Winters Mill coach John Lowe talks about the county wrestling tournament.
One streak may come to an end at the county wrestling tournament Saturday at Westminster High School, and another one could get started.
South Carroll, which has won the past three tournament titles, is looking for a fourth straight when wrestling begins at 9 a.m. This year's favorite, however, seems to be Winters Mill.
The Falcons are ready to knock South Carroll off its perch and resume their own dynasty, rekindling memories of a dominating stretch of county tournament wins that lasted from 2009 to 2014.
“We want to start a nice run again and be top dog in the county for a few years,” WM coach John Lowe said. “I have a pretty young team. I want these kids to have the mindset that they are the team to beat — and I have that expectation for them.”
Winters Mill could have as many as five champions, said Falcons assistant coach Zach Blessing.
That group includes five No. 1 seeds — freshman Garrett Dell (106 pounds, 27-6), sophomore Hunter Merson (113, 28-1), and seniors Hunter Lowe (195, 25-5), Alex Miller (220. 25-7) and Troy Blessing (160, 28-4), a county champion in 2017. Freshman Zach Kirby (126, 26-8), sophomore Logan Konold (132, 23-8), junior Trevor Fawley (170, 28-4), and senior Blake Billings (285, 18-14) also could help in the team scoring and be in the running for top finishes for Winters Mill.
South Carroll assistant coach Bryan Hamper sounds as if he’d be surprised if Winters Mill, the regular-season county champion, doesn’t take the team title.
The Falcons are that talented, and have the depth it will take in a tournament to amass a slew of team points. And the county tournament is more important than ever to Lowe because it’s the final event of the postseason that will feature team scoring.
“The state decided that every sport only has four state championships,” Lowe explained. “So as soon as they went to four (state) dual championships, that compromised things and gave wrestling more state tournaments than everyone else. So they offered to drop scoring at the state tournament. The county very much wants to keep score. That’s why the rivalries are important.”
Last year, Class 2A-1A state champion South Carroll crowned seven individual county champions. This year, the Cavaliers boast returning champs in Tyler Harbison (152 pounds, 20-3), Dakota Bowers (120, 32-2), and Travis Crawford (126, 32-1). Crawford secured a state championship in 2017.
The Cavs also have a strong group of wrestlers to support their champions, and several of those grapplers could place and contribute to SC’s overall finish. The group includes freshmen Trent Bauer (106, 19-1) and Antonio Bradford (160, 28-6), and juniors Cam Werner (132, 28-7) and Steven Dahl (152, 31-4). Werner and Dahl hold No. 1 seeds in their weight classes.
“The big thing for us is to maximize as many place winners as we can because Winters Mill and Manchester Valley are going to place a whole a lot of wrestlers,” Hamper said.
Heathe Hernandez (106, 33-5), Liam Pence (126, 32-5), Tom Chenoweth (138, 23-4), Chad Schaffer (145, 32-6), and Troy Warner (285, 24-2) might represent the best chance to place for Man Valley. Pence won a county title in 2016 wrestling at North Carroll.
Liberty senior Jake Griffin (170, 33-2) and Westminster senior Brad Walsh (152, 41-0) are two other standouts to watch. No wrestler may want to win a championship more than Griffin after placing second three years in a row.
“Getting second has not been fun the past three years,” said Griffin, who has 115 career wins. “I’ll really trying to go out and win it. I’m going to be pissed if I don’t.”
Walsh, the Owls’ all-time wins leader with 151, will probably feel the same way.
“Being in the county final and not being able to get my hand raised really has haunted me,” Walsh said. “Our county is so competitive. I was madder that I didn’t place first in the county last year than the region. I was second in both.”
Top seeds Parker Streib (145, 35-6) and Chris Hauffman (285, 30-11) are two other Owls who have a legitimate shot at county title.
Griffin isn’t the only Liberty wrestler that is a title contender. Noah Wienclawski (182, 31-6) also earned a No. 1 seed.
Francis Scott Key fields two No. 2 seeds in Nate Imes (182, 21-2) and Kane Richardson (195, 18-3) and a No. 3 seed in Dontae Smith (126, 24-2).
Seniors Dylan Fitzgerald (138, 21-10), Nick Dahl (152, 25-6), and Brian Steen (195, 17-14) are Century’s top grapplers for the annual county tourney, the finals of which are slated to begin around 2:30.
“My seniors have really worked hard to get to this point,” Knights coach Steve Willingham said. “These guys that have been working for four years are ready to step on the mat and be a county champion.”