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Glenelg’s Drew Sotka found the edge on way to becoming Howard County Wrestler of Year

Glenelg senior Drew Sotka is the 2019-20 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Wrestler of the Year.
Glenelg senior Drew Sotka is the 2019-20 Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Wrestler of the Year.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Drew Sotka didn’t shy away from saying how much he hated wrestling his freshman year. He entered his first year of high school at Glenelg unsure if he was even going to wrestle, but having his older brother Max on the team convinced him to give it a shot.

It did not go well.

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“My mindset the whole year wasn’t great,” Sotka said. “It was my first time watching my weight, and I was definitely one of the weaker parts of the lineup and getting beat up every day at practice made it pretty tough.

“I was honestly wrestling and just counting down the days knowing that I was planning on ending my season at counties, and I was excited when I was done. I was looking at wrestling season as, honestly, a punishment almost. It was hard, and I think that correlated to my lack of success that season.”

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The hardest part came later, however, when Sotka had to look himself in the mirror.

Why wrestle if I’m not going to give it my all?

“Being able to recognize that as a sophomore and being able to change my mentality,” Sotka said, “that really helped me have more success.”

A renewed focus on effort — and simply having fun — changed Sotka’s path in the sport. A natural athlete who also succeeded on the gridiron, he went from a seventh-place finisher at the county tournament as a ninth grader to a two-time state champion with a career record of 145-36.

Sotka is one of four grapplers in Glenelg history to win multiple state championships, joining Sean Twigg, Jeremy Lignelli and Jimmy O’Connor. And now he is the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier 2019-20 Wrestler of the Year.

Sotka got better every year. After going 24-17 during his aforementioned freshman season, he went 36-11, won a region title and qualified for the state tournament as a sophomore. He then accumulated a 40-6 mark as a junior while winning region and state titles before dominating as a senior, going 45-2 and sweeping the postseason crowns.

For Sotka, it all goes back to the jump he made as a sophomore. He said he started looking for the best competition in the practice room. More importantly, he finally began wrestling to win.

“I was fine with taking a loss as a freshman and as a sophomore I’d be pretty mad when I lost,” Sotka said. “Being able to change my mindset there and wanting success — I knew I would be able to be successful in the sport if I really worked at it. Working hard at practice and working for myself helped me just get confidence.”

Glenelg coach Matt Bichner saw something click in Sotka at the state tournament his sophomore year. He won the 1A/2A South regional championship and earned a No. 1 seed but dropped his quarterfinal match to Middletown’s Josh Paige, who went on to reach the finals.

Sotka won another match but lost again in the blood round to fall one win short of placing in the top six.

His growing confidence into his final two seasons was aided by the fact Max won a state title on sheer grit and determination, outworking his competition every step of the way.

“We joke with him because he was nervous as hell for that match against Paige,” Bichner recalled. “He lost like 10-3 and got a takedown late, and after he came off the mat he was like, ‘I don’t know why I was so nervous. I could have hung with that kid if I didn’t psych myself out.’”

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“I think that sort of realization from him started to put things into motion. He just realized that he could hang with a lot of good kids because of his athleticism and his toughness, and then if he just cleaned up some things and was confident, he’d obviously do really well. I think that’s where he made that jump to his junior year and winning.”

Sotka was one of the state’s best wrestlers over the last two years. As a junior, he won the Damascus Holiday Tournament and War on the Shore — two of the tougher tournaments in the state — and his confidence continued to reach new heights, which Bichner said was the only missing piece.

A one-point setback to eventual 3A/4A state champion Sean Billups of Atholton in the county finals would be his only postseason loss. He cruised to win his second straight region title and at the state tournament he stood tall. A technical fall, a pin and a 5-0 decision put him in the championship match against Hereford’s Jimmy Kells, who beat Sotka earlier in the year. Sotka won the rematch, 5-4, to win the same state title Max did the year before.

Glenelg junior Drew Sotka versus Hereford's Jimmy Kells in the MPSSAA 2A/1A 170-pound state championship match on March 2, 2019.

It was the accumulation of a newfound year-long effort into the sport.

“I feel like my success my junior year all came from stuff I did in the summer,” Sotka said. “A lot of credit goes to my coaches and my practice partners and all the kids in the room for wrestling with me in the summer and figuring out the small technique issues I had and working around them and figuring out certain moves.”

This year is when he put it all together. Aside from two losses at the Damascus Holiday Tournament to the fourth-ranked 182-pounder in the nation, Gavin Kane of Georgia, Sotka dominated. He pinned his way to the title at the Warpath Invitational, and he later won his first county title with three first-period falls. In the brutal 1A/2A West region, Sotka flexed his muscles and won it with pins in 44 seconds, 1:44 and a 9-1 major decision.

