If there was any doubt that Glenelg wasn’t the best wrestling team this year in what was a wild Howard County season, it was put to rest on Saturday at the 49th annual Howard County wrestling championships at Mt. Hebron.
The Gladiators had three champions and won their third straight title and seventh overall with 227 points. They outpaced the host Vikings (185 points), who edged Oakland Mills (183) for second. Atholton (163.5), Hammond (161), River Hill (158.5) and Marriotts Ridge (151.5) were all separated by just 12 points, while Centennial (86.5), Reservoir (84), Howard (54), Long Reach (34) and Wilde Lake (14) followed.
It’s the first time since River Hill won five straight titles from 2000 to 2004 that any county team has won three straight tournament titles.
“The county is tough. I’m proud of the way we competed,” Glenelg coach Matt Bichner said. “We had five guys in the finals and four in the consolation finals, so those nine guys are going to regionals. We got a lot of guys get pins and get bonus points, so it was nice.
“Ten years ago it was really Hammond, Oakland Mills, River Hill. Those teams are still tough but it’s good that we’re building a solid foundation. Three years in a row is pretty impressive.”
Gladiators junior Sam Alsheimer won his second straight county title at 182 pounds, pinning River Hill’s Zach Wasilewski in 2 minutes, 42 seconds in the final. While the victory came easy for Alsheimer, his journey back to the mat certainly wasn’t.
Alsheimer (11-1) broke his leg in Glenelg’s first football game of the season against Howard on Sept. 2 and had two major surgeries — the first to insert a rod. He didn’t compete again until Jan. 18 and admits he’s still not 100 percent healthy, but it was enough to roll through his bracket.
“Coming back after watching my teammates in football all year kept me amped up the whole time, and I’ve been looking forward to this moment and these three [postseason] tournaments,” Alsheimer said.
He was in the hospital for two weeks, couldn’t walk for another two or three weeks, was on crutches for a several months and walked with a limp just a month ago when he took to the mat again. Alsheimer said there were doubts about whether he would be able to compete at all this season.
“You don’t really need to sprint in wrestling thankfully, so I’m not having too much of a problem right now, but I feel like I’m still not back all the way yet,” he said. “Hopefully I can peak at states.”
His teammate Jacob Jones also won his second straight title for the Gladiators. The junior, in his third trip to the finals, beat Oakland Mills’ Anthony Morales via major decision, 15-4, for the 160-pound title.
Jones (34-4) trailed Morales, 2-1, after the first period but exploded to score nine points in the second period. The defending regional champion said he hopes he can use this win to springboard him toward bigger things at the state tournament, where he is currently the favorite to win the 1A/2A state title based on his state ranking (fourth overall, first in 1A/2A).
Jared Thomas (34-2) was the other Gladiators’ county champion, but his chance to wrestle in the final was dashed when his opponent, Marriotts Ridge’s Brett Gladstone, was forced to medically forfeit the 132-pound championship.
While Glenelg ran away with the team title, River Hill junior Will Henrickson ran away with the Glenn L. Devane Outstanding Wrestler award. The newcomer from Colorado made a huge statement, defeating defending county champion, four-time finalist and three-time state finalist Kyle Farace of Oakland Mills, 8-7, to win the 126-pound title.
His victory wasn’t easy, though. Henrickson secured three takedowns and held a 6-4 advantage heading into the third period but admitted that he underestimated Farace’s signature cross-face cradle, which he immediately went to when he got his first opportunity on top.
Farace quickly locked up a cradle early in the third and had Henrickson on his back for nearly a minute, but Henrickson managed to avoid the fall and seconds later rolled through another cradle attempt to get a reversal to re-take the lead with 25 seconds left.
“I just went out there super calm and went out there and just opened up,” said Henrickson, who improved to 20-2 since coming to Maryland in the first week of January. “What was going through my head was I’ve got to keep one shoulder off the mat. He’s a beast with that cradle and I heard a lot of stuff about him on top and that was my main focus going in.”
