When high school sports come to an end, many athletes are teammates for the last time. On occasion, one or two stay together in pursuit of college sports careers.
In the case of four former Westminster wrestlers, next winter looks to be quite familiar for them.
Outgoing seniors Jaime Rodriguez, Garrett Vandervalk, and Tyler Watkins are set to join second-year college wrestler and former teammate Ryker Eckenbarger next season at McDaniel College.
Rodriguez, Vandervalk, and Watkins each earned Times all-county honors this past winter, with Rodriguez and Vandervalk both earning first-team recognition.
Rodriguez (45-4) wrestled at 285 pounds and surpassed 100 career wins last winter, placing second at the county tournament and third at the Class 4A-3A North tourney. Vandervalk (42-7) won county and regional titles, and reached the 4A-3A finals at 182 pounds.
Watkins, a second-team all-county pick, went 31-7 and competed in the state tournament. He said he wasn't quite sure about continuing his wrestling career in college until he heard Eckenbarger, who began his college career last year at Campbell University, was coming home and had his sights on McDaniel.
"I'm beyond excited," Watkins said. "This way, we all get to stay connected."
Eckenbarger won a 4A-3A state title in his senior season at Westminster and headed to Buies Creek, North Carolina, to join a Fighting Camels program led by famed coach Cary Kolat. Eckenbarger, who had 146 high school wins, went 0-2 in duals for Campbell before redshirting.
Now he's making plans to wrestle on the Hill, and Eckenbarger said coming home was important to him.
"I live on a farm, and ... a college dorm and a farm is a quite different style of living," Eckenbarger said. "But, it was definitely a cool experience going out there and being with the guys at Campbell. Coach Kolat was a beast, he taught me a lot.
"I considered [McDaniel] last year before I decided on going to Campbell. But when I knew that I was going to fit in better at home, I immediately knew I was going to wrestle at McDaniel."
Eckenbarger said he still has four years of college eligibility remaining, and he can compete at McDaniel right away.
"It definitely influenced my decision," Eckenbarger said. "When I found out the gang was kind of sticking together, I felt like that was a really cool thing."
The Green Terror placed sixth out of eight teams at the Centennial Conference championships last season and competed in the Division III East Regionals. Terror coach Davey Blake had three former Carroll standouts on his roster a year ago — junior Jake Pooton (South Carroll), junior Dominic States (Westminster), and freshman Neal Rinker (Winters Mill).
Rodriguez said he was trying to choose between football and wrestling in college — he was Times first-team all-county in both this year — and eyed Stevenson for the gridiron. But wrestling won him over, along with attending the same school with his classmates.
"It's pretty exciting knowing that we have close friends going to the same school," Rodriguez said. "It's motivation to have you work harder and become better wrestlers together."
All four wrestlers say they're prepared to train over the summer in order to stay sharp and be ready for the rigors of college. The soon-to-be high school graduates credit Eckenbarger for mentoring them when he was Westminster's team leader.
They're ready for a chance to compete together once more.
"I know we're all working out, almost every day," Vandervalk said. "Once school is in session, we'll go even harder. ... I'm excited to get started."