Glenelg did everything it could last year to be the first team to defeat Damascus since 2012.
The Gladiators went to the Swarmin’ Hornets’ holiday tournament to get a closer look at their wrestlers, and they matched up several times again at the War on the Shore tournament at Stephen Decatur. It was all in preparation for what was always expected: a rematch in the state duals championship.
Glenelg coach Matt Bichner decided to shake up the lineup in a dramatic fashion in order to maximize the team’s chances of winning that dual meet on Feb. 10. The goal wasn’t to keep it close; it was to end Damascus’ winning streak at 151.
What transpired was another blowout victory for the Swarmin’ Hornets, whose 152 consecutive dual-meet victories is the fifth longest streak of all-time, according to the National Federation of High Schools wrestling record book. Another undefeated season could out them in third place on that list.
Saying the Gladiators are determined to be the team to end that streak is an understatement. It’s an open conversation in their wrestling room and beyond. Nobody is shying away from it.
“I thought we had good teams the last two years but we’ve been just shy of Damascus. We want to do what we have to do in county to get them again and hopefully hand them their first loss in a while,” Bichner said. “I really think this group of seniors has worked hard to push this program to a new high we haven’t had since really ever, being as consistent as we have been. It would be nice for them to finally get that state title, but they know they have to work for it.”
Bichner believes this could be the year, and he admitted there is a sense of urgency for this team because their four best wrestlers are all seniors — returning state champion Jared Thomas (expected 132 or 138 pounds), state finalist Sam Alsheimer (195) and state placers Jacob Jones (160) and Kevin Hansberger (120). Facing Damascus for a state championship would be a welcomed completion for a senior class that has won 33 consecutive county duals, the last three county tournament titles and three straight regional crowns.
All four are favored to win county titles this season and compete for the top spot on the podium at the state tournament March 1-2 at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, while junior regional champion Drew Sotka (170), senior Jake Arnone (182) and Andres Lopoz Campos (113) are among a handful of quality returners for the Gladiators.
“I have high expectations this year. We have a great senior class,” Bichner said. “We have a lot of guys who have been here and doing it and it’s easy because they know the expectation, we don’t have to get on them as much and they push the guys to work harder.”
But before any of that can become a possibility, there are a number of county teams aiming to take Glenelg down and make some history of their own.
There were five teams that tied for third place in the county standings last year with 7-4 league records last year, and four of them — Hammond, Atholton, River Hill and Oakland Mills — could be even better this season.
The Golden Bears have come a long way in a short time under coach Will Yeo, who took over a team that won two matches in 2014-15 but has seen improved their win totals to seven, 21 and then 32 duals last year. They lost by just three and six points in their two duals with Glenelg a year ago, and with eight returning starters back they have even bigger goals.
“Last year, I think it surprised a lot of people. People were paying attention to what we’ve been doing in the room and the development of our kids, but our kids weren’t surprised,” Yeo said. “As a whole, we came on strong, and honestly, stronger than I had anticipated. ... But this year, the kids are very excited. They know the goal of the season, they know what we expect of them.”
Senior Loic Tueguo (220), who won county and region titles before taking third in the state, became the first Hammond wrestler to place at the state tournament since 2014, and he did so after not even qualifying for the final weekend as a sophomore. He, alongside returning top-five county placers Shehzan Dahya (106/113), Kenneth Arevalo Rios (113/120), Brayan Arevalo Rios (120/126), Shamar Laing (152/160) and Jordan Davis (170/182), will have Hammond in the mix for the county’s top spot.
“They come in everyday, they work hard, they don’t make excuses and they do what they’re told,” Yeo said. “If they follow that recipe — we have some great coaches — and they put in the work, they know what’s coming. The excitement level is very high.”
Bichner also knows Hammond is coming and said they have been using that as motivation. He said they will be ready for their dual meet at Hammond on Jan. 15.
“They put in a lot of work to hopefully beat us, but we’re not going to let them do it,” Bichner said. “We’re out here to use that as motivation to hopefully be ready to go when we face them later in the season, but we have a lot of stuff to get to before we get there.”
Atholton returns three county champions and state place-winners — seniors Drew Pruett (120) and Sean Billups (170/182) and junior David Panda (120) — to pair with six other returning varsity starters. The trio combined for a 98-12 record a year ago, and county and regional champion Billups had the second-best record among county grapplers last year with a 36-1 mark en route to a third-place finish at the state tournament.
