- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
LAUREL — All the winning by the Northern Patriots the last two weekends during the tournament portion of wrestling’s postseason can actually be traced back to a duals loss in the regular season.
Northern’s heart-wrenching 34-33 shortcoming at La Plata on Jan. 15, which saw the Patriots get pinned during a pivotal toss-up bout while failing to capitalize in critical situations, proved costly as it kept the team from qualifying for the exclusive regional duals to kick-start the postseason. La Plata went on to win the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference regular season title and compete in regional duals.
“We’re still feeding off the loss from La Plata,” Northern head coach Matt Smith disclosed. “We had to do some real soul-searching after that moment. We’ve really had to refocus since then, and that’s the beginning of the roll that we’ve been on.”
The soul-searching has made a perfect team out of Northern, winning its final six regular season matches and thriving during the postseason’s tournament action.
Saturday, for the second straight weekend, Northern was in celebration mode — this latest time after capturing the championship of the Class 4A-3A South Region tournament with 160.5 points at Laurel High School.
Northern boasted regional bests of four individual champions and eight qualifiers for the state tournament this upcoming weekend at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House in College Park. The Patriots will be looking for the impressive tournament sweep this postseason at states after also capturing the SMAC tournament crown on Feb. 16.
Parkdale turned heads by finishing runner-up at the regional tournament with 136 points thanks to a regional-best 10 place-finishers and a quality seven state berths.
SMAC titans Huntingtown (118), North Point (97.5) and La Plata (91.5) rounded out the top-five at the regional gathering.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Smith said after his team paraded onto the mat with its championship hardware. “It was carrying over from last week [at the SMAC tournament]. We’ve been wrestling very well, and hopefully it’ll translate next week [at states] as well.”
Northern’s postseason emergence has returned the favor to La Plata from the regular season. La Plata’s dynastic reigns of 10 straight titles at the SMAC tournament and nine consecutive titles at the regional tournament are now over.
“I hate losing. It’s just the worst,” Northern senior heavyweight Armentrout said of the mantra that is working for him and his team this postseason. “I think we have a good chance to win states.”
Armentrout was joined by seniors Brant Leadbeter (113 pounds) and Eric Hoffman (160) along with sophomore Scott Cross (220) as Northern’s regional champions. The same foursome also stood atop the podium of their respective brackets at the SMAC tournament.
“We were confident coming in here. We got every bonus point out of every match,” Hoffman said after edging his familiar SMAC rival in La Plata’s Anthony Cable, 4-0, in the regional final. “I guess this [regional tournament title] redeems us for [not making regional duals].”
Other region champs
The SMAC’s other regional champions in the 4A-3A South included Chopticon junior Jarrett Arnold (106) and senior Larry Cannon (145), La Plata sophomore Marty Margolis (120), North Point junior Tyler Morgan (132), Huntingtown senior Colton Rowe (152) and Stone’s Garrett Lineberger (182). Each also won SMAC titles seven days earlier.
The only SMAC champion who did not attain regional gold was La Plata senior John Papanicolas (126), the state’s top-ranked wrestler. He was upset by Stone’s Tanner Saluter in the quarterfinals, 5-1, and then just eked out a 6-3 decision in the loser’s bracket to make the consolation final and qualify for states, finished third at regionals.
North Point qualified six wrestlers for states, while Huntingtown and La Plata each are sending five. Stone and Leonardtown, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively, at the regional tournament, each qualified four for states. And Chopticon has both its wrestlers headed to states.
“I’m pretty excited for myself. That kid [I defeated in the regional finals] was ranked higher than me,” Arnold said of edging High Point’s Denis Robles-Gomez, 7-6, in the regional final. “It’s really exciting right now. Going to school and seeing our friends, and [our team] has two guys, [Cannon and me], that are placing first in all these tournaments right now.”
Cannon added after his 9-2 regional finals win over the same standout opponent in Huntingtown junior Colt Constantino that he pinned in the SMAC finals, “It’s hard to beat someone over and over and over again. I wanted to wrestle him really smart and not do anything to get caught or something stupid. That happens when you wrestle people over and over again. I definitely sensed he was going to wrestle a lot smarter [than the SMAC finals] and not open up so easy, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Cannon, like Leadbeter, Hoffman and Lineberger, are the top-ranked wrestlers in the state and are favored to come away with Maryland titles given their momentum.
Arnold, Margolis, Morgan, Rowe, and Armentrout are also elite contenders in their state brackets, as is Papanicolas.
“I’m wrestling pretty good, probably the best I have all season,” Morgan said after his 15-0 technical fall romp in the regional finals. “Working all season, going to other [non-school] practices on Sundays and to my practices after school helps a lot.”
There was not near as much cause for celebration for Morgan’s North Point team, which slid from SMAC tournament runner-up to fourth place at the regional tournament. This is the same North Point team which won regional duals for the second straight year earlier this postseason and entered the SMAC tournament with hopes of making the run that Northern is on.
“It’s kind of a little bit disappointing,” Morgan added about his team’s finish over the weekend. “All in all, I think we did pretty good. Northern is a tough team to beat.”
North Point would have won last year’s regional tournament if not for Margolis pulling off a dramatic pin in the last finals bout to keep La Plata’s title run going at nine years. Margolis was just a 106-pound freshman then when he became a cult hero for La Plata and its fan base.
Margolis continued building upon his accomplished resume with another regional title Saturday but this time, it was not nearly enough for his team’s sake.
“It does [stink],” Margolis said about his team’s streak of regional tournament titles coming to an end. “It’s not surprising. We knew weren’t as deep as some of the other teams. We only had six [regional] qualifiers, and we pushed five of them through to states.”
Rowe was the only regional champion who did not have to wrestle in the finals. His opponent, Jonathan Jones of Eleanor Roosevelt of Prince George’s County, injury-defaulted out of the bout.
“It matters, I wish I would’ve wrestled [in the regional finals],” Rowe said. “I need to get all the mat time I can get in before states. It’s a big thing because you’ve got to see different wrestlers.”