Highlights from the 2016 Mount Mat Madness wrestling tournament Dec. 30 at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore. (Tim Schwartz/Baltimore Sun video)
It was New Jersey's Blair Academy versus the field at the 13th annual Mount Mat Madness wrestling tournament at Mount Saint Joseph on Thursday and Friday.
The nation's consensus No. 1 team dominated the competition in its first appearance in the event with 10 champions and 354 points, 161.5 more than the runner-up and defending champion Gaels. The Bucs, who are two-time defending National Preps tournament champions, had 13 place-winners and all 10 of their finalists won.
"I know that there's a couple prep schools that we don't typically see through our schedule and the National Preps tournament is really important to us," said Blair Academy coach Brian Antonelli, who wrestled for two years at McDonogh School and graduated in 1992. "If we get to see these guys a little bit earlier, that's good for us."
Though no Baltimore metro area wrestlers were crowned champions at the tournament for the first time, five reached the finals.
No. 1 Mount Saint Joseph had four wrestlers — Chris Barnabae (106 pounds), Neil Schuster (160), Justin Henry (170) and David Schultz (182) — finish in second place. Three lost to wrestlers from Blair Academy. Loyola Blakefield's Dominick Reyes (152) also lost in the finals to a Blair Academy grappler. The No. 7 Dons finished in eighth place with 99 points.
"You always shoot for first place, but realistically it was Blair against the rest of the field and our objective was to finish as high as we possibly could, and our guys wrestled to their ability," Gaels coach Harry Barnabae said. "I think they rose to the occasion considering the level of competition. These weight classes were deep. We're happy with where we finished, but there's room for improvement."
A pair of defending public school state champions — Arundel senior Nathan Gainey (120) and Centennial sophomore Jason Kraisser (138) — placed third after falling in semifinal bouts. Last year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament runner-up, Archbishop Curley heavyweight Vinnie Shaffer, and defending MIAA and MIS tournament champion Shawn Orem (132) of Mount Saint Joseph also finished in third place.
Chris Barnabae fell to Nick Incontrera, 17-3, and Schuster, a defending MIAA champion, lost 7-4 to Andrew Merola. But Harry Barnabae was pleased with their performance against opponents from Blair Academy.
"Chris is just a freshman and he works hard and he keeps improving every week and seeing how he develops toward the end of the season going into states," Harry Barnabae said. "Neil had a phenomenal match. All these Blair kids are top kids in the country and to keep a match that close is exciting. Neil has worked extremely hard and he's well-prepared. We'll see these guys again at the end of the year."
Henry, meanwhile, lost a 5-0 decision to Blair Academy's Leo Tarantino and Schultz, a defending public school state champion last year for Linganore, was pinned in 1 minute, 16 seconds by Queen of Peace (N.J.) grappler Dominic Mainiero.
"We have eight freshmen or sophomores starting on our team and Justin is one of those sophomores. Every week, they're all working to improve. He got a Blair kid in the finals and went after him. You didn't see him backing down," Harry Barnabae said. "For David, that was one of the biggest 182-pounders I have ever seen in my life. He got caught, but you can't have mistakes at this level. He had a great tournament overall."
Reyes, meanwhile, lost a 12-3 major decision to Blair Academy's Julian Ramirez, who is ranked No. 2 in the country by Flowrestling.
"I just came out to compete. First or second, I just wanted to do my best," Reyes said. "I'm happy with my performance. There was probably a little more I could have did and after the match I thought about it, but I'm happy with it."
Gainey won his third-place match, 11-6, after losing a 5-1 decision in the semifinals. He said he hopes to be able to learn from his defeat and use it to spark another run at a state championship.
"I really enjoyed the tournament," Gainey said. "It was a challenge for me because we don't really have a lot of tough tournaments. I wanted to come out strong because I started the season out a little rough, but I think I performed really well."
Kraisser dropped a 14-2 major decision in the semifinals to eventual champion Malcolm Robinson, who won the outstanding wrestler award after defeating three-time Maryland public school state champion Danny Bertoni of Middletown in the final. But Kraisser bounced back with a dominant performance in the consolation final, avenging a 2015 Mount Mat Madness defeat to Gilman's Braeden Alevizatos with a 9-0 major decision victory.
"I kind of had a little flair because of that loss from last year and I really wanted this match and wanted the rematch against him," Kraisser said. "I got it and I think I wrestled really well. I was proud of the way I wrestled and I'm pleased with my aggression the whole time."
Shaffer, an MIAA tournament runner-up last year, lost a 3-2 semifinal match to eventual champion Thomas Gates of Georgetown Prep, but upended a Blair Academy wrestler, 7-2, in the consolation final. Orem was upset in the quarterfinals but defeated the same opponent, 2-1, in the third-place match.
In the team race, Gilman placed 17th with 59 points and Archbishop Curley finished 18th with 52 points, while Arundel and Centennial finished tied for 22nd with 34 points. Severn came in 25th with 27 points, Pallotti had 18 points to finish in 28th place and Calvert Hall came in 30th with 13 points.
Mount Saint Joseph's Austin Stith (195) and Keagan Rill (220) placed fourth and Colby Scharf (113) finished seventh. Dons Jason Litvak (182) and Dominic Dintino (145) finished in eighth place, while Josh Aybar (132) took seventh.
Three Gilman grapplers — Cole Brown (132), Jake Brummett (195) and Jeremy Cranston (170) placed eighth and Archbishop Curley's Josh Laubach (160) took sixth. Pallotti's Jared Butler (126) finished seventh and Centennial's Vernon Batson (220) placed eighth.