With so much talent back in the fold, the Raiders expect to win the 3A East region dual title this season after making their first-ever appearance in a regional dual final last year.
“We will have a solid lineup except for heavyweight,” Atholton coach Bruce Lindblad said. “We hope to improve on last year’s 10-6 record and move on to the state duals this year.”
River Hill has steadily improved the last few years and has a potential state champion in senior Will Henrickson (132), who won county and region titles and placed fourth in the state after transferring from Colorado in early January.
Senior Eric Robinson (120) took third in the county, second in the region and sixth in the state last year, and sophomore Jonah Richardson (126) placed third and fourth, respectively, to qualify for the state tournament. Sophomore Michael Crisitello (138) also qualified for states, and senior Jack Island (170) returns after an injury-plagued junior campaign.
Oakland Mills has gone 7-4, 10-1, 10-1, 11-0 and 7-4 in Howard County over the last five seasons and expects another successful season this winter. Seniors Anthony Morales (182), Ernie Smith (195), Quan Dunscomb (126) and Dylan Watt (170) and junior Jalen Cornelius (120) all placed top-five at the county tournament and qualified for the state tournament last year. Senior Stone Richardson (160) is a two-time JV county champion and is expected to have a big season on the varsity level.
“We are a senior-loaded team with lots of leadership,” Scorpions coach Brad Howell said. “We will be very competitive with a lot of grit.”
Mt. Hebron reached the 3A state duals final last year and has gone 19-3 in county duals over the last two years, and although 11 seniors graduated last season and coach Dan Harman has a young squad, many county coaches believe the Vikings won’t fall too far — if at all — in the county standings. Coaches around the league have taken note of how many Mt. Hebron wrestlers competed throughout the offseason, which will jumpstart their development.
“[We have] a lot of quality rising sophomores, including about seven-to-nine kids that wrestled regularly in offseason. This team will grow over the course of the season and has the potential to be a postseason team,” Harman said. “We are excited about the young guys who are really buying into the program and putting in year-round work.”
Jason Kraisser (152/160), the two-time Howard County Wrestler of the Year and last year’s Baltimore Sun Wrestler of the Year, is set for his final high school season at Centennial, which graduated just two wrestlers and could have its best season in several years.
Kraisser is committed to join his brother Austin at Campbell University next year and enters the year ranked No. 15 in the country by InterMat. He is coming off his third consecutive county, region and state titles, and s state championship this season would make him the eighth wrestler in Maryland public school history to win four state championships, a list his older brother Nathan is already on.
“I expect big things from Jason, as usual, as he works to continue to make a name for himself,” Centennial coach Cliff Kraisser said.
Sophomore Chris Lee (106/113) and freshman Nick Shapiro (113/120) will also help the Eagles improve on last year’s 6-15 overall record.
Marriotts Ridge had high expectations for this season after going 18-6 and qualifying for the 2A South regional duals last year, but a myriad of injuries in the offseason have altered things. County and regional champion Austin Cestone will likely miss the season after breaking his hand on the gridiron this fall, and junior Ethan Bohan (132/138), a county finalist, regional champion and third-place finisher at the state tournament a year ago, is also slated to start the year on the sidelines.
Senior Austin Manwiler (120/126) is a returning county finalist and regional champion, and junior Will Vaxmonsky (145/152) won a region crown and took fourth in the state as a freshman.
Long Reach had one of its best seasons in school history last year by going 3-8 in county and 4-10 overall, and the Lightning will be competitive once again with a full lineup. Second year coach Jeff Taylor said there is growing confidence inside the wrestling room and the focus remains on recruiting and teaching fundamentals.
Junior Sam Levine (132) is the Lightning’s top wrestler and placed fourth at the county tournament a year ago.
Howard coach Daniel Carr believes his team will be much improved this season after going 4-16 overall in 2017-18. The Lions return 12 varsity starters, including junior Shayan Kassiri (145/152), who went 35-5 and was a county finalist last season. He expects to compete for a county title and a spot on the podium at the state tournament. Senior Ryan Keeley (138/145) and junior Trey Mitchell (106/113) are also back after qualifying for the regional tournament last year.
“Everybody is working hard right now to make sure we finish better than we did last year,” Carr said. “I think we can hang with some of the powerhouse teams better than we did last year. I definitely think we will win more duals than last year. I'm not sure we can bring home a county title just yet but we’re certainly trending upwards toward that direction.”
