Howard County was once known as a region rich with talented lightweight wrestlers, and with six state placewinners at 132 pounds or less last year, it still is.
But as coaches have made a renewed effort to mine the football field for athletes, Howard County might have earned the moniker of Heavyweight County.
"Maybe these coaches are finally figuring out that wrestling makes you a better football player," said Marriotts Ridge coach Jason Conley.
In the last three years, Howard County has had five wrestlers weighing 189 or more win state titles, most recently River Hill's Cory Daniel (195) and Glenelg's Sean Twigg (285) last winter. Twigg also won in 2012, along with River Hill heavyweight Jason Johnson.
But even with the graduation of Twigg, Howard County will again be strong up top.
Last year, 11 underclassmen weighing 182 pounds or more qualified for the state tournament, including River Hill state finalist Logan Kirby (220) and county champion Brian Kirby (182), along with Twigg's younger brother Austin (195).
But depth throughout the line-up will determine which team takes the county title.
Glenelg and River Hill have combined to win the last seven dual meet titles, while Reservoir (2010) is the only team other than Glenelg and River Hill to win the county tournament in that stretch
Reservoir has a good spread of talent throughout its line-up, including the Kilcarr brothers — Mason (138), Troy (132) and Trent (126). Mason was a regional and state finalist last year, and could become Reservoir's first three-time county champion this winter.
"River Hill and Glenelg would be No. 1 and 2, but Reservoir is going to be a dark horse ... especially with the three Kilcarr brothers," said Mt. Hebron coach Todd DeCrispino, whose team should also be in the mix along with Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake. "It's going to be a really strong county this year."
Top wrestlers from last year who have transferred out of Howard County include Glenelg's Tim Null (South Carroll), Oakland Mills' Robby Happy (Sherwood) and Reservoir's Sam Rowell (Mount St. Joseph).
There are five new coaches this season, but most of them will be very familiar to local wrestling fans.
At Centennial, Dave Roogow steps into a volunteer role after coaching the varsity for six seasons. Cliff Kraisser, who has been an assistant while his sons Brian and Nathan starred for the Eagles, steps into the vacancy. Sophomore Austin Kraisser is a returning county champion and state finalist.
At Glenelg, Chris Rosas steps down after three very successful seasons. In his time as coach, Glenelg was 68-11 with two county tournament championships and a state dual meet title. Matt Bichner, a state champion for Glenelg in 2006, takes over as head coach, with Danny Bichner and Tim Chase, state champs in 2008, joining longtime coach Rob Bowman on the staff.
Former Glenelg wrestler Pat Kepp, who coached Hammond last year, moves to Howard to take over for former Glenelg wrestler Shea Conway. Krishna Dutt, a former county champion for Howard, also joins the Lions coaching staff. Bill Smith, who coached at Wilde Lake last year, takes over at Hammond. Smith coached Hammond from 1991 to 1998, winning two state championships and six county tournament titles.
Matt Bogusz, a recent University of Maryland graduate, takes over at Long Reach for Joseph Novotny. Bogusz wrestled for Parkland High School in Pennsylvania, winning the District 11 championship in 2007 before wrestling for the University of Maryland.
For a schedule of tournaments, scroll to the bottom.
*County champion; ^ JV county champion.
Last season: 2-9 league, 10-17 overall, 11th at county tournament
Coach: Bruce Lindblad, third season (17th overall)
Top returners: Seniors Phillip Frazier (145) and Zack Smith (152); juniors Josh Pickens (138) and Brian Rodriguez (195).
Top newcomers: Freshman Luis Altamirano
Key losses: Pat Mullens (152)
Non-league opponents: at Loyola, Dec. 5; at Century, Feb. 5; home against Bel Air, Feb. 7.
Scouting report: The Raiders will be battling shorthanded again this winter, with only eight or nine varsity wrestlers at the onset of the season. But at least half of those wrestlers are well above average, as Pickens, Frazier, Smith and Rodriguez all won around 25 matches last year. Rodriguez, who finished the season 24-17, is the Raiders' only returning regional qualifier. Even with only 24 wrestlers in the room last year between JV and varsity, Atholton was 4-3 at both the Joppatowne and District V Duals and defeated Long Reach and Howard in dual meets. This year, the Raiders start the season with almost 30 wrestlers in the room.
