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Glenelg's Drew Sotka, seen trying to take down Oakland Mills' Rocco DelPo last year, is Howard County's only returning state champion.
Glenelg's Drew Sotka, seen trying to take down Oakland Mills' Rocco DelPo last year, is Howard County's only returning state champion. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The end of the last season marked the end of a chapter in many ways for Howard County wrestling.

Centennial’s Jason Kraisser, the fourth of five Kraisser boys and the Howard County Wrestler of the Year each of the last three years, capped his historic career by becoming the eighth Maryland high school wrestler to win four public school state titles. There won’t be a Kraisser competing for the Eagles this season for the first time in 14 years.

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“It is weird,” Centennial coach Cliff Kraisser said. “It’s been a long time. ... I can’t go to them to demonstrate the move I want to show.”

Glenelg’s pursuit of taking down Damascus at the state duals and ending its still-active 178-match winning streak is no longer possible. The Swarmin’ Hornets, who beat Glenelg in the state finals three straight years, are now in 3A, while the Gladiators remain in 2A and have moved regions.

Glenelg also graduated some of its best wrestlers in school history. Among those who have earned their diplomas are state champions Sam Alsheimer and Jared Thomas, both of whom won three county titles and combined for five region crowns and a winning percentage of better than 91 percent. Also gone are four-time county finalist Jacob Jones, two-time county champion Kevin Hansberger, and county and region winner Jake Arnone.

Atholton’s Sean Billups, another 2019 state champion, and state finalists Will Henrickson of River Hill and Ernie Smith of Oakland Mills also graduated. Glenelg senior Drew Sotka is Howard County’s only returning state champion and state finalist.

There are just three county champions from last season back to defend their titles — Atholton’s David Panda, Hammond’s Keneth Rios and Howard’s Shayan Kassiri. At this time last year, there were nine.

Yet, you won’t find anyone worried about Howard County teams and individuals showing out in February and March. It’s simply a matter of who will take the leap. And in the county team race, most coaches believe the top three teams from last year will be the teams to beat again this winter.

“I think the top teams are still the top teams — Glenelg, Oakland Mills and Hammond will be good — but hopefully not as good and maybe not as big a separation between the top teams and the next group of teams,” Kraisser said.

Key to creating parity around the league is that participation in the sport continues to rise. Glenelg has more wrestlers than ever before, while Reservoir, which won just three matches last year, needs two practices for its 45 grapplers. Oakland Mills, Mt. Hebron and Hammond had 50 kids the first few practices. Centennial had 43 kids come out, and Kraisser hopes for the first time in years that he doesn’t need to have a first-year wrestler on varsity. Long Reach expects to fill all 14 varsity weight classes among its 30 grapplers.

Many coaches credit the growth to the local junior leagues — the Vipers and Warhawks — and the accessibility to club teams for high schoolers during the offseason. It’s given younger wrestlers the opportunity to get better and crack the varsity lineups.

That’s the formula Glenelg will be using this year. The Gladiators had four JV county champions last year, and they expect several of them to compete at a high level on varsity. They also return Sotka (182/195), David Ridenour (113), Andres Lopez Campos (120), Massimo Conti (220/285), Trey Fleece (145) and Nick Kingsbury (170/182).

Recent history says not to worry about Glenelg. In coach Matt Bichner’s six years at the helm, the Gladiators are 64-2 in county and 138-18 overall in duals. They have won 44 straight league matches, going undefeated the last four seasons, after finishing 10-1 in 2013-14 and 2014-15. They have won three of the last four county tournament titles and have finished in the top three all six seasons. At the state level, Glenelg has won four straight region dual titles in two different classifications and reached the state finals three consecutive years.

“The expectation remains the same although we’ve lost a few key components to the success of our last few years,” Bichner said. “I’m excited to see the guys who have been on JV for the past couple of seasons get an opportunity to prove themselves up on varsity.”

No team had more wrestlers compete on varsity throughout the season than Oakland Mills, which has a 48-7 record in county over the last five years and topped the Gladiators at last year’s county tournament. It’s a recipe that has allowed coach Brad Howell’s Scorpions to consistently peak in February and March after slow Decembers.

