For a lot of high school athletes, a state championship is an exclamation point to culminate their season. For wrestlers, it’s a glorious weekend in a seemingly never-ending tournament schedule.
For the best of the best, there really isn’t an “offseason.”
“Tournaments are always going on, always,” said South Carroll’s AJ Rodrigues.
Rodrigues, the 2022 Carroll County Times Wrestler of the Year, couldn’t have been better in his junior season with the Cavaliers, going 40-0 with 27 pins. In his 160-pound Class 2A/1A state final, he bested Noah Reho of Stephen Decatur, an undefeated wrestler and a two-time state champion, with a takedown in the final two seconds.
It was his second state championship after he won a title in 2020 as a freshman. The 2021 season was canceled and there was no postseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, though Rodrigues and other Carroll County wrestlers did get a handful of matches against league opponents.
But it wasn’t too long after he stepped off the championship podium that he was back on the road.
“Two weeks after states I wrestled at NHSCA high school nationals, it’s a tournament for your grade,” Rodrigues said. “I went out there, had about 132 kids and I got second out of all the juniors at 152 pounds.”
Rodrigues won five matches against the best juniors in the country before dropping a decision in the finals.
The National High School Coaches Association nationals are held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, just one stop on a nationwide tour Rodrigues has been on for wrestling.
“Last year after the COVID season, me Michael [Pizzuto] and Gage [Owen] went up to Iowa to wrestle at this recruiting showcase,” Rodrigues said. “We go to Virginia Beach for high school nationals. There’s tournaments all over Pennsylvania and this one coming up in Fargo, North Dakota. There’s a tournament at Disney, Disney Duals.”
Even as Rodrigues is preparing for his senior football season at South Carroll, wrestling continues.
Rodrigues recently competed with Team Maryland at last weekend’s US Marine Corps Junior Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota.
“We’ve been training all summer long getting mentally and physically prepared for this, five practices a week and getting down to weight,” he said.
Rodrigues went 2-2 in Fargo wrestling at 160 competing in freestyle.
While engrossed in the football preseason, Rodrigues still finds the time to train for wrestling and doesn’t have to travel very far to do it.
“I’m blessed to have a wrestling room in my backyard,” he said. “Full room, one mat, padded walls, everything. I can just go in my backyard and wrestle when I need to.
“I spend a lot of time out there. I’ve spent many years grinding in my room.”
Rodrigues has wrestled since he was 4 and was brought into the sport by his father, a two-time state champion himself.
“I’m hoping to get three-time to pass him for family bragging rights,” Rodrigues said.
Growing up in the sport, Rodrigues worked long hours with his father as his training evolved over time.
“When I was younger, he pushed me a lot,” Rodrigues said. “I wrestled a lot of matches when I was younger, and hard, intense practices. As I got older, we focused more on the technique side of wrestling, find a move and perfect it. That’s what we‘ve been doing since year eight, nine.”
Rodrigues said he’s drawn interest from schools including Maryland, West Virginia, George Mason and North Dakota State to wrestle collegiately. However, he’s waiting to see what happens after his senior football season before making a choice between schools — and sports.
All-County first team
Evan Owen, South Carroll, freshman, 106 pounds
Owen was county and 1A North Regional champion and finished fourth at states.
Dylan Ohler, Liberty, freshman, 113
Ohler won county and 1A North Regional titles before finishing fourth at states.
Ryan Athey, South Carroll, senior, 120
Athey was an unbeaten county and regional champion heading into states, where he finished third.
Michael Pizzuto, South Carroll, junior, 126
Pizzuto went 38-0 en route to winning the 2A/1A state championship. He had 26 pins on the season.
Gage Owen, South Carroll, junior, 132
Owen went 40-0 for the Cavaliers and won the 2A/1A state championship. He recorded 26 pins on the season.
Ryder Eckenberger, Westminster, junior, 138
Eckenberger won the county title with an 8-5 decision. He picked up two pins to win the 3A East Regional title.
Travis Green, Manchester Valley, senior, 145
Green scored a 5-2 decision at the county finals over eventual state champion Ryan Ohler and won the 2A West Regional title before finishing third at states.
Ryan Ohler, Liberty, senior, 145
Ohler avenged his county loss to Green in the state quarterfinals and went on to win the state championship, finishing 39-2.
Jake Boog, Manchester Valley, junior, 152
Boog was second at regionals but avenged that loss in the 2A/1A state championship match, winning by pin and finishing 43-3 with 31 falls.
Rylan Moose, South Carroll, junior, 170
Moose won county and regional titles and finished as 2A/1A state runner-up with a 35-4 record.
Connor Kolarek, Westminster, senior, 182
The county champion finished as 3A East Regional runner-up. He earned a fourth-place finish at states.
Cru Boog, Manchester Valley, freshman, 195
Boog earned the county title and finished fourth at the 2A West Regional with a 32-10 record.
Kobe Pennewell, Manchester Valley, senior, 220
The county champion finished as regional runner-up before going on to finish third at states.
Kaden Bryan, Westminster, senior, 285
Bryan was the 4A/3A heavyweight state champion, finishing with a 28-1 record. He avenged his only loss of the season in the state final in overtime.
Layla Lagunas, Manchester Valley, sophomore, 105
Lagunas was county and regional champion and finished as state runner-up with a 15-2 record.
Andrea Antunez, Winters Mill, senior, 115
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Antunez won a regional championship and finished third at states. She was 11-4 on the season.
Bella Canby, Manchester Valley, junior, 140
Canby was 2A West Regional champion and finished third at states, 12-4 on the season.
Gabi McLeod, Winters Mill, freshman, 145
McLeod was county champion and won the 2A West Regional and finished as state runner-up
Katie Martin, Manchester Valley, junior, 145
Martin was 17-1 on the year, her only loss coming in the state semifinals. She finished in third place.