Bonus point: Frazier may be the team's best all-around athlete. He batted .433 with 8 RBIs and 11 runs for the Atholton baseball team, and completed 43 passes for 563 yards and 2 TDs as a quarterback on the football team.
Last season: 2-9, 4-17, ninth at county tournament
Coach: Cliff Kraisser, first season
Top returners: Seniors Matt Nickell (126), Sam Boulos (152), Brad Fasulo (160) and Tyler Boettcher (285); sophomore Austin Kraisser* (145).
Top newcomers: Senior Carlos Lucero (220).
Key losses: Nick Shearin (160)
Non-league opponents: home against LaPlata, Jan. 9; home against Southern, Jan. 23; at Oakdale, Feb. 4.
Scouting report: The Eagles may not have the numbers or depth to compete in a dual meet with the likes of Glenelg, Reservoir and River Hill. But Sam Boulos (25-6, county finalist last season) is one of the best wrestlers in the county, and Austin Kraisser (38-4, county and region champ, state finalist, 2-time All-American at this summer's Cadet National Championships in Fargo) is one of the best in the country. Boulos and Kraisser will get a great challenge at Mount Mat Madness in late December.
Bonus point: Nathan Kraisser, Austin's older brother and Howard County's first four-time state champion (2009-2012), is thriving at North Carolina. He was named the ACC Freshman of the Year last year after finishing 33-7, making it to the finals of the ACC tournament and qualifying for the NCAA tournament, where he won two matches.
Last season: 10-1, 19-2, county and regional tournament champion, state dual meet runner-up
Coach: Matt Bichner, first season
Top returners: Seniors Austin Pagnotta (138), Mike Budock (145) and Troy Walter (160); junior Austin Twigg (195); sophomore Parker Griffie (126).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Sam Kraus (113); freshmen Garrett Murray (120) and Michael Autry (145).
Key losses: Tim Null (106, transfer to South Carroll); Chris Winter (113); Ryan Carter (138); Anthony Pagnotta (170); Sean Twigg* (285).
Non-league opponents: at Archbishop Spalding, Dec. 5; home against Damascus, Dec. 20; at Forestville, Jan. 4.
Scouting report: The Gladiators are stacked with experienced wrestlers. Although 106 and 285 were still up in the air heading into the season, every other spot in the line-up is filled with a solid wrestler. Griffie (28-12, regional finalist), Budock (35-10, regional champ), Pagnotta (29-9, two-time county finalist and regional champ), Walter (27-16, regional champ) and Austin Twigg (30-12, third county and region) are the top returners. But there is also Zach Shackelford (132, 25-14, region champ), Joe Zoller (152, injured last postseason), Matt Baxter (22-9, third region) and Craig Burris (25-12, third region) locking down their weight classes. Not to mention Kraus, a JV standout last year, and talented Warhawk junior league products Murray and Autry.
Bonus point: Twigg (6 tackles), Burris (30 tackles) and Baxter (80 tackles, 240 rushing yards, 2 TDs) all helped the Glenelg football team go 9-2 and win the 2013 county championship.
Hammond Golden Bears
Last season: 4-7, 8-27, eighth at county tournament
Coach: Bill Smith, first season (ninth overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Evan Nuss (138) and Ben Ballard (182); juniors Anthony Solis (132) and Justin Nelson (220); sophomore John Lowe (113).
Top newcomers: Junior Bayo Odunlami (152).
Key losses: Bryan Overton* (160).
Non-league opponents: at Catoctin, Dec. 7; home against Lackey, Dec. 28; at North Point, Feb. 6.
Scouting report: The Golden Bears are eager to bounce back from last year's 4-7 season, and new coach Bill Smith — who coached Hammond to six county titles and two state titles between 1991 and 1998 — is ready for the challenge. "It's great to be back, we're trying to get the numbers up," Smith said. Solis (19 wins), Nuss (18), Justin Nelson (18) and Lowe (17) are the team's most experienced returners. Odunlami is "very raw" according to Smith, but could develop into a force, especially with the guidance of assistant coach Ryan Mackin, a former state champ and successful mixed martial artist.
Bonus point: Overton, who won 40 matches on his way to county and regional titles and a third place finish at the state tournament last year, is now wrestling for West Virginia Tech as a criminal justice major.