Oakland Mills will be relying on regional champion Jalen Cornelius (126), regional finalists Alex Tamai (120) and Isaiah Williams (132), Steven Harrell (170) and JV county champion Matthew Claxton (152) to lead a young group that lost two experienced leaders in Smith and Anthony Morales — both county and regional champions.

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“We will have a young and exciting team to watch this year. I’m pretty excited about the youth mixed in with a couple solid veterans in the group,” Howell said. “We plan on mixing up our lineup a lot early on to give lots of opportunity for different guys to jump into the lineup and get both JV and varsity experience.”

Hammond went 9-2 in the county last year but just missed out on qualifying for regional duals in the 2A South. Now in the 3A East region, the Golden Bears should compete to host the duals if they can overcome the loss of a strong senior class that included Loic Tueguo, who won two county and region titles and placed third twice at the state tournament, and county and region champ Shehzan Dahya.

Keys to their success will be Rios (120/126), Micah Nowlin (152/160), Keiron Wilson (132/138), Elliott Bauer (160/170), Nolan Deshields (170/182) and Linus Sekedjah (195), as well as several JV county tournament champions and finalists.

“The make-up of the team will certainly be different this year,” Hammond coach Will Yeo said. “... As is the case each year, we had a number of wrestlers commit to the offseason, many of whom are kids no one has heard of who will be looking to make an immediate impact on the varsity level.”

Looking to make a jump this year will be River Hill. The Hawks have been close the last few years but hope this year’s strong junior class that includes Jonah Richardson (126), Michael Crisitello (160) and Dyson Muller (120) will be enough to compete for a county title.

“We are ready to score more points with top teams like Oakland Mills and Glenelg,” said River Hill coach Kevin Cannon.

The county-title contenders won’t be rolling over the next group, either. Marriotts Ridge returns two state place-winners in seniors Ethan Bohan (145/152) and Will Vaxmonsky (152/160) and four other regional qualifiers. Howard has Kassiri (145), a wrestler of the year candidate, and three strong upper-weights that has coach Dan Carr as excited as ever in his third year.

“I definitely think our team is going to make huge strides compared to the last two seasons,” he said.

Mt. Hebron has strength in numbers and several underrated wrestlers like Jack McGuire (126/132) and Bryce Kampert (152/160), who placed sixth at last year’s state tournament. Though Atholton lost four-year starters Billups and Drew Pruett, it also has a wrestler of the year candidate in two-time county champion David Panda (126) and state qualifiers Peter Frazier (138) and Michael Altamarino (145). Centennial hopes for big things from Chris Lee (113/120) and Nick Shapiro (126/132) and should be strong again after going 7-4 in county duals last year.

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The bottom three teams from last year — Reservoir, Long Reach and Wilde Lake — have also improved. Dylan Altman (285) is a state title-contender for the Gators, and filling a full varsity lineup should have the Lightning improve on their four wins from last season. The Wildecats have a new head coach in Sean Alkire, who coached at Howard from 2005 to 2009, and will be building from the ground up with 23 wrestlers.

The county’s lone private school program, Glenelg Country School, also has a new coach, Eddie Howlette. A 2015 graduate, he won more than 100 matches for the Dragons and wrestled collegiately at Ursinus.

Girls state tournament

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in April unanimously approved an officially sanctioned girls high school state championship for the upcoming season after hosting a girls’ invitational the last two years. The county does not currently have a girls-only county tournament.

The majority of the season will remain unchanged. Girls will still compete alongside boys through the regular season but will have the option to enter into a girls regional tournament or continue on to the combined regional tournament as long as they meet the qualification requirements.

The top-two finishers of each weight class of the eight girls regional tournaments will qualify for a 16-girl bracket that will take place alongside the combined MPSSAA individual state tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro during the first weekend of March. The girls tournament will begin Thursday, March 5, the day before the start of the combined state meet, and will finish Saturday, March 7. The semifinals for both the girls and combined tournament will be on six mats, while the finals for each (girls, Class 4A-3A and 2A-1A) will be on three mats the night of March 7.