His road to his second state title wasn’t without some bumps. Sotka trailed North Harford’s Teddy Stinson by three points in the third period of the semifinals. His back was against the wall.

“Drew was always able to refocus and get it done,” Bichner said. “Nothing was more evident than his semifinal match at states, which obviously he didn’t necessarily do the things that maybe had gotten him there, but he was able to buckle down and get it done when it mattered most.”

Sotka’s career came full circle right then as he did what he couldn’t do his freshman year: find a way to win. An escape and a takedown in the final seconds to force overtime was the prequel to a three-overtime bout that Sotka won with an escape with two seconds remaining.

“It just goes to show you how good Drew could be when he has everything put together,” Bichner said.

His state championship match against Liberty’s McCain Butler wasn’t easy either, but Sotka used an escape and a takedown in the third period to hold on for a 3-2 victory.

The team aspect of the sport was what Sotka enjoyed most. Despite not winning a team state championship, his four-year tenure will go down as one of the best runs in school history. Glenelg won three county tournament titles, won region titles and reached the state duals championship match all four seasons and went 43-1 in county duals with an overall team record of 94-9.

During the season, Sotka trained on Sundays with Brandon Lauer — a former three-time state champion and head coach at River Hill. Sotka said his sessions with Lauer were to work on “very advanced stuff” and to pick the brain of someone “who knows every single minor, minor detail about the sport and pushes you physically and mentally.”

“He’s the kind of kid that always wants to have another go, always wants to do one more rep or one more live go,” Lauer said. “And I think that mentality and that kind of relentlessness of always trying to keep going and keep pushing regardless of the outcome is really what put him in position to have the success that he’s had over the last couple years.”

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For all the success Sotka had on the mat, the All-County tight end and linebacker plans to play football at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was being recruited by several Ivy League schools to wrestle.

“I like them both. I felt like I couldn’t go wrong either way,” he said. “… It was tough. It’s hard to let wrestling go.”

Also named to first team All-County:

106: Alex Tamai, Oakland Mills, sophomore

County: 1st; Region: 4th; State: 4th; Record: 34-6

Oakland Mills' Alex Tamai, right, is a first team All-County pick after winning a county title and placing fourth at the state tournament.
Oakland Mills' Alex Tamai, right, is a first team All-County pick after winning a county title and placing fourth at the state tournament.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Tamai was the most consistent force in the Scorpions’ lineup this season. A regional finalist as a freshman, Tamai placed third at the Battle at the Beach (Del.) and won the SnOverlea Invitational with three first-period pins.

Tamai, the No. 2 seed at the county tournament, reached the finals with a tech fall and a pin and then defeated Hammond’s Jabari Pinkney, 9-4, to win the title. He reached the semifinals at the 1A/2A West regional and placed fourth in a deep weight class, and he did the same at the state tournament placing behind the same three grapplers from the West region.

113: David Ridenour, Glenelg, senior

County: 1st; Region: 4th; State: DNP; Record: 34-12

Glenelg's David Ridenour, left, is a first team All-County selection after winning the county championship.
Glenelg's David Ridenour, left, is a first team All-County selection after winning the county championship.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A county finalist last year, Ridenour got over the hump this year and won a county title and qualified for the state tournament. He placed fourth at the Damascus Holiday tournament and reached the finals at the Warpath Invitational during the regular season.

Ridenour lived up to his No. 1 seed and pinned his way to the finals, where he held off Oakland Mills’ Mason Cowell in a 12-11 decision to win the county championship. Seeded third at the 1A/2A West regional tournament, he advanced to the semifinals before placing fourth. He went 1-2 at the state tournament.

120: Chris Lee, Centennial, junior

County: 1st; Region: 4th; State: DNP; Record: 31-9

Centennial's Chris Lee, right, is a first team All-County pick after winning the county title.
Centennial's Chris Lee, right, is a first team All-County pick after winning the county title.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A third-year varsity wrestler, Lee made a big leap this season and qualified for the state tournament for the first time. He placed third at the Warpath Invitational, beating Mt. Hebron’s Griffin Ordowski in the consolation final, and Lee beat Ordowski again in the county championship match to win the crown.

Lee advanced to the semifinals and placed fourth at the 3A/4A East regional tournament then went 1-2 at the state tournament.

