HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Howard junior Shayan Kassiri has had one of the best records in Howard County since the start of last season. He went 32-1 in the regular season as a sophomore and entered Jan. 14 with a 19-3 record this winter, but despite racking up wins the 152-pounder has yet to qualify for the state tournament.
Kassiri, who also plays baseball and golf at Howard, recently sat down with wrestling beat reporter Tim Schwartz to discuss the baseball team’s state championship, his personal struggles at the regional tournament in the past and more.
Q: In addition to wrestling, you also play golf and baseball. What’s your favorite sport?
A: Probably baseball. It’s a lot of fun and I have a lot of my friends there. Last year we won states, so it’s also really exciting.
I recall it was another epic game against Severna Park. What was it like to beat them with a walk-off for the second straight year?
Well, we knew coming in they were going to be tough. They had great pitching, and they have a pitcher named Cam Clark, and we saw him again. It was the exact same situation that happened: it came down to pitch count. Last inning, two outs, he hits the pitch count and the new guy comes in and the guy couldn’t get the job done and we capitalized.
Back to wrestling. You went 32-1 during the regular season and then finished second at the county tournament, but as the No. 1 seed you lost three matches at the 3A/4A North regional tournament and didn’t qualify for the state tournament. How disappointing was that and how did you reflect on that after the season?
Yeah, that was probably one of my worst days of wrestling probably. After the semifinals loss, I just could not keep my head straight. I was just mad about that and just couldn’t forget about it. I carried it over to the next couple of matches and lost them.
It was an overtime match in the blood round at the regional tournament, too. You said you were thinking too much about your last match. What do you remember about that overtime period?
I took a shot on the guy I remember, and I started to come up and he just got lucky I guess and hit a headlock. That’s kind of the move I hit on a lot of kids but he got it on me.
How much work did you put in during the offseason to make sure that you have better results if you end up in a similar spot this year?
I worked a lot harder than I did the previous offseason. I’ve been going to Blue Claw [wrestling club] a lot; they have a lot of hammers out there. Getting beat up by kids like [Spalding’s] Garrett Fisk. I stuck with him a lot and he beats me up but I learn from him.
How tough is it finding mat time while you’re playing two other sports?
Well golf, I do it as a hobby to stay busy because I can still make time for wrestling with that, but during the summer I play baseball for a travel team. Every once in a while I was coming [to Howard] since we had mats here to get some time. I just want to keep my moves sharp.
How do you describe yourself as a wrestler?
Obviously I’m not the biggest. I’ve been wrestling for 11 years, so I’d like to say I have some of the top technique in the county. That’s my style.
Your brother Darian wrestled for Howard not too long ago. How nice is it to have someone you can lean on?
He’s gotten my offense going a lot. He comes in the room sometimes to teach me small stuff that can help on the big stages at regionals and states.
Is it hard at times to keep improving individually when the team isn’t having as much success? How do you deal with that part of it?
Well on the team side, I just try to push kids. Towards the end of practice and stuff just keep pushing them and stuff. But on the individual side, our assistant coach [Kris] Dutt wrestles me and Ryan Keeley a lot and beats us up, and me and Ryan go at it all the time. We’re best friends off the mat, but in practice we want to get after each other. So it’s good.
You beat Dulaney’s Sam Bloch, who was ranked ahead of you, on Jan. 10. How important is it to you to beat good competition and gain confidence toward the end of the season?
The Mount Saint Joseph Gaels crowned four champions to win the 15th annual Mount Mat Madness wrestling tournament while Centennial senior Jason Kraisser was named the tournament's most outstanding wrestler.
You wrestled Kraisser earlier this season and he pinned you. Do you learn from wrestling a guy like that when he takes it to you?
That guy is a hammer. He’s a killer. Really he’s just aggressive and keeps going and keeps going and he just does not stop. In the last match he was hitting me with a Russian [tie] and he’s really good with that and he has great control. I really couldn’t do much. And his arm-bar tilts with legs, that’s killer. He got me with that my freshman year, too.
What are you trying to do to continue to help your team get better?
Honestly, our biggest struggle this year has been giving up too many pins and that’s what’s costing us. We’ve been working a lot in practice fighting off our back. A couple of practices ago actually we had to hold a bridge for six minutes. If you’re going against a guy you should pin, you gotta pin him and get six points. The main focus is just not getting pinned because that’s killing us.
You mentioned Ryan Keeley. You two have been the best guys on the team. How much do you guys bounce things off each other and feed off one another?
A lot. We are both teaching each other. He’s been wrestling for as long as I have and we just gain a lot from each other.
How much does it help having two former UMBC wrestlers like Daniel Carr and Kris Dutt as coaches?
[Dutt] just knows every single little small thing that can make a huge difference. And coach Carr has been helping me a lot because I’m smaller for my weight class, so I’ve been working with him to get used to going against those big guys. And we actually have another coach, Brandon Buckingham, who just came in and he’s been teaching us some small stuff too and helping us against the top guys.
A successful season for you come mid-March will be what?