The weight classes will be 100, 106, 112, 117, 122, 127, 132, 138, 144, 152, 164, 180, 200 and 225.

Oakland Mills has 10 girls, and Howell believes “Howard County is the perfect county to push a women’s league and get the girls involved.”

“We’re trying to promote it and get it going. We want to fill all the women’s weights at the state tournament,” he added. “We’re just saying it’s coming … women’s wrestling is forging forward.”

The Scorpions aren’t alone, however. Reservoir has three girls, including sophomore Delaney Kilcarr, who is the younger sister of former Gators state champion Mason Kilcarr, and Atholton, Mt. Hebron and River Hill each have two. Hammond and Howard have one apiece.

Regional realignment

The state realigned the regions for wrestling, and Howard County was not immune to changes. The most drastic is that Oakland Mills and Glenelg have been moved from the 2A South region to the 2A West, notoriously the toughest in the state. Of the 84 placers at last year’s 2A-1A individual state tournament, 34 came from the 2A-1A West region, which is 13 more than any other. They will also have to travel to Garrett County for the regional tournament.

As for the regional duals, they will compete with some of the state’s best teams — South Carroll, Middletown, Walkersville and Oakdale — to earn one of the four spots.

Atholton, Centennial, Hammond, Long Reach, Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron, Reservoir, River Hill and Wilde Lake are joined by Manchester Valley and Wesminster to make up the 3A East region, which had 30 state place-winners at last year’s 4A-3A state tournament last year, the most of the four regions. Howard has moved from the 4A North to the 4A East and will compete alongside the other nine 3A schools in the county at the individual regional tournament.

Howard County had long dominated the 2A-1A South region at the individual regional tournament but no longer has any teams represented there. Glenelg won the 2A South region duals the last two seasons, and Oakland Mills won it three straight years before that.

Around the Mats

Here’s a closer look at the 13 local programs:

Atholton's David Panda is a two-time county champion who finished 39-3 last season and placed fourth at the state tournament.
Atholton's David Panda is a two-time county champion who finished 39-3 last season and placed fourth at the state tournament. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media)

Atholton

2018-19 record: 7-4 county, 14-9 overall, third place at county tournament

Coach: Bruce Lindblad, 25th season (30th overall)

Top wrestlers: Seniors David Panda (126), Michael Altamarino (145) and Desmon Craig (220); junior Peter Frazier (138).

Nonleague duals: at North County (Dec. 19); vs. Westminster (Jan. 25); at Century (Feb. 6).

Tournaments: Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills (Dec. 6-7); Battle at the Boro at Boonsboro (Dec. 13-14); Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 17-18).

Centennial coach Cliff Kraisser has high hopes for Chris Lee this season.
Centennial coach Cliff Kraisser has high hopes for Chris Lee this season. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Centennial

2018-19 record: 7-4, 14-8, sixth

Coach: Cliff Kraisser, seventh season

Top wrestlers: Senior Yusuf Mehboob (126/132); juniors Chris Lee (113/120), Ibaad Shaikh (113/120) and Matt Harris (152/160); sophomore Nick Shapiro (126/132).

Nonleague duals: at Severna Park (Dec. 19); vs. Eastern Tech (Jan. 9); vs. Carver A&T (Feb. 3).

Tournaments: Bauerlein Duals at Manchester Valley (Dec. 13-14); Battlin’ Baron Duals at B-CC (Jan. 3-4); Warpath Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 17-18).

Glenelg's Drew Sotka won the 2A-1A state championship at 170 pounds and is the only returning state champion in Howard County.
Glenelg's Drew Sotka won the 2A-1A state championship at 170 pounds and is the only returning state champion in Howard County. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media)

Glenelg

2018-19 record: 11-0, 23-1, second

Coach: Matt Bichner, seventh season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Drew Sotka (182/195), David Ridenour (113) and Andres Lopez Campos (120); juniors Massimo Conti (220/285), Trey Fleece (145) and Nick Kingsbury (170/182).

