Glenelg made a statement Thursday and Friday at the Damascus Holiday Tournament by crowning a tournament-high five champions and outpacing Williamsport and six-time defending state duals champion Damascus for the team title.
All five Gladiators competing for championships won in their respective finals matches: senior Kevin Hansberger (126 pounds), senior and defending state champion Jared Thomas (138), senior Jacob Jones (160), junior Drew Sotka (170) and senior and returning state finalist Sam Alsheimer (195). It was enough to score 144 team points, 34 more than Williamsport and 35.5 more than rival Damascus, which is riding a 156-match winning streak and has beaten Glenelg for the state duals tournament title the last two seasons.
Good Counsel (91.5) and Poolesville (89.5) rounded out the top five. South Carroll placed seventh with 66.5 points and freshman Ryan Athey (106) was the only other local champion.
“We’re in Damascus’ house, they beat us in the finals the last two years and that was our motivation, to show them what we’re capable of when we hopefully see them again in February,” Sotka said.
“It’s always good to come into Damascus’ gym. They have a good tournament and they always do well. It kind of sets the bar for where we’re at for the season,” Glenelg coach Matt Bichner said. “... I hope this lights a fire and keeps guys motivated.”
Alsheimer was the first Glenelg winner of the day and made his finals victory over Good Counsel’s Drew Brenowski look easy. He jumped out an early 4-0 lead and eventually held a 9-1 advantage before finishing off an 11-5 win. Alsheimer, who finished the two-day tournament undefeated and has just one loss on the season, pinned Brenowski in the pool round on Friday.
“It feels great. I was a little late getting back into wrestling [after the football season], so I feel like I’m starting to get into the swing of things here and getting into top shape,” he said.
Hansberger’s victory was arguably the highlight of the round for the Gladiators. He was the only one to square off against a Swarmin’ Hornets grappler in the final and upset last year’s 106 pound state finalist Michael Emerick. Hansberger scored seven unanswered points to overcome a 6-5 deficit and win 12-6.
He said his confidence is much improved this season after placing third at the county and regional tournaments and sixth at the state tournament a year ago. The victory against Emerick pushed Hansberger’s season record to 21-0.
“I wanted to be aggressive and wrestle the whole six minutes and find a way so the next time we wrestle, he remembers who I am and they remember our whole team,” said Hansberger, who won the 120-pound title last season. “I want us to be known as hammers and that’s what our coach wants us to be known for. I try to take that to heart.”
Jones and Sotka lost to their respective finals opponents in the pool round on Friday but bounced back when it mattered most. Jones needed just 59 seconds to pin Williamsport’s Nate Anderson, while Sotka escaped with about 30 seconds left to break a 7-7 tie and beat Good Counsel’s Avery Miller by a point.
“I wrestled terrible yesterday but I had to get it back,” said Jones, who is 18-3 on the season. “Coach has been telling us to get more confident and wrestle the way we know how to wrestle.”
Like Hansberger, Sotka said he has a renewed confidence this season. He admits that he paid too much attention to the rankings last year and struggled mentally against opponents that were ranked higher. That thought no longer enters his mind.
“I don’t let that bother me,” Sotka said. “I just go out there and do the best I can do, give the most effort I can. I just try to win the match, which is what happened.”
Thomas also remained undefeated on the season with a tight 5-4 victory over Elijah White of Mountain View (Va.). White, a fourth-place finisher at the 5A Virginia state tournament last season, earned the first takedown and held a 4-3 advantage in the third period before Thomas rallied with a third-period takedown of his own.
Thomas, who also won the tournament last year at 132 pounds, said sweeping the final round was about proving a point to Damascus.
“We’re here and we’re ready to go,” he said. “... It was a lot of bonus points in the quarters and semis to catch up in the team score. But seeing Damascus in third is really bittersweet. It gives us confidence.”
Athey, meanwhile, was the Cavaliers’ lone champion and Steven Dahl (152) finished runner-up. He defeated Bullis’ Tallion Elliot, 4-3, in the final to capture his first tournament title of his career. Athey beat Elliot, 6-1, in the pool round on Friday but had never beaten him prior to that in junior league.
“It means a lot. It shows all the hard work I’ve put in is really paying off. He beat me like four of five times in junior league, so it’s really big,” he said. “It’s really awesome to see.”
Two other Glenelg wrestlers placed in the top four — Massimo Conti (220) finished third and Griffin Doyle (285) took fourth — while South Carroll’s Pat Quinn (285) got third and Jake Rippeon (132) placed fourth.