Dunbar wrestlers: from nowhere to 8th Small team is big in 1st state meet


A year ago, Dunbar's wrestling team finished 0-8.

But when freshman Bruce Pendles won the season-ending Maryland Scholastic Association tournament, the youngest Poet to do so, first-year coach Damon Matthews decided to build on Pendles' effort.

A season-opening tie with last year's C Conference champ, Carver, broke the Poets' losing skein and boosted them to a 2-1-8 record.

And in their inaugural venture into the 2A-1A state tournament, the Poets were the city's most successful team, with three sophomores -- Martius Harding (160, second), Pendles (112, fourth) and Hermondez Thompson (130, fourth) -- pacing them to eighth place in the 70-team field.

This was a team which began the year with 12 wrestlers, ended with six and wrestled at most of its home matches in front of empty bleachers.

Matthews ran a tight ship with his two assistants, former MSA champ Gary Coleman (Mount St. Joseph) and 1990 first-team All-Metro Sean Crockett (Southwestern).

"What really kept us together was our spiritual closeness. I feel very proud, and I told them it was a great job," said Matthews, formerly the Poets' youngest MSA champ in 1975 as sophomore.

In the 4A-3A tournament, Poly's Rashaad Kitchen (171, fourth) was the city's only place-winner. Walbrook's George Chandler (130, 28-5) upset Franklin's No. 2-ranked Jerry Hudson (30-2) to reach the semifinals before being eliminated.

Southwestern's Keir Hicks (145, 24-5) went 1-2, including a 3-2 loss to Dundalk's third-ranked Rick Staab (31-2), last year's 140-pound state champ. Mervo heavyweight Junius Myers (20-5) went 2-2, including a 2-0 decision over Glen Burnie's Region IV champ, Paul Musil.

"Martius could have won, but it's only his second year of wrestling, and he made a costly mistake. It was totally new to Thompson, and he doesn't realize what he accomplished," Matthews said. "I told other coaches this is only a fraction of what I expect next year."

Owings Mills' Gregg Kessler (135, 34-0) said last week that he wanted the county to know that -- technically -- he'd be its first three-time state champ.

Although teammate Grant Johnson (171, 34-0) joined him in the honor approximately half an hour later, Kessler's 5-2 decision over Mardela's No. 2-ranked Mike Lowe (30-0, 26 pins) helped him accomplish the milestone first at the weekend's 2A-1A state tournament at Western Maryland College.

Lowe, a two-time state champ, had not lost since his freshman year, falling to Johnson by 2-1 and 6-1, and finishing fourth in the state behind Johnson.

Although Anne Arundel County's Northeast dethroned two-time champ Owings Mills (sixth), Johnson and Kessler remained the PTC state's top-ranked wrestlers in their weight classes and third-ranked Ed Overton (189, 34-2) was a runner-up.

With Old Mill's (101.5 points) unprecedented fifth team crown, Anne Arundel County retained the 4A-3A title for the sixth straight year. But the county had just six individual champs, compared to Baltimore County's eight.

Hereford's Jesse Channell (160, 22-3), last year's champ, was upset twice and finished fourth.

Three champs -- Justin Grodnitzky (135, 30-6), top-ranked two-time champ Johnny Montgomery (145, 33-1) and sixth-ranked Kent Morrison (160, 32-3) -- were from 4A-3A runner-up Randallstown (88 points). Brandon Grodnitzky (125, 28-7) was a runner-up.

In a rematch of last year's final, won by Montgomery, 6-4, in overtime, Montgomery countered a takedown by McDonough's No. 2-ranked Damon Newsome (33-1) and flattened him in 1:40. It was the first time this season Newsome had been put on his back.

Morrison scored a 5-3 upset victory over last year's champ, Old Mill's No. 2-ranked Marc Procaccini, to reach the title bout.

Woodlawn heavyweight Daryl Mance (33-3) became his school's first state champ, reaping the benefits of a summer of workouts with Oakland Mills' former two-time state champ, Monte Spencer

And Pikesville heavyweight Wayde Ezell (34-1, fourth) eclipsed his school's single-season victory record (33).

Two other state champs -- Milford Mill's No. 2-ranked Gary Harris (119, 30-0) and Pikesville's Corey Setlen (125, 12-2) -- made comebacks.

Harris made good on his word to go unbeaten after finishing as a 103-pound runner-up in a 30-1 season a year ago.

Setlen, who was pinned in the county final and was third in the Region II tournament, scored a first-round major decision and three one-point decisions to win his second straight crown.

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