South Carroll’s wrestling program featured three individual state champions last year, two of which finished with 50 wins during the season.
All three wrestlers entered their second varsity seasons this winter, but the outlook changed just after the 2020 campaign came to an end when the COVID-19 pandemic forced high schools to close and athletics to shut down. County officials agreed to go forward with a modified winter sports year, now in its third week of six.
That’s a blow to wrestlers everywhere who were in search of another state championship, or perhaps to keep their career on a trajectory toward 200 all-time wins. Yet the Cavaliers have taken the circumstances in stride, their coach says.
“The schedule that they gave us, that’s where we set that standard at,” said SC coach Matt Thomas moments after his Cavs dropped Liberty 61-9 on Tuesday and improved to 4-0. “Very pleased with how the guys are taking it.”
Last year’s Carroll County Athletic League champion got pins from Ryan Athey (120 pounds), Brandon Athey (160), Austin Gidge (182), and Jackson Moore (220). Gage Owen (138) and AJ Rodrigues (145), two of last season’s three state champs, provided back-to-back technical falls to help South Carroll establish control early on.
Fellow sophomore Michael Pizzuto, the other state champion, was one of four SC grapplers to win by forfeit Monday. Pizzuto, the reigning Times Wrestler of the Year, went 50-0 last season, while Rodriguez finished 50-2.
The Cavs have put up 50 or more four times this winter, and they’re averaging 58 points per dual meet.
“Our room is working incredibly hard, day in and day out,” Thomas said. “Guys are acting in the room as if it’s a normal season, and it’s showing from what we’ve gotten so far.
Liberty (1-1) had its first three matches of the season postponed while the Lions dealt with COVID-19 issues, and won their opener Jan. 14 against Francis Scott Key. First-year coach Joe Zaccagnini said his team is adjusting after “a rough couple weeks.”
Senior Anthony Marsico (152) was a bright spot Tuesday with his 9-7 victory over Jake Rippeon. Marsico fell behind early, led 6-5 after the second period, and held on in the final seconds to secure a victory. The Lions’ only other win came by forfeit, but Zaccagnini said his group is focused with recovery right now.
“It kind of feels like Murphy’s Law where everything that can go wrong has gone wrong,” the coach said. “A couple of these guys have only been practicing for a couple of days now since coming back from COVID protocol. We know that South Carroll is good, and we’re doing our best that we can prepare. We’re always looking forward, trying to get better every day.”
South Carroll had eight wrestlers win 30 or more bouts a season ago, and that included four with 40 or more and two with 50. Those numbers won’t be duplicated this season, but Thomas said he’s proud of how his bunch has handled things.
“They could have packed their bags once it happened ... but no, they’ve taken it,” Thomas said. “They’ve overcome the adversity of that and they’re making the best of it.”