Reservoir has a young team this winter but expects to be much better than the 3-25 mark it posted a year ago. Junior Dylan Altman (220/285) has high expectations after placing third in the county, and junior Matt Sims (113/120) took fourth in the league and fifth in the region as a freshman.
“We have a young team, but we have hard workers,” Gators coach Andrew McIntrye said. “I think we are going to surprise a lot of teams after our bad season last year.”
Wilde Lake is building from the ground up this season and will have just two wrestlers competing at the varsity level — senior Sam Schmidt (106) and junior Victor Hartley (170). Wildecats coach Brian Henderson said the majority of the wrestlers in the room consist of first- and second-year wrestlers who are freshmen and sophomores. Getting the experience on the JV level is important to the development of the kids and program as a whole, Henderson said.
“We have a lot of guys in their first year trying to do it, and I don’t think it’s going to make an impact going out there against all the experience around Howard County and put them out there like that,” he added. “I just felt like it’s better that we start from the ground up and move the program forward as a whole. We have a lot of ninth and tenth graders, so I thought we should do it right and move them up through the ranks and allow the program to really grow that way.”
As for the lone private school in the county, Glenelg Country has about seven wrestlers and is also continuing its rebuild in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference. But the Dragons have some potential in senior transfer Tristan McKneely (145), who was a state qualifier last year at Sherwood, and his freshman brother Brennan McKneely (113). Sophomore Jylah Bah (220) had 23 wins as a freshman and junior Micah Gonzales (160) had a busy offseason on the mats.
Here’s a closer look at the 13 local wrestling teams:
2017-18 record: 7-4 county, 10-6 overall, fourth at county tournament
Coach: Bruce Lindblad, 29th season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Drew Pruett (120), Derek Noppinger (138) and Sean Billups (170); juniors David Panda (120) and Michael Altamarino (132); sophomore Peter Frazier (113).
Nonleague duals: at Century (Dec. 13), at Westminster (Jan. 26), vs. Tuscarora (Jan. 31).
Tournaments: Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills (Dec. 7-8), Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill (Jan. 4-5), Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 3-8, 6-15, eighth
Coach: Cliff Kraisser, sixth season
Top wrestlers: Senior Jason Kraisser (152/160); sophomore Chris Lee (106/113); freshman Nick Shapiro (113/120).
Nonleague duals: vs. Winters Mill (Dec. 13), at Loyola (Jan. 11), vs. C. Milton Wright (at Hammond, Jan. 26).
Tournaments: Mount Mat Madness at Mount Saint Joseph (Dec. 28-29), Battlin’ Baron Duals at B-CC (Jan. 4-5), Franklin Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 11-0, 22-1, first
Coach: Matt Bichner, sixth season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Jared Thomas (132/138), Sam Alsheimer (195), Jacob Jones (160) and Kevin Hansberger (120/126/132); junior Drew Sotka (170).
Nonleague duals: vs. Century (Dec. 20), at Dunbar (Jan. 3), vs. Archbishop Spalding (Feb. 2).
Tournaments: Bauerlein Duals at Manchester Valley (Dec. 14-15), Damascus Holiday Tournament at Damascus (Dec. 27-28), War on the Shore at Stephen Decatur (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 7-4, 32-6, fifth
Coach: Will Yeo, fourth season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Shehzan Dahya (106/113), Shamar Laing (152/160), Jordan Davis (170/182) and Loic Tueguo (220); juniors Brayan Arévalo Rios (120/126) and Kenneth Arévalo Rios (113/120).
Nonleague duals: vs. Liberty (Dec. 21), vs. C. Milton Wright (Jan. 26), at Southern-AA (Jan. 31).
Tournaments: Joppatowne Duals at Joppatowne (Dec. 15-16), Westminster Duals at Westminster (Dec. 27-28), Hammond Invitational at Hammond (Jan. 11-12).
2017-18 record: 3-8, 4-16, 10th
Coach: Daniel Carr, second season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Ryan Keeley (138/145), Ritchy Pierre (285) and Ritchie Hall (152/160); juniors Shayan Kassiri (145/152) and Trey Mitchell (106/113).
Nonleague duals: at Dulaney (Jan. 10), at Severna Park (Jan. 26), vs. Milford Mill (Jan. 31).
