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Region wrestling tournaments just seem to lack all the luster that is associated with the preceding conference gatherings and succeeding states stage at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, all three postseason levels occurring on consecutive weekends.
Region tournaments across the state get started tonight and conclude by Saturday evening.
For Southern Maryland Athletic Conference wrestlers, the league tournament is about boasting bona-fide bragging rights, being the one time each season all 13 teams comprising arguably the best conference in the state are together under one roof.
And of course the grand state tournament speaks for itself, as the lofty atmosphere of Cole Field House is the ultimate measurement of Maryland’s best wrestler in each weight class.
Plus, the SMAC and state tournaments utilize the 16-line, double-elimination bracket for each of the 14 weight classes — a format that many feel allows for all deserving wrestlers to be involved in the competitive field and is the best barometer for determining a champion.
The region tournaments utilize an eight-line bracket, with additional pigtail brackets in some weight classes that could allow for a few more wrestlers to fight for the top-eight seeds in each weight class. Opponents of the eight-line format believe deserving wrestlers are left out of regionals each postseason and thus have no chance to qualify for states.
The top four wrestlers of each weight class at regionals clinch berths into states.
So regionals may be without the familiarity among the wrestlers that drums up massive bragging rights associated with the conference tournaments, with nine of the SMAC teams compete in the Class 4A-3A South Region gathering that also includes 15 Prince George’s County programs, and the other four SMAC teams are in the 2A-1A South Region mix that includes six Prince George’s programs, four Howard County outfits, two representatives from Montgomery County and an Anne Arundel County club.
And regionals is hardly the stage that wrestlers and teams define their greatness by in comparison to states.
But this weekend’s tournaments are the doorways to unlocking the state dreams for wrestlers.
“You obviously want to place as high as you can at regionals to get a good seed [for next weekend’s state tournament],” said Chopticon senior Larry Cannon, the 145-pound SMAC champion and the top-seeded favorite at the 4A-3A South Region tournament. “[Doing well at regionals] places you in a good place to make a good run at states. I think that’s one of the hard things about [regionals] — staying relaxed because everybody is intent on the goal of winning a state title. And I think [regionals] is where a lot of wrestlers can mess up and get caught [in defeat].”
Another La Plata reign may end
The La Plata Warriors have won the last nine 4A-3A South Region titles, including a dramatic 1 1/2-point winning margin last year over North Point thanks to then-freshman Marty Margolis pulling off an improbable pin of the eventual state runner-up in Thomas Stone’s Wallace Smith at 106 pounds in the last finals match of the regional tournament.
Margolis is the region’s top seed at 120 this weekend, while Smith was derailed by an early-season injury that ended his year.
La Plata is not expected to continue its impressive streak of superiority this weekend after qualifying just six wrestlers for regionals and seeing its 10-year reign atop the SMAC tournament come to an end last weekend with a sixth-place finish.
Four SMAC teams have more qualifiers into the 4A-3A South Region than La Plata, with Huntingtown boasting a league-best 12, followed by North Point’s 11, Northern’s 10 and Thomas Stone’s eight. La Plata, North Point, Huntingtown and Northern were the SMAC’s elite quartet during the regular season.
In the wake of a dynamic showing to win the SMAC tournament with 217 points, 16 more than second-place North Point, Northern now enters the 4A-3A South Region tournament as the favorite. They sport SMAC bests with eight top-four seeds and three No. 1-seeded talents in the tournament.
“I feel this is one of the best teams we’ve had in a long time,” Hoffman said after he joined select company last weekend as a four-time SMAC champion. He’s the top-seeded favorite at 160 for this weekend’s regional tournament. “That builds up expectation that we could win a state title.”
North Point finished a tiebreaker short of claiming the regular season SMAC title and entered the league tournament as the favorite following a state duals semifinals finish for the second straight year.
But without any top seeds among its seven top-four seeded wrestlers, North Point must rely on its vast depth at regionals in search of its program’s first postseason non-duals tournament title.
“I think Northern would be the favorite coming into this weekend after their [SMAC] tournament last weekend,” North Point head coach Rich Pauole said. “I think it’s going to be a numbers game in how many guys you can get into the state tournament. That is our primary goal and if we do that, we might be able to win the [regional] tournament title. Right now, we are focused on our individuals. If they do fine, we will be fine.
“We do not want to qualify 11 guys [for states] and not have anyone on the state podium. That drives our guys more than anything.”
La Plata head coach John Pankhurst shares that same sentiment, his team more individually driven for this weekend’s regionals.
“Our primary team goals relate to dual meets,” the Warriors frontman said. “Once we’re past the duals playoffs, the focus shifts to the individuals performing to their potential and exceeding their past results. If guys do their best and perform well, the tourney score works itself out.”
He added, “Our inexperienced guys are learning, improving and making mistakes on varsity instead of JV right now for a number of reasons, but we turned a couple corners. It’s just too bad the year is coming to a close right now because some our kids are ready to jump levels. I think it speaks to how hard the guys battled that we found a way to win the dual meet [SMAC] championship.”
In the 2A-1A South Region tournament, Patuxent returns as the defending runner-up. With a SMAC-best three top seeds at regionals this weekend, Patuxent could very well find itself back into the contending mix.
Patuxent senior Matthew Gancayco, fresh off his SMAC title at 170 last weekend, is in pursuit of a second straight state title this postseason as the No. 1 regional seed in his weight bracket.