St. Vincent Pallotti's Mansur Abdul-Malik, left, wrestled John Carroll's Andy Reininger in the 220-pound third-place match at the MIAA wrestling championships last year. Abdul-Malik has a title and fiifth-place finish in tournaments this season.
St. Vincent Pallotti's Mansur Abdul-Malik, left, wrestled John Carroll's Andy Reininger in the 220-pound third-place match at the MIAA wrestling championships last year. Abdul-Malik has a title and fiifth-place finish in tournaments this season. (Steve Ruark, for the Baltimore Sun Media Group)

St. Vincent Pallotti wrestling coach Andrew LaCroix didn't waste time getting his team early matches this season, signing up the the Panthers for four tournaments in December.

"I want them to get a lot of matches in early and the second part of our schedule is more dual-meet oriented," LaCroix said. "That's by design. I think it's better for them to get a lot of matches early. It worked last year."

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Laurel High School wrestling coach Irwin Poelinitz thinks the Spartans should be battle-tested for a different reason. Laurel returns nine starters from a team that finished with a 7-5 dual-meet record and placed seventh in the Prince George's County tournament among 20 teams.

"I have the most returning guys back in the county this year," Poelinitz said. "We are much stronger."

For Pallotti, the most recent tournament was the Bear Cave Brawl last weekend at Oakdale High School, and the Panthers had two individual champions.

Senior Justin Chenault won the 138-pound weight class, and sophomore Mansur Abdul-Malik captured the 220-pound title.

Senior Thomas Runner was third at 145.

"Those three are our captains and they are all real quality wrestlers," LaCroix said.

Chenault, ranked third in the state, is in his fourth varsity season and he's 14-0 with 13 pins. He also won an individual crown in the season-opening Ray Oliver Tournament.

Chenault finished fourth in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament at Mount St. Joseph last year, after falling in the finals the two previous years.

Mansur (12-2), ranked eighth in the state, was third in the MIAA tournament last winter, and Runner placed sixth for the Panthers, who won the 2014 B Conference tournament and dual meet championships.

The Panthers, who opened the B Conference regular-season schedule with a 42-34 victory at Severn on Dec. 10, have their first home match on Jan. 7 against Friends (3:30 p.m.).

Before that, they will compete in the Flo-Excalibur (Dec. 19-20) and Mount Mat Madness (Dec. 29-30).

Sophomore Jared Butler went 6-1 at 113 at the Bear Cave Brawl and placed at Ray Oliver (6th). "He's very tough," LaCroix said.

The coach also expects big things from freshman 126-pounder Newt Davis (4th at Bear Cave Brawl), sophomore Zuvvy Onyekweli (160) and junior Eron Shields (106)

Onyekweli has been wrestling up a weight class, and Shields hasn't wrestled because of a staph infection. "He's very tough. I think he could turn some heads," LaCroix said.

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Laurel wins opener

Laurel started the season with a 44-18 dual-meet victory over Bladensburg on Dec. 10. Next up for the Spartans is the Largo tournament this weekend.

Seniors Antonio Holloway (195 pounds) and Anthony Keys (152) and sophomore Winton Edwards (175) are candidates to win the event, according to Poelinitz.

Each wrestler placed in the tournament last year.

Poelinitz hopes for solid performances from several other wrestlers, including senior Hakeem Bello (160) and juniors Sonny Rogers (132), Michael Sercey (195) and Richard Gonzalez (106) and sophomores Aaron Olds (145) and Victor Amadu (138).

Poelinitz has high expectations for Holloway.

"I think he can place first in the county," the coach said of Holloway, who placed third last year. "He was just starting out last year and he has more experience this year."

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