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First day of practice for winter high school sports celebrated around Carroll County

South Carroll got its wrestling room in working order Tuesday afternoon, the team’s initial task on its first day of winter high school sports practice.

Cavaliers coach Matt Thomas and his assistants led their wrestlers in rolling out mats and lining them up properly before sanitizing them and taping them to the floor. They wouldn’t have to worry about it again for the rest of the season, the coaches told their grapplers, so the mission was to get it right the first time.

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Being in the room itself was the biggest thing.

There won’t be any regional or state championships to strive for, nor any out-of-county road trips for competition. But Carroll’s winter teams are officially preparing for a season that is slated to begin Jan. 5, something being celebrated across the county.

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“Just to get back on the mat with my team, it feels good,” said sophomore Michael Pizzuto, one of South Carroll’s three individual state champions from 2020.

Thomas said keeping SC’s wrestlers mentally sharp is one of his main goals as the team gets ready for a new season.

“It’s so different and not what we’re used to,” said Cavs senior Jake Rippeon. “It’s just going to be a different experience altogether ... a real change.”

South Carroll senior Antonio Bradford sprays a sanitizing soluntion on the mats as the wrestling team preps for the first day of winter sports practices in Carroll County, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.
South Carroll senior Antonio Bradford sprays a sanitizing soluntion on the mats as the wrestling team preps for the first day of winter sports practices in Carroll County, Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

The county is adhering to a Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s return-to-play plan that allows for a winter season to run from Jan. 4 until Feb. 13, a fall season from Feb. 13 through April 17, and a spring season from April 17 through June 19.

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Carroll chose to delay the start of the winter season to Jan. 5 to allow for one more day after the holiday break. As of now, there aren’t any official Carroll County Athletic League titles up for grabs.

Thomas said the Cavs are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as best they can, with the notion that they’ll be competing in three weeks ― something most of Maryland’s counties can’t boast.

“It’s definitely different, it’s something that nobody has ever really had to deal with,” the coach said. “The thing of it is, we’ve got to take advantage of what we’re getting right now. ... We’re still allowed here to come hang out with the kids and compete on a smaller scale.”

This week has Carroll’s winter teams going through conditioning, skill evaluation, and team selection. The second part of preseason (Dec. 21 through Jan. 4) is for full practices and intra-squad scrimmages, followed by a competitive schedule of five-plus weeks.

Winter sports include boys basketball, girls basketball, cheerleading, boys indoor track, girls indoor track, and wrestling.

About an hour after South Carroll had its winter teams in motion, Liberty’s girls basketball squad met at Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg to use its gymnasium for the first practice. Lions coach Barry Green said it’s special to be one of the few counties in Maryland to be holding in-person practices.

Liberty's girls basketball team goes through stretching exercises before their first practice at Oklahoma Road Middle, on the opening day of winter sports practices in Carroll County, Tuesday, December 15, 2020.
Liberty's girls basketball team goes through stretching exercises before their first practice at Oklahoma Road Middle, on the opening day of winter sports practices in Carroll County, Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to extend our ability to play,” Green said while nine varsity players lined up for stretching. “We’re privileged. We feel lucky, blessed and lucky that we get to play. Because the anxiety on not having [it], it’s just taken a toll.”

Liberty forward Samantha Hardy said she feared her senior season might get lost to the pandemic, just like the 2020 spring season did when the outbreak first took hold in March and schools closed.

The Lions won a Class 2A West Region 1 title last season. And while they won’t be able to go for a repeat performance, Hardy said it felt almost surreal being back on a basketball court once more.

“I kind of feel like it’s not even happening, because we were so wishy-washy for so long,” Hardy said. “But it’s great, because this is my senior season and I’m just really happy that it gets to happen.”

Boys Basketball

Springdale Prep beat Carroll Christian 75-35 on Dec. 10 behind 29 points and eight rebounds from KJ Gardner, and Vince Atkins posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. On Dec. 11, the Lions (4-2) lost to Word of Life Academy 76-70 despite 17 points and 20 rebounds from Detwan Montague. Gardner added 16 points.

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