Wrestling Preview: Landscape filled with change in 2017-18

Wrestling Preview: Landscape filled with change in 2017-18
Winters Mill's Troy Blessing scrimmages at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 2, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO)

Carroll County has won the past seven Class 2A-1A state championships in wrestling, with Winters Mill taking three in a row before South Carroll reeled off the last four.

That’s an impressive streak, but it’s coming to an end.


The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s Executive Council and Board of Control in April approved the state wrestling committee’s recommended changes for this season. Team scoring at the year-end state tournament is no more, and the dual meet state tourney is expanding from two classifications to four.

It puts the emphasis on the state duals, a concept that came to fruition in the 1990s and traces its founding to former North Carroll wrestling coach Dick Bauerlein. The new format also takes away the team champions at the state tournament, which takes place in March at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

The sport’s landscape is different now, and Carroll County has been doing its best to prepare for the new season.

Reactions seem to be mixed.

“It’s a huge paradigm shift. It’s really changing the way we think,” said Winters Mill coach John Lowe, whose program won Class 2A-1A dual meet state crowns in 2011 and 2012. “There have always been teams that have had really strong individuals, and there are always teams that have been better teams. They aren’t always the same teams.

“I honestly believe that the coaches weren’t sure what they were voting for, because the initial movement on this was, ‘We’re not going to remove team scoring. We’re just going to float it by the Board of Control.’ And at the last minute they decided not to do that. I feel like we kind of had a little bit of the rug pulled out from under us. I think it’s bad because … it’s like denying we can admit some of it exists.”

Westminster's Brad Walsh scrimmages at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 2, 2017.
Westminster's Brad Walsh scrimmages at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 2, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO)

Lowe said he has always viewed wrestling as a two-pronged sport — one that gave teams a chance to put together balanced lineups to make a run at qualifying for the duals, while allowing other squads to load up for the postseason tournaments with state title contenders leading the charge.

“Suddenly,” Lowe said, “power is in the hands of the balanced, and the big number programs.”

South Carroll’s fourth consecutive state crown took place in March, and the Cavaliers crowned three individual state champs in Travis Crawford, Joey Thomas, and Jamar Williams. Thomas and Williams each graduated, and the Cavs lost their longtime coach when Bryan Hamper stepped down after nine seasons.

Crawford, a junior, returns to go after another state title, and former Northern Garrett wrestler Matt Thomas is in as SC’s new coach.

Seven wrestlers from last season’s Times all-county first team are back this season — Crawford and SC teammates Dakota Bowers, Tyler Harbison, and Cam Werner; Westminster’s Brad Walsh; and Winters Mill’s Troy Blessing and Hunter Lowe.

The Cavs made it to the 2A-1A West regional duals last season. Now, more teams get a chance to be one of those top four in each region to advance.

“It’s not like we’re trail blazers,” said Manchester Valley coach Dave Dodson, the state’s dual meet championship coordinator. “We’re doing things that other states have done.”

Dodson said he’s “directly impacted” by the change because his work load will increase with more teams vying for regional dual meet tournament berths. But the Mavericks coach is a proponent of the duals concept and the notion that a 14-man lineup truly determines the best team at season’s end.

Liberty's Jake Griffin scrimmages at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 2, 2017.
Liberty's Jake Griffin scrimmages at Winters Mill High School on Dec. 2, 2017. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO)

Still, Dodson said he understands why some coaches and teams aren’t too pleased with the new format.

“It definitely changes the approach as far as the state tournament,” Dodson said. “The individual, that’s a big place where they can shine and perform at a high level. And they still can do that. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

The first intra-county match of the season is set for Wednesday night when Westminster hosts Manchester Valley. Francis Scott Key opens its season Thursday with a county clash against Liberty.

Dual meet tournaments are soon to follow, and before long wrestlers will be strengthening their resumes in order to have a chance for success in late February, early March. With the state’s modifications to the sport, Lowe said, expect to see different styles toward achieving that success.

“The scenarios are going to change, tactics are going to change, strategies are going to change,” Lowe said. “Everything’s different now.”