There was never any doubt that Glenelg was going to win the 48th annual Howard County wrestling tournament at River Hill Feb. 17-18 for the second straight season, but this title was all about redemption.
The Gladiators put eight wrestlers in the finals and crowned seven champions — both a tournament best — to score 216.5 points and run away with the team title by 60.5 points. They had the same number of finalists a year ago but only one emerged victorious.
"It feels good. I think some of the guys last year were young and it was their first time in there," said Glenelg coach Matt Bichner. "I still don't think we wrestled as great as we could — some guys were a little nervous — but I'm happy to get seven county champs and get seven more guys on our wall of champions in the practice room."
Oakland Mills and Atholton tied for second with 156 points, while Mt. Hebron (127) and Reservoir (118) rounded out the top five. Centennial sophomore Jason Kraisser won his second straight county championship and the 13th for the Kraisser family. He won the Glenn Devane Outstanding Wrestler award after securing a 4-0 victory over Mt. Hebron's Jimmy Hayden in the 138-pound title bout.
The Gladiators, however, stole the show with a dominant championship round.
Glenelg's only returning county champion Garrett Murray repeated his success in a similar fashion by winning by fall in his 170-pound final. He stuck River Hill's Zach Wasilewski in 48 seconds.
"It was kind of bittersweet last year," said Murray, who improved to 30-1 on the season with three pins in the tournament. "We had eight guys in the finals and I was the only one who won. Everyone deserved it but this year we got a lot better. Everyone has been working hard and you can tell it's paying off in these kinds of matches."
Gladiators Max Sotka (39-3), Jacob Jones (33-8) and Sam Alsheimer (38-4) were runners-up last year and all three pulled through to win hard-fought decisions. Sotka defeated Atholton sophomore and returning county finalist Sean Billups, 8-5, at 160 pounds, and Jones knocked off River Hill's Brad Smith, 3-2, in the 152-pound championship. Alsheimer handed returning county finalist Paul Johnson of Oakland Mills a 7-2 defeat at 195 pounds.
"It's nice to be on the other side of that, when you're not getting killed 20-1, but I just feel like it made me appreciate this more because being here and losing kind of sucked, knowing the whole year you didn't win," said Sotka, who lost via technical fall to Centennial three-time state champion Austin Kraisser in last year's 152-pound championship. "Even though it was Austin, it wasn't fun putting in the work all year and losing in that fashion in the finals."
Alsheimer, whose victory made Glenelg a perfect seven-for-seven in championship bouts at the time, was motivated to defeat Johnson because teammate Jonathan Spiropoulos suffered a season-ending knee injury in a match against him in the dual meet in early January.
Howard County sports reporters Monica D'Ippolito, Brent Kennedy and Tim Schwartz recap the week that was and the week ahead for Howard County high school athletics.
At the :37 mark, Tim breaks down what to expect from the county wrestling tournament. He gives his thoughts on what will be the best finals matchup (106 pounds: Oakland Mills’ Daiquan Anderson vs. Marriotts Ridge’s Ethan Bohan); the most confusing seed (120 pounds: Marriotts Ridge’s Chris Spano, No. 2 seed); the deepest weight class (138 pounds: Centennial’s Jason Kraisser, Mt. Hebron’s Jimmy Hayden and Reservoir’s Todd Del Tufo); lowest seeded wrestler with a shot to reach the finals (145 pounds: Glenelg’s Dylan Istre, No. 7 seed) and why Glenelg will win the team title.
At the 15:52 mark, Brent sits down with River Hill boys basketball players Ori Clark and Jaden Martin to talk about the team recently clinching the program’s first county title since 2002. They also discuss the new county format, what they learned from last year’s losing record and how they matchup with potential playoff opponents Wilde Lake and Glenelg. Brent also breaks down the current playoff standings for the 3A East region where River Hill has secured the top seed in Section I.
At the 28:26 mark, Monica talks about Long Reach handing Howard its first loss of the season in girls basketball. She also breaks down the current county championship race, which Reservoir, Atholton and Long Reach still have a shot at earning a share of, though Howard can clinch outright with a win Friday against Centennial.
"Jonathan got hurt kind of late in that match, so it kind of fired me up. I talked to him all week about it," Alsheimer said. "It was definitely my motivation in that match, that's for sure."
Glenelg's Kevin Hansberger, Jared Thomas and Logan Gwin won county titles as well. Hansberger (30-11) upended No. 2 seed Ethan Bohan of Marriotts Ridge in an exciting 106-pound semifinal to reach the championship, where he beat Atholton's Drew Pruett, 4-2. Pruett (29-5) knocked off Oakland Mills senior and No. 1 seed Daiquan Anderson with a pair of late near-fall point in his semifinal match.
