Montgomery County produced two champions in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 4A/3A state wrestling championships at the University of Maryland-College Park's Cole Field House on Saturday.
Winston Churchill's Hunter Sutton (138 pounds) won his second state title in as many seasons while Walter Johnson's Elad Covaliu capped his senior season with a title at the 182-pound weight class.
In the 182-pound championship, Covaliu was the aggressor against Urbana's Joe Rimel and won, 9-5, in a thrilling match.
Covaliu led Rimel, 5-3, entering the third period and Rimel escaped from the bottom position to make it 5-4. Following the escape, however, Covaliu took down Rimel in an awkward moment. It appeared Rimel thought the two were out of bounds and turned his back to Covaliu. There was no whistle, however, and Covaliu ran at Rimel and took him down. Following that mistake, Rimel appeared out of sorts in the final two minutes. Covaliu, a senior, recorded another takedown in the final seconds to secure his first state title.
“I've never wrestled anyone like him before,” Covaliu said. “I saw him on the edge of the mat and the officials started waving us back to the center and I guess [Rimel] thought we were out of bounds.”
Covaliu plans to attend Holy Cross next year to play football as a running back.
“We were really worried about Rimel's long reach so we stressed constant motion for Elad,” said Walter Johnson coach Tom Wheeler. “He was really motivated after losing [to Callender] in the county tournament. He worked as hard as I've ever seen that last two weeks.”
The Wildcats were Montgomery County's top team at the state tournament with 48 points and a 10th-place finish.
Covaliu — who placed second last year — won his first three matches by a combined score of 25-3 before becoming Walter Johnson's second state champion, the first since 1976. He easily dispatched of Chopticon's James Cannon in the semifinals, 8-1.
Sutton, meanwhile, already was familiar with the feeling of winning a championship as he downed DuVal's Antwan Reddick in the finals, 10-6. Sutton bombarded Reddick early to take an 8-3 lead after two periods. Despite a late escape and reversal by Reddick, Sutton maintained solid position throughout the third period and hung on to win.
“It's awesome,” said Sutton, who also won a state title last year as a freshman. “Last year, I was super excited and this year I was really happy, but I'm also preparing for bigger things, like Sophomore Nationals [in Virginia Beach].”
The sophomore with bleached blonde hair wrestled brilliantly throughout the two-day tournament and kept on pace to achieve his goal of winning four state titles.
“That's the goal,” Sutton said. “But [Reddick] was a lot tougher than I thought he was. I didn't see him at all during the year and didn't know anything about him. It was a good match.”
In the 170-pound final, Springbrook's Aaron Perez stayed with undefeated Thomas Stone junior Garrett Lineberger, but slowed in the third period and lost, 7-3. With the score tied at 2-2 and 48 seconds remaining, Lineberger scored a takedown and three-point near fall in rapid succession to take a 7-2 lead. Perez escaped, but couldn't do anything else en route to a second-place finish.
“He beat me fair and square,” Perez said. “I just wanted to prove I belong here. I had a real great tournament. It was an amazing experience.”
Perez earned pins in all three of his matches leading up the championship before the finals.
Walt Whitman's Brad Taylor won three close matches by a combined score of 10-4 to reach the finals, but Tuscarora's undefeated senior Austin Wenzlaff proved to be too much as Taylor lost, 12-2.
In the 120-pound semifinals, undefeated senior Eli Bienstock (Quince Orchard) was upset by Broadneck's Cameron Harrell, 3-2. Fans complained Harrell was stalling. The official gave a stalling warning to Harrell late in the third period, but it wasn't enough to warrant a point as Bienstock fell into the consolation bracket. In what some coaches anticipated might be the 120-pound championship match, Bienstock lost to DuVal's Thierno Diallo, 4-2, and finished in fourth. After breezing his way through the regular season undefeated and finishing his career with four Montgomery County titles and four 4A/3A West Region titles, the accomplished senior lost two of his final three scholastic matches.
After losing a heartbreaker in four overtimes against Eleanor Roosevelt's Tommie Boozer at 220, Wootton's Ralph Bernardo again worked overtime in the third-place match against River Hill's Jacob Benedict. The match went into the third overtime period where Bernardo recorded an escape with eight seconds remaining after Benedict did so in the second OT. In the ultimate tiebreaker period, Bernardo was on the bottom and escaped with nine seconds left to secure a third-place finish.
In two of his final three matches, Bernardo wrestled 14 periods and was dripping with sweat, sitting in a chair by the mat after beating Benedict.
“If we had gotten the coin flip [against Boozer], maybe things could have been different,” said Wootton coach Kevin O'Neil, whose team came in 14th with 37 points. “But I'm real proud of him. He did an awesome job.”
James Hubert Blake ended up with two third-place finishers. At 182, senior Edwin Callender downed Eleanor Roosevelt's Aburough Abegesah, 6-3, while 195-pound senior Will Sewell beat Walter Johnson's Tim Forline, 7-4.
“I'm really proud of the guys. All the credit goes to them. They wrestled hard,” said Blake coach Dustin Jeter, whose team placed 16th with 34 points. “We only brought a few guys, so to be able to say we have two third-place finishers, we're very happy.”
Bethesda Chevy-Chase's 138-pounder Charlie Banaszak finished third by downing Stephen Beam (Eastern Tech), 9-7, in a back-and-forth consolation bout.
Seneca Valley's Kellen Staten scored a takedown and a reversal with 10 seconds remaining in the third period to capture third place with a 5-1 victory against Towson's Jesse Garrett.
Walt Whitman heavyweight Josh Daryoush also finished third, rounding out a solid tournament for Montgomery County wrestlers as he beat North County's Lorenzo Maddox, 6-1.