Carroll County wrestling enthusiasts used to flock to Hampstead and Winfield for some of the more anticipated dual-meet showdowns of winters past, and many times championships were on the line.
Wednesday’s dual between Manchester Valley and South Carroll looks to be one of those can’t-miss events for avid wrestling fans.
The Mavericks, who were 28-1 in duals entering Monday, are going after their first Carroll County Athletic League title. The Cavaliers (15-1) captured five county crowns in the last decade, including three in a row from 2015-17. They’re set to clash in Winfield, and both sides are eager to get after each other.
“Every year, county matches are big. But this one has a little more meaning behind it,” said SC coach Matt Thomas. “We’re both here competing for what’s most likely going to be the county title. It’s a big dual to us. We’ve been preparing for this, and we’ve had this marked on the calendar for a very long time now. I’m excited for Wednesday.”
South Carroll (4-0 in the CCAL) fell short of winning the county title last winter in a Feb. 2, 2019 loss against Winters Mill, which also knocked the Cavs from regional dual-meet tournament consideration. They’re off to a better start this season, with their lone loss coming Jan. 4 against Stephen Decatur at the Iron Horse Duals tournament at C. Milton Wright High School.
Thomas’ young bunch features five wrestlers with 30 or more wins — freshman Michael Pizzuto (33-0 at 106 pounds), sophomore Ryan Athey (113, 31-1), freshman Gage Owen (120, 31-2), freshman AJ Rodrigues (126, 33-1), and junior Antonio Bradford (170, 31-3).
Athey, the reigning Times Wrestler of the Year, placed second at 106 at the 2019 Class 2A-1A state tournament.
“These guys came in together, they wrestled over the summer together,” Thomas said. “I mean, it’s a family that we’ve built there with these kids. It’s a brotherhood every day. These guys want to get better.”
Thomas was in the gym last month when Manchester Valley (3-0 CCAL) opened its regular season against Winters Mill and drubbed the host Falcons 44-18. SC’s coach watched a Mavericks team utilize its depth against the reigning county champs, and the Mavericks have kept it going all winter.
Their one loss came at the Bauerlein Duals, at the former North Carroll High School, against private-school foe Loyola Blakefield. The rest of their opponents haven’t put up many fights, and MV coach Dave Dodson credits his group’s dedication.
“It’s a blue-collar work ethic. They really care about one another,” Dodson said. “They want to see each other do well. I think that transcends into the wrestling room.”
Manchester Valley has eight wrestlers with 20 or more wins, led by freshman Jake Boog (he was 28-0 as of Monday at 120).
Fellow freshman Travis Green (106, 27-1) and junior Grant Warner (195, 26-1) give the Mavs some balance, while the middle of their lineup is stacked with seniors Chad Schaffer (138, 23-5), Thomas Chenoweth (152, 26-2), and Adam Mattson (170, 21-1).
Green and Mattson were both unbeaten heading into last Saturday’s duals tourney at Kenwood High School, which resumes Feb. 2. Boog, Pizzuto, and Winters Mill’s Zach Kirby (23-0) were the Carroll regulars without a loss as of Monday.
Man Valley wrestled Mountain Ridge and St. James in Hagerstown on Monday in a tri-meet, and the Mavs follow their dual against South Carroll with another county clash Thursday at home against Century. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are set for a tri-meet Saturday with Dunbar and host Loyola Blakefield.
“We beefed up our schedule,” Thomas said. “We wanted to chase the competition. ... This week is a big week for us.”
South Carroll and Manchester Valley appear to be in good shape to qualify for their regional duals tournaments in a few weeks, but Wednesday’s match certainly helps the winner stay near the top of its respective standings (SC is in 2A West, MV in 3A East) with a chance to host the event.
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“I think a lot of people are looking forward to seeing a good wrestling match [with] two quality opponents, teams that have extensive history. I do expect a large crowd,” Dodson said. “It brings back the nostalgia of yesteryear ... I think it’s a good thing for the county and a good thing for the wrestling community.”