126: David Panda, Atholton, senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd; Record: 39-1

Atholton's David Panda is a first team All-County selection after winning his third county title to go with a region championship and reaching the state final.
Atholton's David Panda is a first team All-County selection after winning his third county title to go with a region championship and reaching the state final.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Panda finished his career as one of the most accomplished wrestlers in school history. The Battle at the Boro champion carried his undefeated record into the final match of the season, as he became the 27th three-time county champion with an overtime win against River Hill’s Jonah Richardson and then pinned Richardson in the 3A/4A East region final to win his second straight regional crown.

Panda, who placed fourth at the state tournament as a sophomore and junior, cruised to the state championship match but was pinned by three-time state champion James Riveira of C. Milton Wright. After placing seventh at the county tournament as a freshman, Panda went 106-11 over last three years.

132: Ethan Sotka, Glenelg, freshman

County: 2nd; Region: 6th; State: DNQ; Record: 29-14

Glenelg's Ethan Sotka is a first team All-County pick after reaching the county finals.
Glenelg's Ethan Sotka is a first team All-County pick after reaching the county finals.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The younger brother of state champions Max and Drew, Sotka burst onto the scene and improved immensely throughout the season. He won the Warpath Invitational by beating state placer Wayne Brooks of Sparrows Point in the finals and had a notable regular-season win over River Hill’s Jonah Richardson.

The No. 1 seed at the county tournament, he lost in the finals to Hammond’s Keiron Wilson and qualified for the 1A/2A West regional where he went on to place sixth in a deep bracket.

132: Keiron Wilson, Hammond, junior

County: 1st; Region: 5th; State: DNQ; Record: 34-9

Hammond's Keiron Wilson is a first team All-County selection having won the county championship.
Hammond's Keiron Wilson is a first team All-County selection having won the county championship.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Wilson made a big jump from last year when he placed fifth at the county tournament. He took second at the Hammond Invitational but had his best performance at the county meet where, as the No. 6 seed, he beat Mt. Hebron’s Jack McGuire, Centennial’s Nick Shapiro and Glenelg’s Ethan Sotka with a last second reversal to win the title.

At the 3A/4A East region tournament, he lost a rematch with McGuire and then fell in the consolation semifinals to fall short of qualifying for the state tournament with a fifth-place finish.

138: Mike Crisitello, River Hill, junior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 5th; Record: 30-7

River Hill's Michael Crisitello won a county and region title and placed at the state tournament to earn first team All-County honors.
River Hill's Michael Crisitello won a county and region title and placed at the state tournament to earn first team All-County honors.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A county finalist last year, Crisitello peaked late in the season this winter after missing the first few weeks with a broken collarbone. He finished second at 152 pounds at the Hammond Invitational and after dropping two weight classes rolled to win his first county championship, pinning Oakland Mills’ Isaiah Williams in the final.

Crisitello rolled from there. The No. 3 seed at the 3A/4A East regional, he beat Annapolis’ Nate Ditmars and then Old Mill’s Caron Tull in overtime to win the region title. Two straight decisions at the state tournament guaranteed his placement and then, after two losses, Crisitello won his last match to finish in fifth place.

145: Michael Altamarino, Atholton, senior

County: 1st; Region: DNP; State: DNQ; Record: 26-3

Atholton's Michael Altamarino won a county title to earn first team All-County honors.
Atholton's Michael Altamarino won a county title to earn first team All-County honors.(Bill Ryan/ For Howard County Tim/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Although an injury cost him part of December and a rough regional tournament ended his season earlier than expected, Altamarino had one of the best regular seasons for any county wrestler. The No. 1 seed at the county tournament defeated River Hill’s Dylan McCullough, 1-0, to advance to the finals and then took out defending county champion Shayan Kassiri of Howard via major decision to win the championship.

Altamarino kept the top seed for the 3A/4A East regional but lost to Old Mill’s Jackson Cohenour, the eventual winner, and then lost a rematch to McCullough in overtime to end his career.

145: Dylan McCullough, River Hill, freshman

County: 3rd; Region: 4th; State: DNP; Record: 38-13

River Hill's Dylan McCullough (blue) is a first team All-County selection after placing third at the county tournament and qualifying for the state tournament with a fourth-place regional finish.
River Hill's Dylan McCullough (blue) is a first team All-County selection after placing third at the county tournament and qualifying for the state tournament with a fourth-place regional finish.(Nate Pesce For Baltimore Sun Media/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

McCullough took some lumps early in his freshman season but took a big leap when it mattered most. He placed fourth at the Hammond Invitational after reaching the semifinals and losing to the eventual champion in overtime, and at the county tournament he lost 1-0 to Atholton’s Michael Altamarino in the semifinals before placing third.

