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Glenelg reclaims Howard County wrestling tournament title

The Gladiators are back on top.

Glenelg won the 51st annual Howard County wrestling tournament Saturday night for the fourth time in the last five seasons. After not winning the championship last year, the Gladiators battled back this season to win the crown.

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"We’re a young team; we replaced 10 of our 14 starters. To be back and win the team title with that young of a roster impressed me, and we want to keep the team trophy at our place for years to come,” said Glenelg coach Matt Bichner. “I’m just proud of our guys. They’re grinders. We had guys wrestle back and get third, and you need to do that to get a team title. It’s not just the guys in the finals.”

Glenelg edged out Oakland Mills, which won the county title last season, by a team score of 211 to 192.5. Hammond finished third with 154.5 points.

“It feels great to win this team title, especially after being upset last year,” said Glenelg’s Nick Kingsbury, who won the 170-pound title. “I’m glad it’s coming back to Glenelg, and we want it to stay there.”

Drew Sotka (182 pounds), Kingsbury (170) and David Ridenour (113) all won individual county titles for the Gladiators, while Ethan Sotka (132) and Jake Durkin (195) appeared in championship bouts. Sotka, who won a state title last season but won his first county championship Saturday at 182 pounds, said the team was extra motivated this season.

Ernie Smith wins heavyweight championship to lift Oakland Mills (217.5 points) past Glenelg (215.5) in the 50th annual Howard County wrestling tournament at Mt. Hebron on Friday, February 15, 2019.

“We’ve had that chip on our shoulders all year to go get that title back,” Sotka said. “The whole team has been working hard as a cohesive unit to pull together, and we won it as a team.”

While the Gladiators finished on top at River Hill High School on Saturday, it was an Atholton wrestler who etched his name in the history books. Senior David Panda (36-0) became the 27th wrestler in Howard County history to win three county titles. The 126-pounder defeated River Hill’s Jonah Richardson by decision, 11-9, in overtime.

“It feels awesome. I didn’t know I was one of only 27,” Panda said. “I feel super accomplished. This is one of the highest achievements I’ve every achieved.”

His third title may have been his most difficult, though. Richardson gave the champion one of the toughest bouts of his season, taking him to overtime and losing on a takedown. During the regular season, Panda pinned Richardson in the second period.

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“This one, I had to work and dig deeper,” Panda said. “I underestimated him, and this match taught me to never underestimate anyone.”

Panda’s previous two county titles were at 113 pounds. He pinned River Hill’s Eric Robinson in 1:51 last season and earned an 8-2 victory over Glenelg’s Logan Gwin as a sophomore. Atholton coach Bruce Lindblad said Panda’s improvement this season can be attributed to his hard work with his training partner Michael Altamirano, who won the 145-pound county championship.

“David has upped the ante for everyone on the team,” Lindblad said. “This year, his wrestling partner has been Michael Altamirano, and it has helped both of them.”

Altamirano defeated Howard’s Shayan Kassiri by major decision, 10-2. Kassiri was the defending 145-pound champion, but the Raiders’ senior pulled out the win for his first county title.

“Winning this is probably a dream come true,” Altamirano said. “I’ve been working damn hard for it since my freshman year. For me to come out on top this year is really relieving. My hard work is finally showing.”

While Oakland Mills finished second as a team behind Glenelg, the Scorpions still had a solid showing on Saturday. They placed the highest number of grapplers in the finals but won only one of their six championship bouts.

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The lone Oakland Mills champion was Alex Tamai (30-2), who opened the finals with a 9-4 victory over Hammond’s Jabari Pinkney at 106 pounds. Tamai, a sophomore, came back from down 4-2 to start the third period for his first county championship.

“I was down, so I had to get some points. I was attacking and attacking until I got the stalling call to tie it,” Tamai said. “After I took the lead, I just had to ride him out for the last 30 seconds to get the county championship I’ve been dreaming of for the whole season.”

Ridenour then held on for his title at 113 pounds over Oakland Mills’ Mason Cowell. Ridenour led early, but Cowell tied the match during the second period before the Gladiator remained strong for the 12-11 decision. The crown is his first, as Ridenour lost in the 113-pound championship match last season.

“It felt like everything I’ve worked for came through,” Ridenour said. “Losing (in the) county finals last year was pretty tough on me, so winning it this year felt really good.”

“I think he can shock some people over the next two weeks if he’s wrestling with a lot of confidence,” said Bichner.

Centennial’s Christopher Lee then won by decision, 7-3, over Mt. Hebron’s Griffin Ordowski at 120 pounds. Lee was the Eagles’ lone wrestler in the finals, and the title is the first of his career.

“It feels good,” Lee said. “I’ve been working hard since last year. ... I finished third last year. It feels like a weight lifted off my shoulder to finally win it this year.”

After Panda’s win at 126, Hammond junior Keiron Wilson won his first county title with a 5-3 decision over Glenelg freshman Ethan Sotka, who is the younger brother of Drew Sotka. Wilson, who later took home the Glenn L. Devane award as the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler for his efforts, recorded a takedown as the horn sounded in the third period for his first county title.

“We were in a close match, and I needed a point to not go into overtime. He was exposing his ankle, so I went for it and finished it,” Wilson said. “I’m just an average wrestler who works harder than everyone else, so it feels really good to win this.”

River Hill junior Michael Crisitello (24-5) then gave the home crowd the first pin of the finals. The junior won by fall over Oakland Mills’ Isaiah Williams, pinning his opponent in 4:00 — the final moment of the second period. The title is Crisitello’s first, as the grappler lost in his championship bout last season.

