South Carroll senior Joey Thomas talks about his accomplishment.
POOLESVILLE — Joey Thomas, as luck would have it, wrestled in South Carroll's final bout of Friday night's dual-meet tournament at Poolesville High School.
The order of matches is determined by a random draw to set the opening bout, so that's luck. But Thomas certainly wasn't in the position he was in by accident.
The Cavaliers senior came into the tournament needing five wins to become Maryland's new all-time wins leader for public-school wrestlers. Given that Thomas hadn't lost a varsity match since his freshman year, his chances were strong.
Thomas then capped his 5-0 day at 126 pounds by beating Bullis Prep's Liam Handel to make state history. He pinned Handel in the first period for career win No. 176.
Poolesville's public address announcer recognized Thomas for his achievement, and those remaining in the gymnasium stood and applauded while Thomas' teammates and coaches congratulated him.
Thomas said he didn't take the public-school state record seriously until the end of last season, after he put together a 53-0 record and won the second of his back-to-back state championships.
"I was winning and winning, [but] we weren't keeping track of who had the record," Thomas said after his final match Friday. "And then Coach [Bryan Hamper] just announced it after states."
Marty Margolis finished his La Plata career in 2015 by claiming a third state championship and reaching 175 career victories.
Thomas improved to 31-0 this season, and his career mark stands at 176-4. His Friday performance gave him 134 consecutive wins, a streak that dates back to the 2014 state tournament.
Hamper said a wrestler like Thomas comes into a high school program once or twice in a lifetime — and that was after Thomas' sophomore season, when he went 48-0 and won his first of two state crowns en route to being named Times Wrestler of the Year.
Last winter, Thomas shared wrestler of the year honors with teammate Shane Conners, who went undefeated as well and ended his high school career with a state title and 167 wins.
Conners' mark stood as a county record. It lasted less than a season.
"We still have 25-plus matches left, and to set that record this early in the year, it's just a testament to how hard he has been working and what a special kid he is," Hamper said. "I knew we had something special when I started coaching him in middle school, and I realized he was coming to South Carroll. But, you know, really, he's a product of hard work."
Thomas' parents stood along the mat watching their son compete — Joe Thomas, Joey's father, wore a Pitt T-shirt, the college to which his son is headed next year for more wrestling.
The younger Thomas started getting mentally prepared for his final bout a few matches prior. He wore Beats headphones that were plugged into a smartphone — a little solitude, perhaps, to combat the din of the gym, while he paced near the corner of the mat.
South Carroll (27-1) had already clinched a 5-0 evening, with team wins over Cosby (Va.), Great Mills, Calvert Hall, and Martin Luther King (Pa.), and were cruising past Bullis.
When Thomas came out for his fifth bout, the match's outcome was no longer in doubt. Everyone on South Carroll's side of the gym was paying attention, however.
"I'm always nervous ... if I'm the far better wrestler, I don't lower my standards," Thomas said. "I just wrestle like I do at nationals, state finals."
Hamper said it's not a coincidence his team has reeled off three consecutive state championships with Thomas in the lineup. The nationally-ranked grappler pushes himself to always improve on something, Hamper said, during a time when complacency could easily set in for such an accomplished athlete.
But Thomas has college wrestling to prepare for. And of course, there are still more high school matches to be won.