After tough losses to finish their seasons a year ago, Arundel's Nathan Gainey and Severna Park's Kyle Craven knew that in order to ascend a higher level, work would be required all year, not just during the wrestling season. Thanks to their extra efforts during the offseason, the pair made it to their respective state title matchups, with Gainey winning to become the county's only state champion and the first for the Wildcats since Tyler Goodwin won the 2012 state title at the 132 pound weight class.
After falling in the 106-pound state championship final to Mark Shealy of River Hill last season, Gainey immediately set to work to prevent that from happening again and he dominated this season. Gainey cruised to a county and region championship at the 113-pound weight class, beating Chris Kirchner of North County in both title matches and losing only once this season, early at the North Hagerstown meet. He entered the state finals with a 42-1 record.
"Nate has worked hard really for the last two years, putting a lot of extra time in throughout the summer," Arundel coach Tom Owen said. "He's a hardworking guy and this is the reward for all that hard work. It's the accumulation of hours and hours of hard work on Nathan's part."
Gainey cruised into the state title match, recording pins against Marlon Waits of Oxon Hill and CJ Cramma of Magruder as well as a 10-1 decision over Jonathan Dosso of John F. Kennedy.
In the final against Jarret Jacobs of Urbana, Gainey prepared to read and react to his opponent, and when he saw an opening, he pounced, grabbing control and recording a pin in just 1:09.
"I wanted to feel him out, see where he was, see what he was going to do, what his strengths were," Gainey said. "He had his head close to his knee and that's where I caught him. I love my team; they supported me the whole way and it was a great experience this year. It feels amazing to finally win a state title for my school."
He becomes the 18th state champion in Arundel wrestling history, and Owen is sure it won't be long before he gets to work for next season, looking to join Goodwin, Justin Bowser and Mark Chesla as the fourth Wildcat to be a two-time state champion.
"Believe it or not, as good as Nathan is right now, he has a lot of areas he can improve," Owen said. "I'm sure he's going to start working on that in the next couple of weeks and he'd like to wrestle at college and in order to do that he's gonna have to keep getting better. The other thing he can do is help our program get even better by surrounding himself with other good wrestlers, so we are hoping to have him help us make Arundel wrestling even better."
Severna Park's Craven didn't make it out of the regional meet last season, falling to a Meade wrestler who was coached by longtime Meade head coach Chad Vosburg. Vosburg took over the Falcon squad in the summer and Craven, motivated by his early departure at regions and the hire of Vosburg as coach, committed himself to getting better and Vosburg led the way.
"We are very proud of Kyle," Vosburg said. "Last year he got knocked out in the pigtails of regions by one of our Meade wrestlers and then when we took over in the summer, he put in the work all summer, was there every day through the fall and the winter. He lived up to our expectations, he did all the hard work and did what was needed to be done in the offseason and was rewarded all season. He wrestled his heart out.''
This year, Craven won the 195-pound county championship over Colin Tracy of Arundel and advanced to the region championship where he lost by pin to Reservoir's AJ Strott.
After recording pins against Dion Thomas of Mergenthaler and Jared Burgoyne of Huntingdown and an injury forfeit by CJ Allen of Aberdeen, Craven had his rematch with Strott. He fought to keep it close, trailing 4-3 after one round and 8-7 after the second but got caught in a scramble early in the third and eventually falling behind 13-7, wrestling to the end and getting a reversal to cut the final margin to 13-9 and finish the season with a record of 37-5.
"It was a lot of hard work this whole year," Craven said. "I got pinned by (AJ) Strott in the region finals, I was hoping to come back and win today but I wrestled my hardest and that's all. It feels good, I didn't make it out of regions last year and with new coaches this year it feels good."
At 120 pounds, Arundel's Nathan LaBille and South River's Ryan Castro wrestled deep as Castro lost the opening bout to eventual state champion Brian Stuart of North Hagerstown but advancing through the consolation bracket, falling to LaBille 3-1 after LaBille had advanced to the semi-finals of the winners bracket before also losing to Stuart. LaBille beat Antonio Lopez of Quince Orchard 7-5 in overtime to take third place while Castro lost his fifth place bout 6-2 to Willie Hampton of Atholton. LaBille and Gainey helped Arundel score 47 points and tie for ninth with Bethesda-Chevy Chase.
South River's Brendan Woody won his first two matches at 285 before losing a tough match in the semi-finals to eventual champion Brandon Ngati of Franklin, 3-2. He won a 6-2 decision to get to the third place match where won 6-5 on a tie breaker.
Southern's Alex Rounceville recorded a couple of decision victories before a loss to state champion Cameron Butler of LaPlata in the semi-finals. He bounced back to record two decision victories, finishing his season with a 9-1 win over Decklan Fischer of Snow Hill and a 41-7 record. Josh Merkle lost in overtime 3-2 in the semi finals to Dylan Workman of Thomas Stone but rallied to get fourth, unable to wrestle in the third place match while Trevor Jewell finished fifth for the Bulldogs at the 145 pound weight class. The Bulldogs put a county-high seven wrestlers into the state tournament.
Old Mill's top finisher was Nate Hammond at the 182 pound weight class, finishing in fourth place after dropping the third place match to Sean Guthier of River Hill 3-1 and concluding his season with a 44-9 record.
Annapolis' Jon Proctor won his opening match at 170 pounds 7-3 but fell to Luke Crowe of Dundalk in next match. Advancing to the fifth place match, Proctor was able to redeem himself, edging out a 7-6 decion over Crowe and finishing his season with a 47-8 record.