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Carroll County Athletic League Winter Sports Previews: What to watch for wrestling in 2021

The new high school wrestling season began Tuesday with a matchup between South Carroll, the reigning Carroll County Athletic League champion, and Winters Mill, winners of the previous two county titles.

The Cavaliers and Falcons have a combined 11 county crowns in the last 12 seasons, but there have been challengers to that run of dominance. One such opponent came to power last winter in Manchester Valley, which finished first at the annual county tournament and came oh-so-close to securing its first CCAL title when the Mavericks tangled with SC during the regular season. The Mavericks made a run to the Class 3A state dual-meet tourney finals as well, and finished with 40 dual wins.

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With nine underclassmen landing on the all-county first team in 2020, and plenty of teams boasting talented wrestlers in the new year, let’s take a look at what to watch for around Carroll this winter.

A ‘different’ approach

Century, Liberty, and Westminster’s teams are on hold at the moment because of COVID-19 concerns. Michael Duffy, the county’s supervisor of athletics, said via email that the Knights can’t resume activities until Jan. 11 at the earliest, while the Lions and Owls were allowed to resume practice Monday.

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“This season is obviously going to look totally different, but pretty much how 2020 has been for our country,” Century coach Steve Willingham said via email. “I would like for the wrestlers to see that change is going to happen in life, and how you handle the change and overcome the adversity can make you better. We’re going to wrestle and make the most of the season.”

Century was set to host Man Valley in its opener Tuesday, while Westminster welcomed Liberty. Both matches were postponed, leaving South Carroll and Winters Mill to get things started.

The Lions-Owls dual meet is reset for Feb. 9. Century’s next scheduled match is Jan. 14 at home against Westminster. Francis Scott Key’s opener is set for Thursday when the Eagles take on Winters Mill, and that match will be the only one on the schedule.

Liberty has a new coach in Joe Zaccagnini, who takes over for Shawn Girch after one season. Zaccagnini wrestled at Calvert Hall and was an assistant at Catonsville High from 2013-18, then assisted under Girch last winter.

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South Carroll freshman Michael Pizzuto celebrates his win over Mountain Ridge senior Jesse Fresh in the final of the 2A/1A 106 weight class during the state wrestling tournament at The Show Place Arena on Saturday, March 7. Pizzuto finished with a perfect 50-0 record this season.
South Carroll freshman Michael Pizzuto celebrates his win over Mountain Ridge senior Jesse Fresh in the final of the 2A/1A 106 weight class during the state wrestling tournament at The Show Place Arena on Saturday, March 7. Pizzuto finished with a perfect 50-0 record this season. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Returning muscle

South Carroll has six wrestlers back from last year’s all-county first team, three of which won 2A-1A state championships March 7, 2020 at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. Michael Pizzuto (106 pounds), the reigning Times Wrestler of the Year, joined then-fellow freshmen Gage Owen (120) and AJ Rodrigues (126) as the Cavaliers’ state champs, while Ryan Athey (113) took third at states in his sophomore season. Rylan Moose (138) was fifth at states as a sophomore, and he’s back along with senior Antonio Bradford (160).

Pizzuto should wrestle at 126 pounds. with Owen at 132 and Rodrigues at 145. Look for Athey at 113, Moose at 170, and Bradford at 182 to give South Carroll a balanced lineup.

Manchester Valley returns sophomore Travis Green (126/132) and senior Grant Warner (192/220) from the all-county first team. Green was fifth at the 4A-3A state tourney last season at 106; Warner placed second at 220.

Warner is committed to Davidson College for 2022 after going 47-4 last season for Man Valley.

Westminster features junior Kaden Bryan, who made a run to a county tournament title as a sophomore at 195 pounds.

Carroll used a point system last year to determine the CCAL champion, with one point given for each regular-season county dual win and then additional points awarded for order of finish at the county tournament. South Carroll and Man Valley tied after the Mavs took the county tourney crown, but the Cavaliers claimed the overall championship based on their regular-season victory.

Hammond's Jabari Pinkney and Manchester Valley's Travis Green battle in the final of the 106 weight class during the 4A/3A East regional wrestling tournament at South River High School on Saturday, Feb. 29.
Hammond's Jabari Pinkney and Manchester Valley's Travis Green battle in the final of the 106 weight class during the 4A/3A East regional wrestling tournament at South River High School on Saturday, Feb. 29. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

COVID modifications

Carroll County is following the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s “return-to-play” guidelines and procedures this winter. Wrestlers were allowed two pounds weight allowance starting Dec. 25.

There won’t be any handshaking before or after a match, and mitigation efforts are requested to limit any unnecessary contact between participants. Face coverings are required for anyone not wrestling, and people in team bench areas should maintain social distance whenever possible.

Winning wrestlers’ hands won’t be raised by officials either, according to the MPSSAA guidelines. Plus, there won’t be any spectators allowed at county sporting events this winter.

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