When La Plata’s wrestling team finished up at Linganore High School following the 2011 state duals, it left with the program’s third Class 4A-3A state championship in a six-season span, while the team also recorded a pair of state runner-up finishes during that timeframe.
In the years since, the Warriors never sank to less-than-competitive depths, but had not qualified for the state duals since that last state championship.
That changed on Wednesday night, as La Plata defeated Lackey 58-12 in the 2A South Region duals final. The Warriors will wrestle in the 2A state duals semifinals at noon at North Point.
“It’s been [nine] years since we got a regional title,” said La Plata’s Max Hayes. “I feel great knowing I’ve been part of the team and helped us get here. I remember my freshman year thinking, ‘I’m just going to wrestle four years and it won’t really ever amount to much.’ We went to regions every single year and never won it, but now that we actually won it it feels really good.”
La Plata (16-0) actually dropped the opening bout in its regional championship showdown with Lackey (9-6), but then ripped off seven straight wins — four coming by fall and one by forfeit — to effectively tie up the program’s ninth regional dual title.
“I think it was big. It was the last home meet for us,” said La Plata’s 132-pounder Gabe Jackson, one of the team’s seniors. “We have [the SMAC tournament] here, but as a team I think this was very important for us. We get to have SMAC and regions on the banner forever now. That meant a lot to a lot of us.”
After Earlie Harris took the 113-pound match by fall for the Chargers, Brandon Lee (120 pounds) and Koda DeAtley (126) produced back-to-back pins for La Plata. Jackson won by forfeit at 132 before Tyler Plourde won by major decision at 138. Hayes won by fall at 145, as did Owen Butler at 152 before Jason Mohler took a major decision at 160 to push the Warriors’ lead to 37-6.
“Beforehand I was just sitting there praying nonstop,” Hayes said of his match. “I was really nervous, just like any other time, but this was regional finals. I was really feeling it. I went out there and felt confident because last time I saw him I beat him. I walked out there, hit my first shot, took him down and locked up a cradle. ... Overall, it went really well.”
Cameron Stuart broke up the string with a pin for Lackey at 170, but the Warriors closed out the night with five straight wins. Jake Szalapski’s decision at 182 sealed it for the hosts, while Nate Lednum (195), Quentin Dibble (220), Wayne Johnson (285) and Mason Winkler (106) followed with wins to cap what was a dominant showing for the top-seeded La Plata squad.
“It was kind of scary at the beginning, but we really did pull through,” Dibble said. “That was amazing. I’m very proud of us.”
La Plata earned its spot on the final by virtue of a 66-11 win over fourth-seeded Patuxent (5-10) in the semifinals. Second-seeded Lackey took care of business on the adjacent mat against third-seeded Frederick Douglass of Prince George’s County (8-7) by a 51-25 count to set up the matchup of Charles County rivals in the final.
Though the night ended in an undesired fashion for the Chargers, reaching the regional final was an accomplishment in and of itself for the team after an inauspicious start to the season which saw the group struggling through the first month of the season.
“We were going towards the end of December and our dual meet record was 1-5,” Lackey head coach Brandon Paulin said. “To be able to win seven straight to make it here was great in itself. Then to go in against Douglass and we did exactly what we needed to. We wrestled hard, got six where we could get six and didn’t give up bonus points.
“That was the same goal against La Plata. Obviously it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. We lost some matches I think we could have won. That’s tough, but we’ll bounce back. We have another week and then we’ll hit it hard for SMAC and maybe see some of these same matchups again.”
Not everyone was able to wrestle a match for La Plata in its semifinal as Patuxent forfeited a handful of weight classes, but La Plata head coach John Pankhurst thought his team kept its collective mind on the goal throughout Wednesday night’s action.
“Patuxent is missing a couple of weights so not everybody got that first match to get going, but I feel like they had a pretty good edge about them. They were pretty focused,” he said. “I try to tell them to stoke the fire. Next kid add on and build it up for the following guy to create some momentum. They did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
La Plata dealt with its fair share of injuries throughout the season, making the journey to the regional title a rather arduous road. But finally healthy, Pankhurst hopes the team is able to take a big swing at the mighty challenge presented at the state duals on Saturday.
“If we can keep our focus and stay healthy and continue to get a little bit better, we’ll see how we can finish up here,” he said. “But today was good. Today was important and they performed as they are capable. I’m appreciative of that.”
SMAC teams fall in 3A South
Second-seeded Huntingtown fell to top-seeded Chesapeake 58-12 in the 3A South Region duals final at Chesapeake High School in Anne Arundel County.
The Hurricanes, who had reached the state duals in five of the previous six years, defeated third-seeded North Point 55-19 in the semifinals to earn the chance to wrestle for another shot at a state duals title.
Fourth-seeded Northern lost to Chesapeake 39-30 in the other semifinal.