Henrickson said he’s surprised at what he has accomplished so far in Maryland, but he also hails from a state that takes pride in high school wrestling. He was one win away from placing at the Colorado state tournament last year, and now he has his sights set on standing high on the podium at the Maryland 1A/2A state tournament in two weeks.
“Colorado is a really tough state, so coming here to Maryland it’s just a different style of wrestling,” he said. “Colorado is really big on their feet and Maryland, I can tell their mat wrestling is really strong. My game plan is to kind of work on my feet and see what I can get on my feet.”
Centennial junior Jason Kraisser became the 36th Howard County wrestler to win at least three county titles and he is on pace to become the 11th to win four, a list that his brothers Nathan (2012) and Austin (2016) are the most recent to join.
Kraisser held a 2-0 lead after the first period but didn’t need much more time as he pinned Atholton’s Stephen Frazier with a cradle in 2:18 in the 145-pound championship.
“It’s another stepping stone in my journey,” he said. “Of course it’s a great achievement, but at the same time I’ve always got to set higher goals. Once you’ve attained it you’ve always got to keep looking up and get better and don’t hang on these kinds of things.”
The three-time county champion now has his focus on winning his third regional and state title in three years.
“You’ve got to really appreciate the sport,” said Kraisser, who improved to 32-0 on the year and is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the country by Intermat. “This is the time where you’ve really got to start enjoying the sport and it’s a lot of fun to me personally. I love to express myself and express my feelings on the mat and just go out and wrestle. It’s the sport I love and I like to go out there and show others.”
Kraisser’s teammate, Eagles senior Jacob Blyukher, made the most of his second straight trip to the county finals. He dominated from start to finish to defeat Howard sophomore Shayan Kassiri, 10-0, in the 138-pound final.
Blyukher (28-4) said he was determined to show out in the postseason after falling short of qualifying for the state tournament last year.
“That was really disappointing, especially after making the county finals [last year],” he said. “That was basically the whole motivation for me to wrestle in the summer and come back and win counties. ... I got fourth, third and second, so I was looking for that No. 1 spot.”
Blyukher also credited Kraisser for helping him get to this point. He said he’s learned the importance of continuing to build on a lead and to never let up at any point in a match.
“He taught me a lot. He took me to another level,” Blyukher said.
Mt. Hebron crowned a pair of champions — seniors Yahir Lemus and Nick Nordhausen.
Lemus, the No. 3 seed, knocked off a defending county champion, Kevin Hansberger of Glenelg, in the semifinals and then took down the No. 1 seed Ethan Bohan of Marriotts Ridge, 5-3, in overtime in the 120-pound final. Lemus finished a sweep single halfway through the extra session.
“I was just thinking that I’m more conditioned, I’ve put in more time and I’m going keep going at it,” said Lemus, who improved to 28-6. “... This means a lot. I’ve put in a lot of years.”
Nordhausen was upset in the semifinals as the No. 1 seed a year ago but entered this year’s tournament determined to take it one step at a time. He pinned all three of his opponents, including Hammond’s Justin Andrews in 4:47 in the heavyweight final with a headlock.
“I knew I couldn’t take anything for granted. I had to go out there and wrestle my match,” said Nordhausen, who improved his season record to 36-1. “There’s no match tomorrow, so wrestle at my pace, work hard on top and do the things I know I can do to win. I was focused.”
Atholton had five finalists and, like Glenelg, had three champions.
Junior Sean Billups (170) kept his undefeated record in tact by winning a rematch of last year’s county final against Glenelg’s Max Sotka. Billups lost to Sotka twice last year in the postseason but has now defeated the state finalist twice this season, the first an 8-6 overtime win in early December and this time winning a commanding 7-1 decision.
At 27-0, Billups stands alongside Kraisser as the only county wrestlers with a perfect record.
“[Winning by a score of 7-1] just tells me I’ve got to keep going, no breaks, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “This match really helps with my mindset. I kept my mind on the prize, was winning and not breaking down. I kept my momentum up.”
Billups said he wanted to prove that his first victory over Sotka early in the year wasn’t a fluke. He was determined to improve his margin of victory.