Nonleague duals: vs. Century (Dec. 19); vs. South River (Jan. 4); at C. Milton Wright (Jan. 10).

Tournaments: Bauerlein Duals at Manchester Valley (Dec. 13-14); Damascus Holiday Tournament at Damascus (Dec. 27-28); Warpath Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 17-18).

Hammond's Keneth Rios won the 120-pound county title last season.
Hammond's Keneth Rios won the 120-pound county title last season. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Hammond

2018-19 record: 9-2, 26-5, fourth

Coach: Will Yeo, fifth season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Keneth Rios (120/126), Micah Nowlin (152/160), Elliott Bauer (160/170) and Nolan DeSheilds (170/182); juniors Jabari Pinkney (106/113), Keiron Wilson (132/138) and Linus Sekedjah (195).

Nonleague duals: vs. Southern-AA (Dec. 19); at Liberty (Jan. 17); vs. Chesapeake-AA (Feb. 3).

Tournaments: Joppatowne Duals at Joppatowne (Dec. 13-14); Westminster Duals at Westminster (Dec. 27-28); Hammond Invitational at Hammond (Jan. 10-11).

Howard's Shayan Kassiri went 36-5 last season, won the 145-pound county title and won six straight matches at the state tournament to finish in third place.
Howard's Shayan Kassiri went 36-5 last season, won the 145-pound county title and won six straight matches at the state tournament to finish in third place. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Howard

2018-19 record: 3-8, 6-16, ninth

Coach: Daniel Carr, third season

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Top wrestlers: Seniors Shayan Kassiri (145), Buddy Penguin (220) and Arjun Kundu (126); juniors John Collins (132/138) and Kenny Ling (120).

Nonleague duals: at Northeast (Dec. 19); vs. Dulaney (Jan. 28); at Milford Mill (Feb. 6).

Tournaments: Mad Mats Tournament at Magruder (Dec. 6-7); Grindstone Duals at Winters Mill (Dec. 13-14); Iron Horse Duals at C. Milton Wright (Jan. 3-4).

Long Reach's Sam Levine went 23-11 last season and is expected to be one of the Lightning's top wrestlers this year.
Long Reach's Sam Levine went 23-11 last season and is expected to be one of the Lightning's top wrestlers this year. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Long Reach

2018-19 record: 2-9, 4-10, 11th

Coach: Jeff Taylor, third season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Garrett Cioffi (132), Sam Levine (138) and Sean Hicks (285); juniors Joseph Riley (106), Darrius Carr (126), Kwabla Boateng (120) and Theo Lazarou (145).

Nonleague duals: at Arundel (Dec. 19); at South Carroll (Jan. 9); at Glen Burnie (Feb. 3).

Tournaments: Grindstone Duals at Winters Mill (Dec. 13-14); Davison Classic at Randallstown (Jan. 3-4); Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 17-18).

Marriotts Ridge's Ethan Bohan came back from injury last year to finish fourth at the state tournament after winning four straight close matches, including two in overtime.
Marriotts Ridge's Ethan Bohan came back from injury last year to finish fourth at the state tournament after winning four straight close matches, including two in overtime. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Marriotts Ridge

2018-19 record: 5-6, 11-11, eighth

Coach: Jason Conley, 15th season (23rd overall)

Top wrestlers: Seniors Will Vaxmonsky (160), Ethan Bohan (152), Brendan Glover (120/126), Colin Wiggins (126/132) and Julian Dupreaux (132/138); junior Jack Baxter (285).

Nonleague duals: vs. Liberty (Dec. 12); vs. Annapolis (Dec. 19); at Manchester Valley (Feb. 6).

Tournaments: Golden Eagle Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 6-7); Rebel Duals at South Hagerstown (Jan. 10-11); Kenwood Duals at Kenwood (Jan. 17-18).

Mt. Hebron's Bryce Kampert won a region title and placed sixth at the state tournament last year.
Mt. Hebron's Bryce Kampert won a region title and placed sixth at the state tournament last year. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Mt. Hebron

2018-19 record: 4-7, 13-14, seventh

Coach: Dan Harman, fifth season

Top wrestlers: Senior Bryce Kampert (152/160); juniors Jack McGuire (126/132), Noah Manasterli (170/182) and Aamil Vahora (126/132).