Last season: 2-9, 11-16, 10th at county tournament
Coach: Pat Kepp, first season (second overall)
Top returners: Seniors Jared Rodriguez (182) and Colin Hawes (152); juniors Nick Williams (120) and Bryan Crumback (138).
Top newcomers: Freshmen Kyle Williamson (113) and Darian Kassiri (106).
Key losses: Robert Bruffey (138); Will Connely (160).
Non-league opponents: home against Westminster, Jan. 29.
Scouting report: Despite winning only two league matches last season, there is some buzz around the Lions program in 2013-2014. Rodriguez, who had a breakout season last year (34-9, third county, third region), has a shot at a county title and Williams, who won 15 matches last season as a sophomore, has been an offseason warrior. Kassiri was a junior league champ two years ago, and could make some noise at 106.
Bonus point: There are 37 athletes in the Howard wrestling room this season, so interest is up.
Long Reach Lightning
Last season: 0-11, 2-18, 12th at county tournament
Coach: Matt Bogusz, first season
Top returners: Seniors Konnor Kick (138) and Deon Williams (195).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Justin Pruitt (132); freshman Nick Epstein (106).
Key losses: Ronald Hindman (113); Chris Stewart (285).
Non-league opponents: at Century, Dec. 5; at Oakdale, Dec. 14; at Glen Burnie, Jan. 10.
Scouting report: Bogusz, who has an illustrious scholastic and collegiate wrestling profile, is looking to bring new energy and excitement to the Lightning wrestling room. Pruitt, a transfer from Michigan, should provide an immediate boost, and Epstein brings junior league experience as a freshman. The team will get veteran leadership from Williams (16 wins) and Kick (9), who combined for 25 wins last year and both placed sixth at the regional tournament.
Bonus point: Last year Ronald Hindman had one of the most successful seasons of any Lightning wrestler in the last decade, finishing 25-9 and winning a regional title.
Marriotts Ridge Mustangs
Last season: 5-6, 17-11, seventh at county tournament
Coach: Jason Conley, ninth season (11th overall)
Top returners: Seniors Chris Park (195) and Scott Desautelle (220); junior Zach Moody (132); sophomores Thomas Olson (138) and Romtin Habibi (120/113).
Top newcomers: Freshman Chris Spano (106).
Key losses: Nick Spano (126); Spencer Wyatt (145); Lyle Fugate (170); Vincent Stout (182, knee injury); Ryan Austin (285).
Non-league opponents: at South Carroll, Feb. 3; at Eleanor Roosevelt, Feb. 5.
Scouting report: Numbers have never been a problem for Marriotts Ridge, so opponents shouldn't expect many, if any, wins by forfeit. And Park (35 wins, state qualifier), Olsen (24), Moody (18) and Habibi (8) will have their hand raised more often than not. Chris Spano, whose older brother Nick placed sixth at the county tournament last year, is a Warhawks veteran.
Bonus point: Desautelle started last season 7-0 with seven pins before an injury put him on the shelf for the rest of the winter.
Mt. Hebron Vikings
Last season: 6-5, 21-8, sixth at county tournament
Coach: Todd DeCrispino, seventh season (25th overall)
Top returners: Senior Ryan Hassan (220); juniors Jeff Hayden (126) and Connor Strunk (152); sophomore Josh Kendrick (113).
Top newcomers: Freshman Jimmy Hayden (120).
Key losses: Joe Kendrick* (152); Nick Lucchesi (160); Alex Hansen (170).
Non-league opponents: at Urbana, Dec. 5; home against Tuscarora, Feb. 3; at Franklin, Feb. 4.
Scouting report: Ask most coaches for a dark horse candidate outside of the River Hill-Glenelg-Reservoir triumvirate, and the answer you're most likely to get is Mt. Hebron. Why? Well, Hayden (36-8, county, region and state finalist), Josh Kendrick (33 wins), Strunk (26 wins, county finalist) and Hassan (37-6, county and region finalist, fourth at state tournament) all have the potential to go deep in all of the postseason tournaments. Jimmy Hayden, a junior league state champ, also looks likely to make a deep impact in his rookie campaign.
Bonus point: Joe Kendrick, Josh's older brother, had a memorable senior year last year, winning 34 matches including a county title, and advancing to the state final. He now wrestles for Millersville. The Vikings went 7-0 last year to win the District V Duals, and placed seventh at the regional and state tournaments.