“I knew he was a defensive wrestler, so I pushed the pace and tried to get to his legs,” Crisitello said. “I knew I was a better scrambler than him, so I was confident if I could get to a leg that I would finish.”

Marriotts Ridge, which was crowned as the regular season county champion, then won the next two matches after Altamirano was victorious at 145 pounds. Ethan Bohan (33-0) and Will Vaxmonsky (39-0) earned victories at 152 and 160 pounds, respectively. Both wrestlers had long awaited winning a county title, as Bohan had finished third twice and second once in his first three championship bouts and Vaxmonsky had finished second twice in his career.

“Steven is a great opponent, and I have a lot of respect for all of the wrestlers in this county. But it finally feels great to finish on top,” Vaxmonsky said. “Ethan and I have been wrestling together for as long as I can remember. We’ve been pushing each other all year to get each other to achieve this goal. Him winning pumped me up for my match.”

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Bohan pinned Oakland Mills’ Michael Claxton in 3:42 at 152, while Vaxmonsky earned a major decision win over Scorpion Steven Harrell, 11-1.

“I hate finishing below first. This is all I’m going for this year,” Bohan said. “I think I can win regions and states, too.”

Kingsbury and Drew Sotka then won back-to-back bouts at 170 and 182, respectively, to put a stamp on the Gladiators’ team title. Kingsbury recorded a takedown in overtime to defeat Hammond’s Nolan Deshields, 4-2, for his first county title.

“You’ve got to think like it’s any other match,” Kingsbury said about wrestling in sudden-death overtime. “If you let those thoughts of doubt creep in, you’ve already lost. I was happy to pull through and win there in overtime.”

Sotka’s win was the most impressive from a Glenelg wrestler and was one of the most dominant of the finals. The senior pinned Mt. Hebron’s John Ross in 1:34.

“Drew is our leader, obviously being a returning state champion,” Bichner said. “A lot of the guys look up to him. He leads by example. We expect a lot out of him, and he’s always pushing himself to get better.”

Linus Sekedjah then earned a hard-fought victory at 195 pounds over Glenelg’s Jake Durkin. Sekedjah and Durkin entered sudden-death overtime tied at 1-1, but the Hammond grappler recorded a takedown about 45 seconds into the extra period.

“I’ve worked all season for this,” Sekedjah said. “Durkin is a great opponent, and it feels great to be rewarded.”

Howard’s Buddy Penguin then won the 220-pound match over Oakland Mills’ Miles Crook, 6-3. The Howard senior is 32-2 this season, and the title is his first.

“First time I wrestled him I noticed he’s strong as heck,” Penguin said. “He must be lifting boulders and logs or something. I beat him 1-0 last time, and I’ve been working on my takedowns to get to this point.”

The heavyweight bout then capped the night’s action, with Reservoir senior Dylan Altman (29-1) pinning Marriotts Ridge’s Jack Baxter in 4:57. Altman, who finished second in the 285-pound title match last season, is 5-0 lifetime against Baxter, and the county title is his first.

“I couldn’t have done it without all the help from my teammates and coaches,” Altman said. “… I’ve wrestled against (Baxter) since my sophomore year. I’m 5-0 against him. I’m just a better wrestler than him. I think he knows that now.”

Bichner said the county tournament is always a highlight of the season. He believes the wrestlers in Howard County are some of the best in the state and this year’s tournament was further evidence of that.

“The county tournament is always great,” Bichner said. “I really think our county is the deepest in the state. There are weaker teams, but every team has some kids who can scrap. Every year you see different teams in the finals and winning titles. That was the case again this year.”

TEAM SCORES:

1. Glenelg 221

2. Oakland Mills 192.5

3. Hammond 154.5

4. River Hill 154

5. Mt. Hebron 147

6. Marriotts Ridge 137

7. Atholton 103

8. Centennial 100

9. Howard 82

10. Reservoir 71

11. Long Reach 32.5

12. Wilde Lake 27

CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS:

106: Alex Tamai (Oakland Mills) dec. Jabari Pinkney (Hammond), 9-4

113: David Ridenour (Glenelg) dec. Mason Cowell (Oakland Mills), 12-11

120: Christopher Lee (Centennial) dec. Griffin Ordowski (Mt. Hebron), 7-3

126: David Panda (Atholton) dec. Jonah Richardson (River Hill), 11-9 OT

132: Keiron Wilson (Hammond) dec. Ethan Sotka (Glenelg), 5-3

138: Michael Crisitello (River Hill) pinned Isaiah Williams (Oakland Mills), 4:00

145: Michael Altamirano (Atholton) major dec. Shayan Kassiri (Howard), 10-2

152: Ethan Bohan (Marriotts Ridge) pinned Michael Claxton (Oakland Mills), 3:42

160: Will Vaxmonsky (Marriotts Ridge) major dec. Steven Harrell (Oakland Mills), 11-1

170: Nick Kingsbury (Glenelg) dec. Nolan Deshields (Hammond), 4-2 OT

182: Drew Sotka (Glenelg) pinned John Ross (Mt. Hebron), 1:34

195: Linus Sekedjah (Hammond) dec. Jake Durkin (Glenelg), 3-1 OT

220: Buddy Penguin (Howard) dec. Miles Crook (Oakland Mills), 6-3

285: Dylan Altman (Reservoir) pinned Jack Baxter (Marriotts Ridge), 4:57

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