McCullough got revenge at the 3A/4A East regional tournament. He took out Altamarino in overtime, 4-2, and then beat Howard’s Shayan Kassiri, 6-5, en route to placing fourth and qualifying for the state tournament. There, McCullough went 2-2 and lost in the blood round.

152: Ethan Bohan, Marriotts Ridge, senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 1st; Record: 39-0

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Marriotts Ridge's Ethan Bohan went undefeated, winning county, region and state titles to earn a first team All-County nod.
Marriotts Ridge's Ethan Bohan went undefeated, winning county, region and state titles to earn a first team All-County nod.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Bohan had one of the best four-year varsity careers of any Mustang in school history. He finished second twice and third once before winning his first county tournament title this season. Later, the four-time regional finalist won his second region crown and placed at the state tournament for the third time.

Bohan put it all together this year for the regular-season county champs. He took down some of the state’s best wrestlers and scored bonus-point victories in eight of his nine postseason wins — the only exception being a 7-2 decision against Arundel’s Trevor Gagnon in the state final. Bohan, who went 145-14 for his career, and teammate Will Vaxmonsky became the second and third wrestlers in school history to win state titles.

160: Will Vaxmonsky, Marriotts Ridge, senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 1st; Record: 46-0

Marriotts Ridge's Will Vaxmonsky capped an undefeated season and won county, region and state titles to be a first team All-County selection.
Marriotts Ridge's Will Vaxmonsky capped an undefeated season and won county, region and state titles to be a first team All-County selection.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Vaxmonsky will go down as the best wrestler in Marriotts Ridge history. He won at least 37 matches in all four seasons and ended his career with a 165-18 record — the most wins in school history. He also became the team leader for the Mustangs’ county-championship squad during the regular season.

The three-time county finalist won his first league crown with two major decisions, and he captured his second regional title in three trips to the finals by pinning all three opponents. At the state tournament, Vaxmonsky had a forfeit, a fall and a major decision to reach the finals, where he closed out his career with a 1-0 victory over Richard Montgomery’s Nicholas McCarthy to cap an undefeated campaign.

170: Nolan DeShields, Hammond, senior

County: 2nd; Region: 4th; State: 5th; Record: 35-9

Hammond's Nolan DeShields is a first team All-County pick after reaching the county finals and placing fifth at the state tournament.
Hammond's Nolan DeShields is a first team All-County pick after reaching the county finals and placing fifth at the state tournament.(Nate Pesce/Capital Gazette)

DeShields, a fourth-place finisher at last year’s county tournament, had the strongest postseason for any Hammond grappler. The top-seed won a technical fall and a one-point decision to reach the finals at the county tournament, but dropped an overtime decision to Glenelg’s Nick Kingsbury.

At the 3A/4A East regional he lost in the ultimate tiebreaker to the Anne Arundel County champion in the semifinals but qualified for the state meet by placing fourth. DeShields lost his first match at the state tournament but rallied by winning three straight decisions and won his last match, 3-1 in overtime, to finish in fifth place.

170: Nick Kingsbury, Glenelg, junior

County: 1st; Region: 3rd; State: DNP; Record: 35-11

Glenelg's Nick Kingsbury won the county title and placed third at regions to earn first team All-County honors.
Glenelg's Nick Kingsbury won the county title and placed third at regions to earn first team All-County honors.(Terrance Williams/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Kingsbury had an inconsistent regular season but peaked when it mattered most in the postseason. He placed third at the Franklin Invitational and entered the county tournament as the No. 3 seed. He upended the top-two seeds — a 3-0 decision over Marriotts Ridge’s Zach Bedell and a 4-2 overtime win against Hammond’s Nolan DeShields in the finals.

Kingsbury reached the semifinals at the 1A/2A West regional en route to placing third behind the two state finalists, and at the state tournament he went 1-2.

182: John Ross, Mt. Hebron, senior

County: 2nd; Region: 1st; State: DNP; Record: 34-7

Mt. Hebron's John Ross is a first team All-County pick after placing second at the county tournament and winning a region title.
Mt. Hebron's John Ross is a first team All-County pick after placing second at the county tournament and winning a region title.(Steve Ruark/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Ross opened eyes by quietly carrying an undefeated record through the first month of the season and into January. He placed fifth at the Warpath Invitational in a strong bracket and then entered the county tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Wrestler of the Year Drew Sotka of Glenelg. Ross pinned Marriotts Ridge’s Tyler Gladstone and Centennial’s Charles Schmitt to reach the finals, where he lost by fall.

Ross made his biggest splash at the 3A/4A East regional tournament. Two pins put him in the finals against Manchester Valley’s Connor Livingston where he scored a reversal with 15 seconds left to win the title. Ross’ run couldn’t continue at the state tournament, however, and he went 0-2.