Oakland Mills Scorpions
Last season: 8-3, 24-7, fourth at county tournament
Coach: Brad Howell, 16th season
Top returners: Senior Dylan Juskus (170); juniors Jaron Smith (160) and Matthew Claxton (138); sophomore Dakota Thompson (120).
Top newcomers: Juniors Julian Cutino (113), Alex Asifo (145), Sidique Furet (152) and Zach Vincent (195); freshman John Rynn (106).
Key losses: Zach Hensley (120); Bradley Montecino (145); Dominick Clarke (182); Robby Happy (195, transferred to Sherwood); Roy Kadje (285).
Non-league opponents: at Loyola, Dec. 13; at Loch Raven, Jan. 23; home against Century, Feb. 7.
Scouting report: The Scorpions graduated a raft of talent, but as one of the county's most storied programs, expect them to be even better in 2013-2014. Smith (42-5, region champ, third at county and state tournaments), Juskus (30 wins, fourth region), Claxton (24, region finalist) and Thompson (22, region finalist) are all back, and the newcomers are all experienced wrestlers who worked hard over the summer to earn their spots on varsity. Vincent, who transferred in from Wilde Lake, was a JV county finalist last year, while Rynn has a family legacy at Oakland Mills.
Bonus point: Happy (39), Hensley (38), Kadje (37), Clarke (36) and Montecino (31) combined for more than 180 wins last season.
Last season: 9-2, 10-3, fifth at county tournament
Coach: Andrew McIntyre, fourth season
Top returners: Seniors Mason Kilcarr* (138), Hans Wicklein (145), Wes Beattie (170) and Michael Sullivan (220); juniors Troy Kilcarr (132) and Trent Kilcarr (126).
Top newcomers: Senior Sean Kim (182); junior Jeremiah Branch^ (132); sophomores Shawn Hamilton (195) and A.J. Strott^ (160).
Key losses: Joe Quattrone (126); Sam Rowell (152, transfer to Mount St. Joseph).
Non-league opponents: home against South River, Dec. 14; at Arundel, Feb. 4; at Broadneck, Feb. 6.
Scouting report: Three brothers all capable of winning more than 30 matches and a county title is a great way to start a wrestling team, especially when one of them — Mason Kilcarr — seems destined to go deep in the state tournament as well, after advancing all the way to the finals last year. He could also become Reservoir's first three-time county champ this year. The Gators' depth throughout the lineup makes them a strong candidate to knock off the likes of Glenelg and River Hill. Sullivan, who has committed to wrestle for Washington and Lee, was bouncing back from an injury last year, but can be dominant when healthy. Newcomers to the varsity, Kim and Hamilton, will help make the Gators strong in the upperweights.
Bonus point: There are even more wrestling Kilcarrs than the three currently on the Gators varsity. Older brothers Payton and Bryce came through the program in the mid to late 2000s, and younger brother Reese is still on his way up. Younger sister Delaney, who is in elementary school, has also grown up around the sport.
River Hill Hawks
Last season: 11-0, 25-4, second at county tournament, regional tournament champion, state tournament runner-up
Coach: Brandon Lauer, eighth season
Top returners: Seniors Michael Beck* (120), Logan Kirby* (195), Cory Daniel* (220) and Casey Guthier (152); junior Brian Kirby* (182); sophomore Sean Guthier (132).
Top newcomers: Sophomore Matt Shealy^ (106); freshman Brady Daniel (160).
Key losses: Taariq Mohammed* (113); Lee Carter (132); Justin Nestor (285).
Non-league opponents: at Tuscarora, Dec. 7; home against Severna Park, Jan. 2; home against Oakdale, Jan. 23.
Scouting report: It's easy to see why River Hill is a favorite to win the county dual meet championship. In addition to four returning county champions — Beck (38-1, third at states), Logan Kirby (36-1, state finalist), Daniel (42-0, state champion) and Brian Kirby (32-8, region finalist) — the Hawks also return county finalist Sean Guthier, and brother Casey, who won 27 matches last year. Lightweight Shealy was a JV county champ, and freshman Brady Daniel is looking to follow in his older brother's footsteps. Logan Kirby is committed to wrestle for Harvard next year, while Cory Daniel has committed to join Nathan Kraisser at North Carolina.