Tournaments: Mad Mats Tournament at Magruder (Dec. 7-8), Iron Horse Duals at C. Milton Wright (Jan. 4-5), Severna Park Scuffle at Severna Park (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 3-8, 4-10, 11th
Coach: Jeff Taylor, second season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Joshua Liu Trieu (145), Ien Saffer (152) and David Schlichtig (160); juniors Garrett Cioffi (120) and Sam Levine (132); sophomore Joseph Reilly (106).
Nonleague duals: vs. South Carroll (Jan. 26), vs. Glen Burnie (Feb. 6).
Tournaments: Francis Scott Key Tournament at Francis Scott Key (Dec. 27), Davidson Tournament at Randallstown (Jan. 4-5), Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 7-4, 18-6, seventh
Coach: Jason Conley, 14th season (22nd overall)
Top wrestlers: Seniors Austin Manwiller (120/126) and Stephen Alam (220); juniors Will Vaxmonsky (145/152), Ethan Bohan (132/138) and Kyle Wiggins (126/132); sophomore Jack Baxter (285).
Nonleague duals: vs. South Carroll (Dec. 10), vs. Manchester Valley (Jan. 22), vs. Liberty (Feb. 7).
Tournaments: Aberdeen Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 7-8), Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill (Jan. 4-5), Severna Park Scuffle at Severna Park (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 10-1, 23-4, second
Coach: Dan Harman, fourth season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Osman Rivas (160/170) and Jake Witlan (195/220); junior Bryce Kampert (145/152); sophomore Jack McGuire (113/120).
Nonleague duals: at Owings Mills (Dec. 13), vs. South River (Jan. 5), at Dulaney (Jan. 31).
Tournaments: Aberdeen Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 7-8), Franklin Invitational at Franklin (Jan. 18-19), Severna Park Scuffle at Severna Park (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 7-4, 11-8, third
Coach: Brad Howell, 22nd season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Anthony Morales (182), Ernie Smith (195), Quan Dunscomb (126), Dylan Watt (170) and Stone Richardson (160); junior Jalen Cornelius (120).
Nonleague duals: vs. Broadneck (Dec. 13), at Western Tech (Jan. 10), at North Hagerstown (Jan. 31).
Tournaments: Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills (Dec. 7-8), Battle at the Beach at Indian River, Del. (Dec. 27-28), SnOverlea Invitational at Overlea (Jan. 25-26).
2017-18 record: 1-10, 3-25, ninth
Coach: Andrew McIntyre, ninth season
Top wrestlers: Juniors Dylan Altman (220/285), Kaz Okamoto (132) and Darien Haghighat (138/145).
Nonleague duals: vs. South River (at Mt. Hebron), vs. Northeast-AA (Jan. 10), at Arundel (Jan. 26).
Tournaments: Aberdeen Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 7-8), South River Duals at South River (Dec. 28-29), Grapple at the Brook at Springbrook (Jan. 18-19).
2017-18 record: 7-4, 23-8, sixth
Coach: Kevin Cannon, fourth season
Top wrestlers: Seniors Will Henrickson (132), Eric Robinson (130) and Jack Island (170); sophomores Jonah Richardson (126) and Michael Crisitello (138).
Nonleague duals: vs. Chopticon (Dec. 13), vs. Northeast-AA (Jan. 15), vs. Century (Jan. 17).
Tournaments: Aberdeen Duals at Aberdeen (Dec. 7-8), Battlin’ Baron Duals at B-CC (Jan. 4-5), Hammond Invitational at Hammond (Jan. 11-12).
2017-18 record: 0-11, 0-21, 12th
Coach: Brian Henderson, second season
Top wrestlers: Senior Sam Schmidt (106); junior Victor Hartley (170).
Nonleague duals: None.
2017-18 record: 0-6 MIAA B, 1-26
Coach: Brandon Ballard, second season
Top wrestlers: Senior Tristan McNeely (145); junior Micah Gonzales (160); sophomore Jylah Bah (220); freshmen Brennan McKneely (113), Justin Bell (120) and Ryon Edwards (126).
Nonleague duals: vs. Meade (Jan. 7), vs. Glen Burnie (Jan. 14).
Tournaments: Ray Oliver Tournament at McDonogh (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), Keaser Classic at Glenelg Country (Dec. 7-8), Clash at the Colosseum at Frederick (Dec. 14-15), Mount Mat Madness at Mount Saint Joseph (Dec. 28-29), Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill (Jan. 4-5), Cougar Invitational at Mt. Carmel (Jan. 26).