Jake Rippeon and his South Carroll wrestling teammates weren’t going to let themselves get excited about Tuesday’s match against Winters Mill until they were off the bus and inside the gymnasium.
With decisions seemingly in the balance every day on whether to have in-person or hybrid learning, and whether to hold extracurricular activities of any kind, the Cavaliers and Falcons tempered their enthusiasm for as long as they could leading up to Tuesday’s showdown.
“We really thought [Monday] that they were going to cancel us at the board meeting,” Rippeon said.
Added WM coach Eric Meszaros: “I got a call today, at 2 o’clock, ‘Is the match on?’ I said, ‘I hope it’s on. I don’t really know.’”
Indeed the match was on, and after a 304-day break public high school sports returned to Carroll County in the form of an intra-county clash between two wrestling rivals. Rippeon and South Carroll prevailed 50-15 in the opener, and the reigning Carroll County Athletic League champions collected four pins and three technical falls along the way.
Many of the wrestlers last had a chance to compete on March 7, 2020, the final day of the state tournament in Upper Marlboro. One week later, the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to close and sports to shut down across the country. Carroll felt its effects too, and until Tuesday’s match the county hadn’t been able to put together a public school sporting event.
“We’ve had a countdown on the board since Day One, counting the days down until we could get back out and compete,” said Cavs coach Matt Thomas. “We knew it was going to be a different atmosphere. From getting on the bus they were ready to roll.”
South Carroll posted pins from senior Austin Gidge (182 pounds), senior Antonio Bradford (195), sophomore Gage Owen (132), and Rippeon (152), a senior who capped the match with six team points. Brandon Athey (160) started things with a technical fall, and brother and fellow junior Ryan Athey (120) added one later in the match. So did sophomore AJ Rodrigues (145), one of three Cavs who claimed Class 2A-1A state titles last season.
Owen and Michael Pizzuto (120), also sophomores, won championships as well in 2020. Pizzuto finished 50-0 in his freshman season and earned Times Wrestler of the Year honors.
“It feels amazing ... we’re just all happy to be out here,” Rippeon said. “It’s really just the joy of being back for the season.”
Rippeon said the Cavs have done their best to stay focused on wrestling and not let Board of Education decisions impact their approach. Wearing masks on the sideline and maintaining social distance are the biggest things to remember, he said, as health becomes the goal for everyone involved for as long as the season lasts.
Century, Liberty, Manchester Valley, and Westminster were supposed to be wrestling Tuesday as well, but each team is on hold at the moment because of COVID-19 concerns. The Lions and Owls were expected to be back practicing this week, with the Knights set to return next week.
Winters Mill got a pin from senior Cian McCauley (220), and a decision from senior Zach Kirby. Andrea Antunez, a junior, won by forfeit at 113 for the Falcons’ other points, but Meszaros said he was glad to see his bunch back in action despite the outcome.
“They loved every second of it. Especially the seniors ... we’re a pretty senior heavy team,” WM’s coach said. “We’re fortunate, I think, to have a season. Things change every day. I told them, this could potentially be their last match of the season. But we’ll treat each one like it’s the last and enjoy every second.”
160: Brandon Athey (SC) tech fall Luke Molter 17-0
170: Rylan Moose (SC) m-dec. Luke Chmar 10-2
182: Austin Gidge (SC) pin Sam Richmond 1:12
195: Antonio Bradford (SC) pin Alex Lowe 3:15
220: Cian McCauley (WM) pin Jackson Moore 3:07
285: Justin Brister (SC) dec. Sebastian Springfield 8-4
106: Double forfeit
113: Andrea Antunez (WM) by forfeit
120: Ryan Athey (SC) tech fall Ethan Dell 17-0
126: Michael Pizzuto (SC) m-dec. Jake Richmond 9-0