Bonus point: Mark your calendars now. River Hill visits Glenelg on Jan. 28 in a match that could potentially decide the county dual meet championship. River Hill will also host the county tournament Feb. 21 and 22.
Wilde Lake Wildecats
Last season: 7-4, 21-9, third at county tournament
Coach: Jeff Starnes, second season (12th overall)
Top returners: Seniors Noah Polonsky (120), Tyler Anderson (132), Malik Jackson* (152), Adam Glass (160) and Kris Gough (220); junior Romar DelaCruz (126).
Top newcomers: Junior Ernie Fermin (170).
Key losses: Jordan Trinh* (126); Daniel Andrews (132); Tola Morakinyo* (170); Ne'co Jones (285).
Non-league opponents: home against South Carroll, Dec. 5; home against Wise, Feb. 1.
Scouting report: The Wildecats will look to build on last year's seven-win season with a third place finish a the county tournament after graduating a strong senior class (Morakinyo, now at West Virginia Tech, did not lose last year until the state championship). Polonsky, the younger brother of former state champ Alex, won almost 30 matches and placed third at the county and region tournaments, and Jackson (32-8, region finalist, fourth at states) is aiming for his third consecutive county title. Fermin, who was a team leader on the football field along with Jackson, should solidify the Wildecats upperweights.
Bonus point: Assistant coaches Doug and Nickie Schenk grew up in the Glenelg area, but starred as wrestlers for McDonogh. Nick Schenk transferred to St. Mark's after his freshman year and won three Delaware state titles before wrestling for Oklahoma State.
Glenelg Country Dragons
Last season: 3-3 MIAA B Conference, 11-9
Coach: Doug Jesse, second season
Top returners: Seniors Matt Campbell (132) and Christian Vinyard (138); juniors Adam Bothwell (120), Emmanuel Curtis (195/220) and Eddie Howlette (145/152); sophomores Reid Chaconas (152/160) and Eric Wootton (145/152)
Top newcomers: Freshmen Will Bartlett (152) and Raj Malviya (106).
Key losses: NA
Scouting report: After a solid inaugural season, Jesse is really looking to make headway in the follow-up campaign. The Dragons didn't graduate anyone from last year's 11-9 team, and Chaconas, Curtis and Howlette all seem capable of placing at the end of season tournaments.
Bonus point: Curtis and Howlette were both members of the Potomac Valley Junior Olympics team.
Dec. 6-7: Scorpion Duals (Mt. Hebron, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake); Aberdeen Duals (Marriotts Ridge); Andy Perez Tournament at Cambridge (Glenelg Country).
Dec. 13-14: Bauerlein Duals (Glenelg); Oakdale Tournament (Hammond, Long Reach); Joppatowne Tournament (Atholton); North County Tournament (Wilde Lake); Mad Mats Tournament at Magruder (Glenelg Country).
Dec. 20-21: LaPlata Warrior Duals (River Hill).
Dec. 27-28: Mount Mat Madness at UMBC (Centennial, Glenelg, Reservoir); Francis Scott Key Tournament (Long Reach).
Jan. 3-4: District V Duals at Northeast (Centennial, Hammond, Howard, Long Reach, Mt. Hebron, Oakland Mills); Iron Horse Dualsat C. Milton Wright (River Hill); South River Tournament (Atholton, Wilde Lake); Loch Raven Duals (Marriotts Ridge); Charger Duals (Glenelg Country).
Jan. 10-11: Patriot Classic at Northern (Glenelg, Hammond).
Jan. 17-18: Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Long Reach, Reservoir); Franklin Duals (Centennial, Mt. Hebron); Catoctin Duals (River Hill); Best of the Nest Duals at Perry Hall (Howard); Meade Tournament (Marriotts Ridge); Battle of the Bays at St. Michael's (Glenelg Country).
Jan. 24-25: Loudon Valley Duals (Reservoir).
Jan. 30-Feb. 1: Snowverlea Invitational (Atholton, Oakland Mills).
Feb. 7-8: MIAA Tournament at Mount St. Joseph (Glenelg Country).
Feb. 14-15: Maryland Independent School Tournament at McDonogh (Glenelg Country).
Feb. 21-22: Howard County Championships (all schools, at River Hill).
Feb. 28-Mar. 1: 1A/2A Regional Tournament at Southern-AA; 3A/4A Regional Tournament at Northeast.
Mar. 7-8: State Tournament at College Park.