- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
COLLEGE PARK — There were so many hugs and emotional embraces Saturday night involving Southern Maryland Athletic Conference wrestlers that the championship finals of the 44th annual state wrestling tournament seemed more like a family reunion at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House.
In many ways, that’s because the weekend gathering proved to be a family reunion of sorts for the SMAC as another state title was added to the Leadbeter, Margolis, Cannon and Lineberger families.
Meanwhile, the Hoffman family could finally exhale in relief while enjoying a first taste of state glory thanks to outlasting a highly familiar opponent, who seemed like one of their own.
It all added up to one of the most memorable showings for the SMAC at the state tournament, hosted for the 10th year inside Cole Field House.
With five state champions, all from the 4A-3A ranks, the SMAC matched its best output individually at states. The 2006 state tournament also saw a handful of SMAC talents win state titles.
Northern star seniors Brant Leadbeter and Eric Hoffman completed their high school careers with perfection as both eked out one-point wins in the championship finals to bask in the euphoria of reigning atop the state.
Leadbeter joined his older brother, Collin, as a back-to-back state champion by repeating his gold in the 113-pound bracket. Leadbeter captured the state title with a 5-4 win in the finals, ironically the same outcome as his victory in the state finals last year. Leadbeter’s brother repeated his state titles in 2006 and 2007.
“It’s awesome,” Leadbeter said after he leaped into the arms of his father, Mike, also a Northern assistant coach, when he clinched his 5-4 win in the state finals and a 39-0 unbeaten mark for the year. “I knew going in I’d have kids come after me just because I won it last year. I just kept my head on straight and went out there to wrestle like I normally do.”
He then added with a smile, “My brother can’t hold it over me anymore [that he’s the only back-to-back state champion in our family]. Not many people can say that their brother also holds two state titles.”
Hoffman was forced to beat someone that’s like a brother to him in close friend Anthony Cable, a La Plata junior rising star, as the 160-pound state finals featured an all-SMAC clash of familiar foes who grew up in the junior ranks together.
The top-ranked Hoffman finally claimed an elusive state title, just holding off a stiff challenge from Cable in a tight 1-0 decision.
The two met in the SMAC tournament and Class 4A-3A South Region tournament finals where Hoffman won by 5-0 and 4-0 decisions, respectively. Hoffman accurately predicted that he would see Cable in the regional and state finals after their matchup in the SMAC finals.
Hoffman, who finished as a Maryland runner-up his sophomore year, was a disappointing third last year as the state favorite at 145.
“It’s finally great to get the state title; it’s indescribable right now,” the Wyoming-bound Hoffman said after the putting the finishes touches on a 38-0 perfect campaign. “This is a relief and I’m celebrating. I’ve worked so hard for this, and I waited a whole year to get my redemption back.”
Northern falls short of team title
Northern, which qualified eight wrestlers for states and entered with hopes of winning its first Maryland title since 1994, only had its state-best two individual champions place on the podium.
Northern settled for third place with a SMAC-best 76 points behind champion Urbana of Frederick County (97.5) and River Hill of Howard County (89) in the 4A-3A tournament.
La Plata and Thomas Stone finished with identical fourth-place outputs of 54.5 points right behind Northern.
Huntingtown was ninth on the 4A-3A side with 50 points, paced by three state-placers in junior runner-up Dalonte Holland (285 pounds), senior third-place finisher Colton Rowe (152) and junior sixth-place finisher Colt Constantino (145).
Patuxent was the SMAC’s top school with a 12th-place total of 39 points in the 2A-1A tournament behind Winters Mill’s first-place total of 121. Winters Mill is in Carroll County.
Of the four SMAC schools on the 2A-1A side that included Calvert’s 42nd place (6 points), Patuxent was the only outfit to come away with any state-placers in senior Matt Gancayco (170), finishing third, and junior Connor Furst (138) in fifth.
Gancayco, hopeful of a second straight state title after winning at 145 a year ago, was the top-ranked 2A-1A wrestler at 170 entering states and pinned his way to the semifinals, where he absorbed a 4-2 loss to eventual champion Chase Cullison of Winters Mill.
That moved Gancayco to the consolation bracket where he won both his bouts via shutout decisions.
“It’s a lot of pressure when you’re the favorite when you’re in the semis, and I had the toughest guy in my bracket in the semis,” said Gancayco, who will wrestle at the next level for Princeton. “I like being the underdog usually. After the loss in the semis, there was a lot less pressure on me. I think I wrestled better after that match.”
Rowe also stomached a close loss in the semifinals, losing a two-point lead by yielding a takedown with 10 seconds left in regulation, en route to a 8-6 setback in overtime. The always-confident Rowe expected to claim the state title.
“My goal here was simple: win states. I fell short of that, just like in football,” Rowe said, alluding to his Huntingtown football team that suffered a close 18-14 loss to River Hill in the 3A state championship. “Right after football, I was crying on my coach’s shoulders. I wanted this [wrestling state title] just as bad, maybe even more.
“I can’t put [my state semifinals loss] on anybody else but me. It was me wrestling carelessly. It was all mental. Mentally, I was weak [in those final 10 seconds].”