There were plenty of reasons to doubt Delante Henderson-Feist’s chances of winning last weekend’s 285-pound Class 4A-3A North Regional title.
The undersized and inexperienced Wheaton senior only started wrestling as a junior “to try something new,” compiling a record of 22-12 at 220 pounds before missing weight at the county tournament and eliminating himself from the postseason.
This wrestling season didn’t get off to a great start either for Henderson-Feist, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound football linebacker, running back and tight end who was forced to wear a cast for two months after suffering a broken right hand in the last regular season game of 2016 against Watkins Mill.
Cleared to wrestle three weeks before the County tournament after having the cast removed and beginning rehabilitation, Henderson-Feist entered with a 3-0 record (all forfeits), being pinned in 3:37 of his first bout by Springbrook’s Jesse Turcios.
But the 17-year-old overcame his inauspicious start, decking three of his next four opponents toward earning a required sixth-place finish and a berth into the regionals at Sherwood High School.
“Coming back from the injury and wrestling in my first county tournament, I was nervous at first,” said Henderson-Feist. “But then I was frustrated because I felt I could have done much better. Once my coach told me I’m going to regionals, I just pushed myself even harder.”
A more confident Henderson-Feist turned up the heat at regionals, pinning three of four opponents, including Churchill sophomore Alec Velikanov at 3:13 of their title bout.
The victory avenged an earlier loss for Henderson-Feist, earning him a No. 1 seed in Friday and Saturday’s Class 4A-3A state tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.
But were it not for his pinning Sajed Abdelmomin of Damascus at counties to overcome a 7-3 deficit, Henderson-Feist would have failed even to reach the fifth-sixth bout against Velikanov, who pinned him in 4:34 for fifth place.
“Delante had to beat the Damascus kid in order to place at counties and get to regions,” said Coach Kolawole Marville of Wheaton. “After that, he had to place in the top four at regionals to get to states. They were lofty goals, but Delante was dedicated. He bought in and he believed.”
After winning his regional pigtail match in 1:49 against Rockville’s Ryan Nguyen, Henderson-Feist earned a quarterfinal upset fall in 4:48 over Clarksburg’s Daniel Oh, winner of the previous weekend’s county championship match 6-4 in overtime against Walter Johnson’s Leo Saucedo.
Henderson-Feist won a semifinal dogfight 14-12 over Sherwood’s Greg Claver to earn his return bout against Velikanov and, ultimately, redemption. Claver was coming off of a 5-2 victory over Turcios, a 3-2 winner of his county quarterfinal bout against Velikanov.
“I was on my back at one point in the semifinals against Claver, but I was determined not to get pinned,” said Henderson-Feist, who improved to 10-2 with six pins. “The Churchill kid was the biggest kid. He beat me at counties, and I wanted that back. After missing counties last year, it’s a dream come true to be going to states.”
In doing so, Henderson-Feist turned the 285-pound county tournament results upside down at regions. Henderson-Feist went from sixth in the county to first in the region, Velikanov from fifth to second, Saucedo from second to third, and Oluwatosin Aroyewun of Bethesda-Chevy Chase from third to fifth.
Oh went 0-2, being eliminated after losing 6-3 to Turcios. A fourth-place county finisher, Turcios was subsequently pinned by Saucedo and Aroyewun – the latter for fifth in the region.
Saucedo was a 3-2 overtime loser of his championship semifinal against Velikanov but earned third-place with 9-4 decision over Claver, who was coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over Aroyewun.
Claver placed fourth at regions after having gone 1-2 at counties, and Turcios was sixth after being fourth at counties.
Henderson-Feist benefits from workouts against Marville assistants Mike and Tim Mallet, the latter of whom was a county and regional runner-up as a Wheaton High senior in 2014.
“Winning regionals is something that I never expected,” said Henderson-Feist, who will face South Hagerstown’s Shawn King-Pombo (36-4) in the first round of the state tournament.
“I was nervous to go at 285 at first because I had never done it before, but what I’ve learned is that you should never doubt yourself because you’ll never know what you’re capable of.”