“I’ve been putting in the work and going all out,” he said. “I know I have a target on my back but I’m here to stay and here to get better.”
Raiders’ Drew Pruett moved to 29-1 and won the 106-pound title via forfeit after his opponent, Marriotts Ridge’s Austin Manwiller, failed to make weight on the second day. Pruett also had a forfeit in the quarterfinals and competed just once in the tournament, a first-period pin in the semifinals.
Much like the Centennial duo of Kraisser and Blyukher, Atholton sophomore David Panda credits his more experienced teammate for taking his game to the next level. Panda upended the No. 1 seed and defending county champion, Logan Gwin of Glenelg, 8-3, to win the 113-pound championship.
Panda never stepped on a wrestling mat before his freshman year but looked like a veteran in the final. Tied at two, he earned a reversal and two near-fall points midway through the second period to take a 6-2 lead that he never relinquished. He said training with Pruett, who has years of wrestling experience, is one of the main reasons he’s a league champion.
“He’s really helped me out,” said Panda, who improved to 18-5. “I just never give up during a match. I always feel energized. ... I was nervous until the second period, but then I realized I can beat him so I started going all out.”
Hammond had its first county champion since 2015 in Loic Tueguo, who took down defending county champion Miles Easterling of Atholton in overtime to win the 220-pound title. Tueguo (36-4) took Easterling down to his back in the extra session and won by fall in 6:23.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “It’s like everything I’ve wanted it to be. I don’t even know what to say. It’s been a lot of hard work to get here and I’m really proud of myself.”
Reservoir senior Todd Del Tufo said it’s been a long time coming after winning the 152-pound title against Mt. Hebron’s Ali Pender. He reached the county finals and won a regional title as a freshman but failed to get back to the county final the last two seasons.
Del Tufo made the most of his final chance, as he took down the No. 1 seed, 3-2, in the ultimate tiebreaker. He rode out Pender for the entirety of the final 30-second period.
“This is huge,” said Del Tufo, who is 31-4 on the year. “This is my senior year so it’s all I’ve been thinking about — win counties, win regions and make it to states. It’s the first step, so I’m happy with that.”
Marriotts Ridge crowned his its fifth-ever county champion, as Austin Cestone dominated River Hill’s Alex Wasilewski to win the 195-pound title. Cestone used his unorthodox style to build a huge lead before winning by fall in 3:00.
“A lot times when I go out there I don’t have a game plan at all. My coach doesn’t like that at all,” said Cestone, who improved his season record to 42-1. “I usually just wait for them to do something and my instincts just kick in and I go from there. I rely on my strength, too. I just have fun with it. I know it’s difficult to do what I do.”
106: Drew Pruett (A) fft. Austin Manwiller (MR)
Semifinals: No. 1 seed Drew Pruett (A) pinned No. 5 Shehzan Dayha (Ha), 1:57
No. 6 Austin Manwiller (MR) dec. No. 2 Eric Robinson (RH), 7-6
3rd place: Eric Robinson (RH) pinned Shehzan Dahya (Ha), 4:39