Thomas, who finished third at the Maryland Independent State tournament as a freshman at Good Counsel last season, rolled through the 126-pound bracket and beat Atholton's Derek Noppinger via technical fall, 17-1, in the final to move to 37-1.
Gwin (31-9) beat Marriotts Ridge freshman Will Vaxmonsky (38-3), 5-2, to win the 113-pound title.
Kraisser won his first two bouts by fall to advance to the finals in arguably the toughest weight class of the tournament. He won a 4-0 decision over Mt. Hebron senior Jimmy Hayden, who beat Reservoir's Todd Del Tufo in a semifinal, to move his season record to 33-1.
"Last year I feel like I had something to prove and get my name out there and make sure everyone knew who Jason Kraisser was," Kraisser said. "To have 13 county titles in the family, I just think it's really cool to be a part of something like that. It's something that my family has been through, my father and all my brothers have been through the same thing."
Oakland Mills had two champions who each made some of their own personal history. Senior Johnny Rynn won his third straight county title with a 10-4 victory over Howard's Kyle Williamson (29-8), while junior Kyle Farace captured an elusive county title by winning a 6-0 decision over Centennial's Jacob Blyukher (23-5).
"It feels really good, honestly. My dad is a two-time county champion and I wanted to beat his record really bad," said Rynn, who is 25-1 this season. "I think this one is probably the best one. It's my third one and my senior year, so I'm ending it right and hopefully I can get a state title."
Farace (34-2), meanwhile, had fallen in the county championship match in each of his first two attempts. He was happy to get the monkey off his back and hopes this proves to be a springboard into getting over the hump at the state tournament as well.
"It definitely means a lot," said Farace, also a state runner-up in his first two seasons. "Coming in second definitely sucks, making it all the way to the finals and losing, especially the amount of times I've done it. So it feels really good to finally win it."
Marriotts Ridge senior Chris Spano (35-2) won his second straight county championship and fourth straight postseason tournament with a 10-0 major decision over River Hill's Gabe Vinyard at 120 pounds. He said being seeded second behind Vinyard was one of several motivating factors.
"I know seeding doesn't really mean much, but it kind of put me in a mood to be more aggressive and show him that I want to be the No. 1 seed and the top kid," said Spano, a defending state champion. "I definitely want to win out and be a two-time state champ. This is the first step of a three-step process for me to win counties, regions and states."
Mt. Hebron's Shaber Ahmad won a 5-4 decision over Oakland Mills' Ernie Smith to capture the 195-pound championship. Ahmad thanked his teammates and coaches for pushing him to work in the offseason.
"Last year I had four wins on varsity. It all comes through practice and all the offseason work," he said. "Coming out on top felt amazing. I felt like almost impossible to beat. It was just incredible."
Atholton junior Miles Easterling (23-9), who transferred in from Massachusetts prior to the season, handled Glenelg's Robbie Baxter, 6-3, to win the 220-pound championship.
He fought off a single-leg attempt by Baxter late in the match and sealed the win with a takedown.
"It was crazy. It really didn't feel real," Easterling said.
Reservoir kept its streak alive, as heavyweight Tyler Ecker (33-3) pinned Oakland Mills' Kyle Boothe (26-9) in 5:17 to give the Gators a titlist for the 10th straight year.
"It feels surreal. I've been wrestling for too many years and I've watched it three times," Ecker said. "I wanted to go out there and make a statement out there."
The 3A/4A East regional tournament is Feb. 24-25 at Northeast (AA) High School, while Oakland Mills and Marriotts Ridge will compete at the 1A/2A South regional tournament the same weekend at Thomas Stone High School.
Team scores: 1. Glenelg, 216.5 points; t2. Atholton, 156; t2. Oakland Mills, 156; 4. Mt. Hebron, 127; 5. Reservoir, 118; 6. Marriotts Ridge, 104; 7. River Hill, 102; 8. Hammond, 94; 9. Centennial, 85; 10. Howard, 68; 11. Long Reach, 48; 12. Wilde Lake, 23.
