As Old Mill wrestling enters the third decade of the 21st century, Jim Grim cemented his role as the Old Mill coach of the new millennium.
With his Patriots’ comeback victory over Chesapeake in the first dual of the Tuesday tri-meet at Southern High, Grim furthered his place as the winningest coach in Old Mill wrestling history with his 261st and his 262nd against Southern, unseating 22-year coach Mike Hampe, who had recorded 257 wins before retiring in 1998.
Grim carried 252 victories heading into the winter, but it didn’t take long to add a few more. The Patriots finished 8-0 at a tournament over the weekend; their sixth secured their coach’s place in history.
Grim is beyond certain that had Hampe, who had himself coached Grim, been able to take his teams to tournaments like Grim can, Hampe would have finished with 500 wins.
“Coach Hampe’s a mentor of mine, I still talk to him all the time, so he’s very proud of how Dave (Kim, assistant coach) and I have been to continue the tradition," Grim said. "Dave and I preach about that all the time – none of this was possible without him. When he alerted me of that (breaking the record), I said, ‘No, I didn’t. We did.’”
For seniors Nate Fleming and Stephen Nisewaner, there was no more satisfying feeling than helping ensure their coach made his mark in Old Mill wrestling lore. Nisewaner especially felt the happy burden, having grown up with Grim’s sons.
Fleming said, “It is one of the best feelings in the world to know that my coach has achieved the highest standard on where he’s at – and I know it’s not going to stop. The way he pushes us, since I’ve been a freshman, he told us Old Mill is that program. He’s held up that tradition for us.”
The Patriots ruled the tri-meet, closing out the night with a strong 60-17 finish over the host Bulldogs, who went winless as a team on Tuesday.
The sound of hands hitting the floor scored Old Mill’s victory lap. Five Patriots pinned Bulldogs, while Elijah Mills (120), Malik Wright (132), Caron Tull (145), Anthony Sola (152), Tristen Cole (182/195) and Nisewaner (285) each enjoyed unbeaten evenings.
With 10 wins in the bag, it’s near inconceivable to imagine Old Mill began the winter winless. After the youngest Patriots team of Grim’s 15 years dropped to Montgomery Blair on Thursday, the seniors drew their green teammates together and explained the already dire situation: if they lost another one, regional duals might be, unthinkably, out of the picture.
Of the Old Mill wrestlers that picked up wins over the weekend, many were those very same sophomores, eight of whom started for the Patriots on Tuesday.
“We had kids go up against Montgomery Blair and were out physical-ed. At Hagerstown Duals, they went ready to perform. They went bloodied, battered and just fought to the final whistle, until they got the pin. It was great. I love seeing the intensity," Nisewaner said.
It was as if all three programs were eyeing gold, silver and bronze county championship medals, weighing whose wrestlers would individually claim which several weeks down the road. Chesapeake, Southern and Old Mill flashed dominance against one another in the first two duals especially.
Four Chesapeake wrestlers flexed on Southern’s court – two shared the same name. While Chase Listorti dispatched both of his opponents by decision, Victor Listorti relished victories to the tune of the referee’s hand slapping the mat.
Listorti’s latter pin brought down Southern 160-pound senior Kaleb Neal, who had already earned a reputation for himself this winter over the weekend with eight wins and zero losses, including seven pins and a tech fall, and would go on to win later in the night.
“Victor just kept the momentum on him the whole time," Listorti said. "He was just looking for his opportunity and it finally came.”
Though the pair tied one another consistently though the first period and on to the second, Listorti had figured out how to wrangle Neal by the end. After nearly pinning the Bulldogs senior earlier, the Cougars junior picked up the fall towards the tail of the third.
“I wrestled Kaleb before, last year in countys, and he’s just a solid opponent," Listorti said. "I worked hard all practice, came out and got the W.”
Despite the individual victories, Tuesday’s performance – especially the defeat – left a lot on Cougars coach Randy Curtin’s honey-do list going forward.
“We are disappointed from the outcome of that match, but it’s still early in the season, so we’re going to move on," Curtin said. "There are so many things we need to work on after tonight and improve.”
Upper weights, including Fleming and Nisewaner, flipped a long-held Chesapeake lead late in the first dual on Tuesday, as back-to-back pins and victories in the final two weights secured the Old Mill victory, 35-28.
Old Mill expected Chesapeake would make for one of its most formidable opponents in the county this winter.
Those Cougars began to realize those fears on Tuesday night, but like any bad dream, the nightmare ended when Old Mill began to wake up.
The first of three duals had exposed some spots the Patriots needed to shore up.
Dylan Ritter set the tone for Chesapeake the minute he slipped onto Patriots 106-pounder Elias Clark’s back and corralled him at the edge as the final seconds of the third period ticked away.
Clark nearly carried a fragile one-point lead to the end, glancing back at the clock that, at 30 seconds, remained achingly too distant from victory. It left Ritter plenty of time to pick up the near fall, boosting his score by three, which he’d defend to a 12-9 decision – and an early Cougars jump on Old Mill, which Chesapeake furthered to 9-0 with a forfeited win in the 113.
The Patriots punched back as Mills managed a two-point decision at 120 in extra time, but the Cougars weren’t done. Right after 138-pound sophomore Owen Schmidt worked Jackson Cohenour down for a near fall, Cohenour flipped Schmidt around and smushed him to the mat for his own. At the start of the third period, it’d seemed that the Patriots, fresh off a decision win one weight class earlier, had begun its march to victory.
That is, until Schmidt corralled Cohenour at the center of floor, the referee dropped to the ground and declared the pin, the first of the night. As Schmidt, who’d go on to collect two pins, turned to the crowd to bellow out his win, Cohenour unclipped his headgear and slammed it to the ground.
Tull, just off his own success as a leading rusher for the Old Mill football team, made significant advances with his own major decision win in the 145.
“Caron’s a dog. You can’t tire that kid. It’s impossible," Grim said. "It’s something special; he’s an amazing, amazing person and when he finally puts everything together, he might be unstoppable.”
However, Tull’s win, coupled with Sola (152)’s three points, still wasn’t enough for the Patriots to catch up.
Before 170-pound DJ Hoover (also undefeated on Tuesday) retaliated with his own major decision (11-2), Victor Listorti, who himself impressed in the fall on the ground for the Chesapeake football team, showed his speed yet again as he steadily pinned last-minute switch Cameron Neal in the 160.
“We knew with that Chesapeake match, if we could bump 182, 195, I knew my big boys would get it done. I turned to Dave at one point, when things were getting really bleak, said, ‘Listen, we just got to get within 11 going into the final two, and we have a chance,'" Grim said.
Late swaps did then pay off for the Patriots. Jaden Venerable stepped in for Cole at 182 and made it worth his while as he thrashed Chesapeake’s Jason Whitfill to the floor for the fall.
Cole kindly paid his teammate back for the effort with his own pin, just one bout later.
With the Cougars’ once formidable lead whittled to just three points, the early-season victory rested on the shoulders of the big boys, Fleming (220) and Nisewaner (285).
They wouldn’t let their team down.
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