113: David Panda (A) dec. Logan Gwin (G), 8-2
Semifinals: No. 1 Logan Gwin (G) dec. No. 4 Jonah Richardson (RH), 14-11
No. 3 David Panda (A) dec. No. 2 Jalen Cornelius (OM), 11-5
3rd place: Jonah Richardson (RH) pinned Kenneth Arevalo Rios (Ha), 4:04
120: Yahir Lemus (MH) dec. Ethan Bohan (MR), 5-3 OT
Semifinals: No. 1 Ethan Bohan (MR) pinned No. 4 Brayan Rios (Ha), 3:32
No. 3 Yahir Lemus (MH) dec. No. 2 Kevin Hansberger (G), 3-2
3rd place: Kevin Hansberger (G) dec. Sam Levine (LR), 8-2)
126: Will Henrickson (RH) dec. Kyle Farace (OM), 8-7
Semifinals: No. 1 Kyle Farace (OM) pinned No. 4 John Lian (Ha), 0:43
No. 3 Will Henrickson (RH) pinned No. 2 Brad Foote (Ho), 0:28
3rd place: Brad Foote (Ho) dec. John Lian (Ha), 9-6)
132: Jared Thomas (G) fft. Brett Gladstone (MR)
Semifinals: No. 1 Jared Thomas (G) pinned No. 5 Adam Scherr (MH). 2:45
No. 2 Brett Gladstone (MR) dec. No. 6 Quan Dunscomb (OM), 7-3
3rd place: Quan Dunscomb (OM) pinned Adam Scherr (MH), 4:13
138: Jacob Blyukher (C) major dec. Shayan Kassiri (Ho), 10-0
Semifinals: No. 1 Jacob Blyukher (C) major dec. No. 5 Bryce Kampert (MH), 9-0
No. 2 Shayan Kassiri (Ho) major dec. No. 6 Ian Gwin (G), 14-1
3rd place: Ian Gwin (G) pinned Bryce Kampert (MH), 2:41
145: Jason Kraisser (C) pinned Stephen Frazier (A), 2:18
Semifinals: No. 1 Jason Kraisser (C) pinned No. 4 Jake Fratta (MR), 0:41
No. 2 Stephen Frazier (A) dec. No. 3 Jamison Hulbert (MH), 5-0
3rd place: Jamison Hulbert (MH) major dec. Jake Fratta (MR), 9-0
152: Todd Del Tufo (Re) dec. Ali Pender (MH), 3-2 UTB
Semifinals: No. 1 Ali Pender (MH) major dec. No. 4 Dylan Watt (OM), 13-4
No. 2 Todd Del Tufo (Re) dec. No. 3 Drew Sotka (G), 6-1
3rd place: Drew Sotka (G) dec. Dylan Watt (OM), 1-0
160: Jacob Jones (G) major dec. Anthony Morales (OM), 15-4
Semifinals: No. 1 Jacob Jones (G) major dec. No. 4 Kevin Childress (Ha), 14-1
No. 2 Anthony Morales (OM) dec. No. 3 Justin Hooper (MR), 11-9
3rd place: Justin Hooper (MR) pinned Kevin Childress (Ha), 0:57
170: Sean Billups (A) dec. Max Sotka (G), 7-1
Semifinals: No. 1 Sean Billups (A) pinned No. 4 Rocco DelPo (OM), 1:51
No. 2 Max Sotka (G) dec. No. 3 Jordan Davis (Ha), 4-3
3rd place: Jordan Davis (Ha) pinned Rocco DelPo (OM), 2:16
182: Sam Alsheimer (G) pinned Zach Wasilewski (RH), 2:42
Semifinals: No. 1 Sam Alsheimer (G) major dec. No. 4 Tyler Walters (Ha), 13-2
No. 2 Zach Wasilewski (RH) dec. No. 3 Mulbah Kamara (OM), 3-1
3rd place: Tyler Walters (Ha) dec. Mulbah Kamara (OM), 3-1 OT
195: Austin Cestone (MR) pinned Alex Wasilewski (RH), 3:00
Semifinals: No. 1 Austin Cestone (MR) pinned No. 5 Jake Witlin (MH), 1:01
No. 3 Alex Wasilewski (RH) dec. No. 2 Ernie Smith (OM), 3-1
3rd place: Ernie Smith (OM) pinned Jake Witlin (MH), 2:29
220: Loic Tueguo (Ha) pinned Miles Easterling (A), 6:23
Semifinals: No. 1 Loic Tueguo (Ha) pinned No. 5 Jack Baxter (MR), 2:40
No. 2 Miles Easterling (A) pinned No. 3 Robbie Baxter (G), 3:38
3rd place: Dylan Altman (Re) pinned Robbie Baxter (G), 1:58
285: Nick Nordhausen (MH) pinned Justin Andrews (Ha), 4:47
Semifinals: No. 1 Nick Nordhausen (MH) pinned No. 4 Dante Hooker (OM), 1:55
No. 2 Justin Andrews (Ha) dec. No. 3 Kai Uecker (RH), 8-5
3rd place: Kai Uecker (RH) pinned Dante Hooker (OM), 1:46