 14 placed top six which is great.”
Daniel improved to 40-0 with his 12-8 decision over Reservoir's Michael Sullivan, becoming River Hill's all-time wins leader.
“It’s definitely something I'm very happy about,” said Daniel, who has committed to wrestle heavyweight for the University of North Carolina next year. “Ever since my sophomore year and I won, after that I wanted to keep winning and become a part of that elite group” of three-time county champions.
Kirby, Daniel’s practice partner, scored the Hawks’ only pin of the finals, throwing Marriotts Ridge senior Chris Park to his back with less than 10 seconds remaining in the second period.
“I knew a pin would help us a lot ... but I wasn't actively looking for a pin. A throw was there and I feel confident in my throws so I just went for it and it worked out,” he said. “It feels great (to win a third county title) at my home school.”
River Hill's Michael Beck (120) won his second consecutive county title, defeating Mt. Hebron state finalist Jeff Hayden, 3-2, in the finals.
“It was a tough match, it always is,” Beck said. “I've wrestled him in high school three times in the finals of countys and regions so it's always a competitive match. We know each other's styles.”
Sophomore Matt Shealy (106) rounded out the Hawks' champions, edging Howard freshman Darian Kassiri, 3-2.
"He's a great wrestler, I knew I'd run into him at the end of the tournament," Shealy said. "At the beginning of the season I had a rough patch, I lost to Chris Spano (of Marriotts Ridge) and Johnny Rynn (of Oakland Mills). They're both great wrestlers, and after I lost I had to focus and watch my matches back, watch what I did wrong and watch what they did right so I knew what was coming. And then all I had to do was be ready and stay focused."
Reservoir crowned a pair of champions: Mason Kilcarr (132), who won his third county title by pin, and Hans Wicklein (138), who edged Oakland Mills' Matthew Claxton, 4-1.
"It feels amazing. It's my senior year, I've worked so hard all these years, really put in work. I'm so happy, I've never felt this feeling in my life," said Wicklein, who earned the top seed coming into the tournament. "It definitely felt like people were gunning for me. I've been hearing it all week, 'You're the No. 1 seed. Everyone is going to try to knock you off.' So I just put that in the back of my head and just had one goal: just to win."
Kilcarr has climbed the county tournament podium multiple times now, but also has a singular focus moving forward after finishing second in the region and state last year.
“This isn't the end for me, I'm trying to do bigger and better things,” Kilcarr said. “My goal is states, but this is getting me ready, this is giving me momentum...all the hard work has paid off.”
Wilde Lake's Malik Jackson (152) won his third county title, and was joined atop the podium by teammate Noah Polonsky (126).
Jackson held on to defeat Centennial’s determined Sameh Boulos, 6-4.
“It was close ... When I was holding onto the leg I didn't want him to get that last takedown and take me to overtime. I just remember thinking ‘I gotta hold on, I gotta win, I gotta get my third one’,” Jackson said. “It's all mental…I realized that I got to the point where it was just all in my head. I was wrestling the match in my head while it was going on.”
Polonsky edged Reservoir’s Troy Kilcarr, 3-1, and dedicated the championship to his older brother Alex, who won a state title for Wilde Lake in 2010, and whose birthday was Feb. 22.
“I thought I should bring the county championship home, because he never actually won the county championship,” Noah Polonsky said.
Mt. Hebron sophomore Josh Kendrick (113) won his first county title one year after his older brother, Joe, became a county champion as a senior.
Centennial sophomore Austin Kraisser (145) was named the tournament's Glenn Devane Outstanding Wrestler, after scoring a pin in the finals. Centennial's last wrestler to earn that honor was Austin's older brother, Nathan, who won four county and state titles and is now a sophomore wrestling for the University of North Carolina.
“I try to just take it one year at a time. But eventually, yeah, that is a goal of mine to get that fourth (county title),” said Austin Kraisser, a state finalist last year. “I've been here before ... still definitely nervous, just not as nervous. Ready to do it again. Just got to roll right through.”
Oakland Mills' Jaron Smith, who missed the first two months of the season with a leg injury, returned to the mat in mid-February and defeated Atholton's Zachary Smith for the 160-pound title.
“My leg is feeling great. The preparation took time and it seemed harder than it really was. Seven months out. But it was what I needed to do, I needed this, wrestling is too important to me,” Jaron Smith said. “It feels good but I can't get satisfied because there's too much more that I can do, too much more that I need to do.”
Glenelg's Joseph Zoller (170) represented the defending champion Gladiators on top of the podium with a 6-0 win over River Hill's Sebastian Ames.
"I've never won countys before, I really wanted to go out and win it, try my hardest, wrestle my match," Zoller said. "When I came into this tournament I was ready...when I came out for the finals all I could think of was wrestle my match and whoever could last the longest would win."
Final team scores
1. River Hill, 208
2. Reservoir, 202.5
3. Glenelg, 173.5
4. Oakland Mills, 136.5
5. Mt. Hebron, 125
6. Wilde Lake, 105
7. Marriotts Ridge, 88
8. Centennial, 87
9. Hammond, 71
10. Howard, 68
11. Atholton, 56
12. Long Reach, 21
106: Matt Shealy (RH) dec. Darian Kassiri (Ho), 3-2.
113: Josh Kendrick (MH) dec. Julian Capino (OM), 6-2.
120: Michael Beck (RH) dec. Jeff Hayden (MH), 3-2.
126: Noah Polonsky (WL) dec. Troy Kilcarr (Re), 3-1.
132: Mason Kilcarr (Re) pin Anthony Solis (Ha), 5:07.
138: Hans Wicklein (Re) dec. Matthew Claxton (OM), 4-1.
145: Austin Kraisser (C) pin Austin Pagnotta (G), 2:42.
152: Malik Jackson (WL) dec. Sameh Boulos (C), 6-4.
160: Jaron Smith (OM) dec. Zachary Smith (A), 3-0.
170: Joseph Zoller (G) dec. Sebastian Ames (RH), 6-0.
182: Jared Rodriguez (Ho) dec. Wesley Beattie (Re), 6-5.
195: Logan Kirby (RH) pin Chris Park (MR), 3:55.
220: Cory Daniel (RH) dec. Michael Sullivan (Re), 12-8.
285: Tyler Smith (RH) dec. Jeremy Nelson (Ha), 4-1 2OT.
106: Sam Kraus (G) maj. John Rynn (OM), 10-0.
113: Romtin Habibi (MR) pin Tyler Ponton (Re), 1:54.
120: Trent Kilcarr (Re) pin Nicholas Williams (Ho), 2:24.
126: Darren Ketchum (Ha) dec. Jimmy Hayden (MH), 4-0.
132: Tyler Anderson (WL) dec. Ryan Erskine (RH), 7-3.
138: Michael Autry (G) pin Eloy Flores (MH), 2:34.
145: Sean Guthier (RH) dec. Paul Quattrone (Re), 5-1.
152: Connor Strunk (MH) dec. Michael Budock (G), 4-2.
160: Troy Walter (G) dec. Brady Daniel (RH), 5-2.
170: AJ Strott (Re) dec. Joseph Shapiro (C), 4-0.
182: Dylan Juskus (OM) dec. Austin Twigg (G), 5-2.
195: Craig Burris (G) dec. Deon Williams (LR), 3-2.
220: Ryan Hassan (MH) pin Kristopher Gough (WL), 4:19.
285: Tyler Boettcher (C) dec. Nicholas Suri (MH), 5-4.