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Wrestling: Plenty at stake when South Carroll, Winters Mill meet in pivotal CCAL dual

Wrestling: Plenty at stake when South Carroll, Winters Mill meet in pivotal CCAL dual
Winters Mill's Hunter Merson pins South Carroll's Jake Rippeon during their 113-pound bout in the Carroll County wrestling tournament in Westminster on Feb 17, 2018. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

South Carroll and Winters Mill have established themselves as Carroll County’s top wrestling teams over the past decade.

In 2009, the Falcons won their first county championship. They have three since then, including last year’s CCAL crown. And they had to take down the Cavaliers, who had five county titles from 2010-17, in order to finish on top.

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So it shouldn’t surprise too many local wrestling enthusiasts a lot will be on the line when these two get another crack at each other Wednesday night at 6 in Westminster.

Winters Mill (13-5, 5-0 in the CCAL) hosts South Carroll (14-7, 5-0) to determine the CCAL champ once again.

“There’s no question that this does feel familiar,” said Falcons coach John Lowe. “While in Carroll County, a lot of things can happen at any time, this time of the year we kind of expect to going down to the end … with South Carroll as a major roadblock.”

Last season, Winters Mill defeated South Carroll 48-31 in Winfield to take the county title and propel the Falcons into the Class 2A West Region dual-meet tournament. Regional dual positioning is back in play this time, too, with Winters Mill (10-1 in official Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association duals) holding onto one of the top four spots in 2A West and South Carroll (10-3) trying to earn a berth.

The Falcons trail Damascus (11-0) and Williamsport (11-1) in the 2A West standings, according to current records tabulated on mdwrestling.net. Poolesville (8-2) is fourth, followed by SC, Middletown (9-3), and Liberty (8-3).

The top four teams qualify and compete against each other Feb. 6 in regional tournaments, and the winners advance to the state duals Feb. 9.

Before preparing for that, Lowe said, it’s a focus on Carroll County prominence — something the Falcons and Cavaliers know quite well. And each team’s lineup can go far in determining who gets the edge.

“We’ve been sitting around doing the lineups, basically, for a month,” Lowe said. “Trying to see who can go where, who might be able to pull out a victory, or might have to just fend off a really good kid. It comes down to matchups and bonus points.”

Winters Mill wrestling coach John Lowe watches the progress of a wrestler during a match at Francis Scott Key High School on Jan. 16, 2019.
Winters Mill wrestling coach John Lowe watches the progress of a wrestler during a match at Francis Scott Key High School on Jan. 16, 2019. (Brian Krista / Carroll County Times)

Winters Mill boasts five wrestlers with 20 or more wins in its lineup — sophomores Garrett Dell (113 pounds, 25-4) and Zach Kirby (126, 24-4), junior Colby Unkart (132, 25-2), and seniors Josh Burndley (160, 24-4) and Trevor Fawley (182, 26-1).

South Carroll counters with seven, led by senior and 30-match winner Steven Dahl (152, 31-2).

Freshmen Ryan Athey (106, 29-1) and Anthony Bond (113, 23-7), sophomore Jake Rippeon (132, 23-11), senior Cam Werner (138, 27-4), sophomore Antonio Bradford (160, 22-7), and senior Pat Quinn (285, 28-4) round out the Cavaliers’ top grapplers.

Each team gets its bonus points, too.

Quinn leads South Carroll with 20 pins; Fawley’s 19 are tops for Winters Mill. Burndley has 16 for the Falcons; Dahl has 15 for the Cavaliers. WM’s Kirby has 14; Athey and Bond have 14 apiece for SC.

Each team has its wildcards as well. Winters Mill’s Hunter Merson (145), a junior and a county champ last year, is back after missing the first 15 matches recovering from an injury. And Tyler Harbison, a senior, has been in and out of South Carroll’s lineup this winter but is 6-0 so far at 152.

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South Carroll head Matt Thomas reacts during the Cavaliers' match against the Owls in Winfield on Dec. 20, 2017.
South Carroll head Matt Thomas reacts during the Cavaliers' match against the Owls in Winfield on Dec. 20, 2017. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Many of these rivals will square off Wednesday, giving meaning to Lowe’s notion of matchups and points being critical. Cavs coach Matt Thomas said he has spent plenty of time analyzing the different scenarios that might lie ahead.

Thomas is in his second year as SC’s coach, but he’s no stranger to the stakes.

“When I was in high school Winters Mill was always a very, very tough team, and then when I was in college it transferred to South Carroll,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to … be a part of that rivalry. The guys are definitely prepared right now. Everyone’s finally getting healthy. It’s all finally coming together.”

Winters Mill won 2A-1A dual-meet state titles in 2012 and 2013, and 2A-1A state tourney crowns from 2011-13. South Carroll took it from there, capturing 2A-1A state tournament titles from 2014-17.

And with nine of the last 10 county championships combined, Thomas’ claim of the Cavs and Falcons being Carroll’s “powerhouses” seems valid.

“I told my team [Monday], there are lots of teams that would love to be us right now,” Lowe said. “All the counties in the whole state, not everybody is competing for a county title. It’s a great situation to be in.”

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