Finals: Kevin Hansberger (G) dec. Drew Pruett (A), 4-2
3rd place: Ethan Bohan (MR) pinned Daiquan Anderson (OM), 4:54
Semifinals: No. 4 seed Drew Pruett (A) dec. No. 1 Daiquan Anderson (OM), 6-4
No. 3 Kevin Hansberger (G) dec. No. 2 Ethan Bohan (MR), 4-2
Finals: Logan Gwin (G) dec. Will Vaxmonsky (MR), 5-2
3rd place: Reese Kilcarr (Re) major dec. Kam Thang (Ha), 9-0
Semifinals: No. 1 Logan Gwin (G) major dec. No. 5 Sam Levine (LR), 11-3
No. 2 Will Vaxmonsky (MR) pinned No. 3 Reese Kilcarr (Re), 3:03
Finals: Chris Spano (MR) major dec. Gabe Vinyard (RH), 10-0
3rd place: Yahir Lemus (MH) dec. Lian Khai (A)
Semifinals: No. 1 Gabe Vinyard (RH) pinned No. 5 Tino Campanile (G), 3:06
No. 2 Chris Spano (MR) major dec. No. 3 Yahir Lemus (MH), 8-0
Finals: Jared Thomas (G) tech fall Derek Noppinger (A), 17-1
3rd place: Ryan Keeley (Ho) dec. Hayoung Park (Re), 6-2
Semifinals: No. 1 Jared Thomas (G) inj. dflt. No. 5 Hayoung Park (Re)
No. 2 Derek Noppinger (A) dec. No. 3 Ryan Keeley (Ho), 6-0
Finals: Kyle Farace (OM) dec. Jacob Blyukher (C), 6-0
3rd place: Michael Altamirano (A) dec. Jamison Hulbert (MH), 4-1
Semifinals: No. 1 Kyle Farace (OM) pinned No. 4 Brad Foote (Ho), 1:30
No. 2 Jacob Blyukher (C) No. 6 Michael Altamirano (A), 4-0
Finals: Jason Kraisser (C) dec. Jimmy Hayden (MH), 4-0
3rd place: Todd Del Tufo (Re) major dec. Stephen Frazier (A), 13-3
Semifinals: No. 1 Jason Kraisser (C) pinned No. 5 Stephen Frazier (A), 2:24
No. 2 Jimmy Hayden (MH) dec. No. 3 Todd Del Tufo (Re), 3-2
Finals: Johnny Rynn (OM) dec. Kyle Williamson (Ho), 10-4
3rd place: Ali Pender (MH) dec. Jairo Dumas (Re), 4-2 OT
Semifinals: No. 1 Johnny Rynn (OM) dec. No. 4 Cito Altamirano (A), 3-0
No. 3 Kyle Williamson (Ho) inj. dflt. No. 7 Dylan Istre (G)
Finals: Jacob Jones (G) dec. Brad Smith (RH), 3-2
3rd place: Jordan Davis (Ha) dec. Justin Hooper (MR), 13-10
Semifinals: No. 1 Jacob Jones (G) dec. No. 4 Justin Hooper (MR), 5-2
No. 2 Brad Smith (RH) dec. No. 3 Jordan Davis (Ha), 5-2
Finals: Max Sotka (G) dec. Sean Billups (A), 8-5
3rd place: Amr Narmouq (C) major dec. Austin Cestone (MR), 11-2
Semifinals: No. 1 Max Sotka (G) dec. No. 5 Amr Narmouq (C), 9-4
No. 2 Sean Billups (A) major dec. No. 3 Anthony Morales (OM), 10-0
Finals: Garrett Murray (G) pinned Zach Wasilewski (RH), 0:48
3rd place: Nasim Sanders (Ha) dec. Devlin Bradley (Ho), 5-1
Semifinals: No. 1 Garrett Murray (G) pinned No. 4 Nasim Sanders (Ha), 0:52
No. 3 Zach Wasilewski (RH) inj. dflt. No. 2 Troy Grandstaff (MR)
Finals: Sam Alsheimer (G) dec. Paul Johnson (OM), 7-2
3rd place: Tyler Walters (Ha) dec. Alex Wasilewski (RH), 10-3
Semifinals: No. 1 Paul Johnson (OM) dec. No. 5 Alex Wasilewski (RH), 9-3
No. 2 Sam Alsheimer (G) pinned No. 3 Tyler Walters (Ha), 1:02
Finals: Shaber Ahmad (MH) dec. Ernie Smith (OM), 5-4
3rd place: Lucas Shapiro (C) dec. Joe Lazzari (A), 2-1
Semifinals: No. 4 Ernie Smith (OM) dec. No. 1 Joe Lazzari (A), 3-1
No. 2 Shaber Ahmad (MH) dec. No. 3 Lucas Shapiro (C), 8-5
Finals: Miles Easterling (A) dec. Robbie Baxter (G), 6-3
3rd place: Nick Nordhausen (MH) dec. Loic Tueguo (Ha), 9-3
Semifinals: No. 4 Robbie Baxter (G) dec. No. 1 Nick Nordhausen (MH), 5-3
No. 2 Miles Easterling (A) pinned No. 3 Loic Tueguo (Ha), 3:04
Finals: Tyler Ecker (Re) pinned Kyle Boothe (OM), 5:17
3rd place: Justin Andrews (Ha) pinned Ritchy Pierre (Ho), 0:50
Semifinals: No. 1 Tyler Ecker (Re) pinned No. 5 Isa Pender (MH), 0:54