- The Enterprise
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In many ways, the Cannon brothers have become the royal family of Southern Maryland Athletic Conference wrestling.
There are a multitude of them — 11 brothers to be exact — and just about all of them are involved in the sport as highly regarded talents. Four have already gone through the high school ranks at Chopticon and graduated as standouts.
But for the stockpile of tournament titles claimed by the Cannons at the SMAC and regional levels, the state crown has mostly eluded this royal family with only one brother reigning atop the podium of his weight class at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House. That was the oldest Cannon, Michael, in 2005 when he captured the 145-pound state title as Maryland’s top-ranked wrestler that year.
Since then, three more Cannon brothers ended their careers short of state gold, including second-oldest Sam and fourth-oldest James.
In 2010, third-oldest brother Stephen was expected to at least advance to the state finals as a 152-pound senior with a perfect record and No. 2 Maryland ranking entering the tournament. But he bowed out of championship contention on Friday’s Day 1 of state competition that year and was eliminated in the consolation bracket before having a chance to even place. Both his losses were by heartbreaking overtime decisions.
At 2:30 p.m. today, the 44th annual state wrestling tournament commences for the Class 4A-3A and 2A-1A fields with the preliminary rounds. This is the 10th year the grandiose atmosphere of Cole Field House has hosted the gathering, which concludes Saturday with the 6:30 p.m. championship finals.
The fifth-oldest Cannon brother, Larry, is hopeful of restoring state superiority to his family’s name.
Not only does he compare his wrestling mentality mostly to Michael and Stephen of his four older brothers, Larry also can relate to them as being a favorite entering the state tournament.
The 145-pound senior is the top-ranked 4A-3A wrestler in the state and is coming off dominant SMAC and South Region titles.
“Anything can happen, especially at that level, so it’s definitely a little bit of pressure but it’s just going to make me want to wrestle smarter,” Larry said about states after winning his regional title with Michael supporting him in the stands. “If [I can’t make a certain move], don’t do anything stupid and get thrown on my back. I have to stay smart.”
SMAC gunning for state glory
Cannon is among five top-ranked SMAC talents in the state that are heavy favorites in their brackets to come away with a Maryland title.
The others are Northern seniors Brant Leadbeter (113) and Eric Hoffman (160) along with Thomas Stone senior Garrett Lineberger (182) in the 4A-3A mix, joined by Patuxent senior Matthew Gancayco (170) on the 2A-1A side.
Leadbeter, Lineberger and Gancayco are all reigning state champions.
In the process, Leadbeter, Hoffman and Lineberger are attempting to protect perfect records this year at states.
Should all five live up to their billing, the SMAC would tie its most decorated championship showing at states from 2006.
Last year, the SMAC had six top-ranked wrestlers with four of them accomplishing Maryland gold.
“It’s all mental when you go to states,” said Lineberger, the epitome of dominance this postseason with none of his SMAC or region tournament bouts being closer than a technical fall.
Given the lofty expectations of Leadbeter and Hoffman combined with having a robust eight wrestlers in the state tournament, Northern is among the 4A-3A favorites to capture its second Maryland team championship in program history. The first occurred in 1994.
“Eight guys are definitely enough to win this tournament,” Hoffman confidently said. “Hopefully, we get a [team] state title out of all these eight kids and get bonus points out of every kid.”
But Hoffman understands nothing can be taken for granted at states, no matter how imposing a perfect record and top ranking can be. He settled for a disappointing third place last year at states at 145 after entering as an elite contender. He was a state runner-up two years ago and finished third as a freshman.
“There’s a great chance [we win the state title],” Hoffman added. “It’s going to be a great feeling as a senior.”
Northern head coach Matt Smith added, “There are a lot of good teams out there [in the state] but we feel we’re one of them at this point. We’re hoping to be in the [state-title] race. We always thought we were a better tournament team than we got credit for. Particularly at this point in the season, I knew we had some components that bode well for the postseason.”
The SMAC has others with legitimate chances of making a deep states run in Chopticon junior Jarrett Arnold (106), La Plata sophomore Marty Margolis (120) and senior John Papanicolas (126), Huntingtown senior Colton Rowe (152) and Northern sophomore Scott Cross and senior Cliff Armentrout (285) in the 4A-3A ranks with Patuxent Connor Furst (138) and Lackey junior Mike Laury (195) on the 2A-1A circuit.
And there is always the chance the SMAC could provide the state’s unexpected dark horse among its 48 state-qualifying wrestlers between the 4A-3A and 2A-1A fields, like Leonardtown senior Martez Allen in 2010 when he won the 152 state title that Stephen Cannon had his sights on.
Allen seemingly came out of nowhere as a wrestler who was just supposed to be enjoying life as a state qualifier before his captivating Cinderella run.