195: Linus Sekedjah, Hammond, junior

County: 1st; Region: 2nd; State: DNP; Record: 35-11

Hammond's Linus Sekedjah won a county title and placed second at regions to earn a first team All-County nod.
Hammond's Linus Sekedjah won a county title and placed second at regions to earn a first team All-County nod.(Nate Pesce/Capital Gazette)

Sekedjah made a big leap from his sophomore season when he placed sixth at the county tournament. He took fourth at the Hammond Invitational at 182 pounds and then had an even better performance at the league tournament, where the No. 1 seed won three straight decisions — the last a 3-1 overtime victory over Glenelg’s Jake Durkin — to win the title.

At the 3A/4A East regional meet, Sekedjah reached the finals with a major decision and a 7-6 win over Wilde Lake’s Tony Blunt but was pinned by Annapolis’ Kyle Leming. He went 0-2 at the state tournament.

220: Buddy Penguin, Howard, senior

County: 1st; Region: 6th; State: DNQ; Record: 33-5

Penguin had been knocking on the door for the Lions for the last few years but put it together this season. He started the year by winning Mad Mats with a pair of falls and a major decision and rolled through the regular season to lock up the top seed at the county tournament. There he secured two more falls and beat Oakland Mills’ Miles Crook, 6-3, to win the title.

Penguin struggled at the 3A/4A East regional tournament despite reaching the semifinals. He lost his last three matches to fall short of reaching the state tournament.

285: Dylan Altman, Reservoir, senior

County: 1st; Region: 1st; State: 2nd; Record: 35-2

Reservoir's Dylan Altman won county and region titles and placed second at the state tournament to be a first team All-County selection.
Reservoir's Dylan Altman won county and region titles and placed second at the state tournament to be a first team All-County selection.(Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Altman had high expectations this year after reaching the county finals and placing fifth at the state tournament after losing in the opening round as a junior. He lived up to that hype, dropping only one match in the regular season and winning the title at the Davison Classic.

Altman made quick work of his opponents at the county tournament and got pins in 0:46, 0:31 and 4:57 against Marriotts Ridge’s Jack Baxter to win it. He faced tough competition at the 3A/4A East regional meet but found a way to capture the title after an overtime win in the semifinals. His route to the state finals included another quick fall, a 4-2 decision over the eventual third-place finisher and another pin of Baxter. Altman was pinned in the championship match by nationally-ranked Isaac Righter of Magruder.

Second Team All-County

106: Jabari Pinkney, Hammond, junior

113: Mason Cowell, Oakland Mills, freshman

120: Griffin Ordowski, Mt. Hebron, junior

126: Jonah Richardson, River Hill, junior

132: Jack McGuire, Mt. Hebron, junior

138: Isaiah Williams, Oakland Mills, senior

145: Shayan Kassiri, Howard, senior

152: Michael Claxton, Oakland Mills, junior

152: Micah Nowlin, Hammond, senior

152: Bryce Kampert, Mt. Hebron, senior

160: Steven Harrell, Oakland Mills, junior

170: Zach Bedell, Marriotts Ridge, senior

182: Jordan Brown, Hammond, junior

195: Jake Durkin, Glenelg, junior

195: Tony Blunt, Wilde Lake, senior

220: Miles Crook, Oakland Mills, senior

220: Lucas Suri, Glenelg, junior

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285: Jack Baxter, Marriotts Ridge, junior

Final Howard County 2019-20 Standings

Marriotts Ridge*: 11-0 county, 33-4 overall; 6th place at county tournament

Glenelg^: 10-1 county, 22-4 overall; 1st place at county tournament

River Hill**: 9-2 county, 24-8 overall; 4th place at county tournament

Oakland Mills: 7-4 county, 14-8 overall; 2nd place at county tournament

Hammond: 7-4 county, 22-9 overall; 3rd place at county tournament

Mt. Hebron: 7-4 county, 22-10 overall; 5th place at county tournament

Centennial: 5-6 county, 10-18 overall; 8th place at county tournament

Atholton: 4-7 county, 7-15 overall; 7th place at county tournament

Reservoir: 3-8 county, 8-13 overall; 10th place at county tournament

Howard: 2-9 county, 9-19 overall; 9th place at county tournament

Long Reach: 1-10 county, 4-17 overall; 11th place at county tournament

Wilde Lake: 0-12 county, 2-26 overall; 12th place at county tournament

Glenelg Country School: 1-5 MIAA B Conference, 2-8 overall; 5th place at MIAA B Conference tournament

*3A East region duals semifinalist

^2A state duals finalist

**3A East region duals finalist

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