Nonleague duals: vs. Owings Mills (Dec. 12); vs. Dulaney (Jan. 30); at Broadneck (Feb. 7).

Tournaments: Golden Eagle Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 6-7); Poolesville Duals at Poolesville (Jan. 10-11); Warpath Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 17-18).

Oakland Mills' Jalen Cornelius won a regional championship last year and fell one win shy of placing at the state tournament.
Oakland Mills' Jalen Cornelius won a regional championship last year and fell one win shy of placing at the state tournament. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Oakland Mills

2018-19 record: 10-1, 18-5, first

Coach: Brad Howell, 22nd season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Jalen Cornelius (126) and Isaiah Williams (132); juniors Michael Claxton (152) and Steven Harrell (170); sophomore Alex Tamai (120).

Nonleague duals: at Old Mill (Dec. 19); vs St. Charles (Jan. 9); vs. Catonsville (Feb. 6).

Tournaments: Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills (Dec. 6-7); Battle at the Beach at Indian River, Del. (Dec. 27-28); SnOverlea Invitational at Overlea (Jan. 24-25).

Reservoir's Dylan Altman went 38-10 and placed fifth at the state tournament last year.
Reservoir's Dylan Altman went 38-10 and placed fifth at the state tournament last year. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Reservoir

2018-19 record: 1-10, 3-28, 10th

Coach: Andy McIntyre, 10th season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Dylan Altman (285), Matt Sims (126) and Jacob Rand (182).

Nonleague duals: vs. Arundel (Dec. 14); vs. Glen Burnie (Dec. 19); at Northeast-AA (Feb. 6).

Tournaments: Golden Eagle Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 6-7); Davison Classic at Randallstown (Jan. 3-4); Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 17-18).

River Hill's Michael Crisitello finished 35-11 last year and placed second at the county tournament.
River Hill's Michael Crisitello finished 35-11 last year and placed second at the county tournament. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

River Hill

2018-19 record: 7-4, 21-9, fifth

Coach: Kevin Cannon, fifth season

Top wrestlers: Senior Dailen Jeng (152); juniors Jonah Richardson (126) and Michael Crisitello (160); sophomore Humza Aboaron (106).

Nonleague duals: vs. Century (Dec. 12); vs. Chesapeake-AA (Dec. 19); at Chopticon (Jan. 16).

Tournaments: Golden Eagle Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 6-7); Battlin’ Baron Duals at B-CC (Jan. 3-4); Hammond Invitational at Hammond (Jan. 10-11).

Wilde Lake's Victor Harley is one of a handful of returning starters this season.
Wilde Lake's Victor Harley is one of a handful of returning starters this season. (Doug Kapustin / For Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Wilde Lake

2018-19 record: 0-11, 0-11, 12th

Coach: Sean Alkire, first season

Top wrestlers: Seniors Victor Hartley (170), Nile Lawrence (182) and Steven Spooner (160); juniors Hunter Ubbens (145) and Will Parker (182).

Nonleague duals: at Meade (Dec. 19); at Poly (Jan. 9).

Tournaments: Keaser Classic at UMBC (Dec. 6-7); Frederick Duals at Frederick (Dec. 13-14); Digital Harbor Hybrid at Digital Harbor (Jan. 17-18).

Glenelg Country School

2018-19 record: 1-5 MIAA B, 1-6

Coach: Eddie Howlette, first season

Top wrestlers: Senior Micah Gonzales (170); junior Jylah Bah (220).

Nonleague duals: vs. St. John’s Catholic Prep (Dec. 10); vs. Bishop McNamara (Dec. 19); at Covenant Life (Jan. 14); vs. St. Anselms (Jan. 14); vs. Wilson (Jan. 22).

Tournaments: Battle at the Boro at Boonsboro (Dec. 13-14); Davison Classic at Randallstown (Jan. 3-4); Warpath Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 17-18); SnOverlea Invitational at Overlea (Jan. 24-25).

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