The wrestling room at St. Vincent Pallotti High has become a welcoming venue for athletes willing to try the sport. Some have never competed in a match before the high school level, or have little experience.
"The school has a lot of kids we just grab out of the hallway," said Pallotti second-year coach Andrew Lacroix, only half-joking. "Kids don't go here for wrestling. They go for other sports. We just kind of rely on athletes from other sports."
The Panthers demonstrated they have some pretty good athletes based on the results from the 17-team Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament at Mount St. Joseph on Saturday.
Senior Antonio Santoro (285 pounds, 29-7) and sophomore Mansur Abdul-Malik (220, 27-11) finished in third place, junior Justin Chenault (126, 36-8) placed fourth and junior Thomas Runner (138, 28-14) took sixth.
Santoro, nicknamed "Goose" because of his resemblance to former Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, might be Pallotti's most highly regarded wrestler. He won the MIAA tournament last year after beating Mount St. Joseph's Shane Lowman, 3-2, in triple overtime.
Lowman, a senior, kept Santoro from advancing to the final again this year when he scored a 2-1 overtime decision in the semifinals.
Santoro edged Lowman twice last year and also pinned him, but both meetings this winter have been close losses.
Lowman won the latest match by riding out Santoro for 30 seconds.
"It's always painful to look at a tournament you won last year and lose," Santoro said. "He is a lot more heavier on top this year. It's definitely a lot different than I am used to."
Santoro is hoping for a higher finish at the Maryland Independent Schools State Tournament at McDonogh School in Owings Mills on Friday and Saturday.
He's also shooting for a strong effort at National Preps at Lehigh University on Feb. 22.
"I want to finish first in states, but the main goal is to get to National Preps," Santoro said.
Lacroix is optimistic about Santoro's prospects at the state tournament.
"I think he can win it," he said. "I think he has as good a chance as anybody."
Lacroix particularly likes how Santoro rebounded from his semifinal loss to Lowman and blanked Archbishop Curley junior Kevin Sigwart, 9-0, in the consolation final, which improved his career record to 72-24.
"It was a good for his confidence going into states," the coach said. "I don't worry about Goose. When he loses, it's usually pretty close. He's always in matches. I think he has tougher competition in his weight class this year and he actually has a better record."
Even though he got off to a good start, Abdul-Malik had a tougher time in the consolation final than Santoro. He edged John Carroll senior Andy Reininger, 3-2.
Abdul-Malik pinned St. Mary's Jackson Slotterback and Curley's James Greer in the first two rounds of the tournament before dropping a 6-4 decision to McDonogh junior Mike Smith, who is ranked second in the the state by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.
"He was down 6-4 with 13 seconds left and he got in on his legs," Lacroix recalled. "He was looking to finish and he just ran out of time."
Abdul-Malik had been homeschooled his entire life by his parents, Eric Clark and Kariyma Knox-Clark, before enrolling at Pallotti this past fall.
He practiced with Pallotti as a freshman, but didn't compete on the team.
"He's had a great first year," Lacroix said. "He is all heart, all work ethic. Him and Goose are training partners. Mansur is actually under weight. He weighs 200 pounds and wrestles at 220. He just finds ways to win."
Chenault lost his consolation final to John Carroll's Zach Dwyer, 4-2, while Runner lost the fifth-sixth place bout to Loyola Blakefield's James Moses, 9-4.
Antonio Santoro, 3rd, 285 pounds.
Mansur Abdul-Malik, 3rd, 220.
Justin Chenault, 4th, 126.
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Thomas Runner, 6th, 138.