BETHESDA – Walter Johnson High School senior Jacob Bernstein has continually transformed calamity into success.
After failing to place at a major tournament as a sophomore, Bernstein finished third at counties and second at both regions and Class 4A-3A states as a junior last season.
Primed to begin his final year following an active offseason of wrestling, Bernstein “shattered” his nose in a late-September, non-school practice, and, subsequently, broke his right fibula bone “by the ankle” in late-October.
“Coming back from states, where he was a spectator as a sophomore, I remember him saying, ‘I’m gonna do whatever it takes to be there [at states] next year,’” said Geary FitzPatrick, the Wildcats’ former coach and now an assistant to Brian Frantz.
“Jacob has a real passion for the sport, and he’s returned to the lineup sooner than we had expected that he would,” FitzPatrick added. “Jacob has faced a lot of hurdles, but he’s continued to overcome them.”
Since returning to the Wildcats’ lineup in mid-January, Bernstein has gone 10-0, with five pins at 138 pounds. Bernstein’s first competition of the season was the Jan. 18-19 Best of he Nest Tournament at Baltimore County’s Kenwood High, where he went 7-0 with three pins.
Although Springbrook (18-1) dominated Walter Johnson (64-12) and Kennedy (70-6) in their Jan. 26 tri-meet at Walter Johnson, Bernstein took only 78 seconds to finish off his opponent from the victorious Blue Devils.
“The mask is gone now, and the nose and ankle are OK,” said Bernstein, who spent the offseason competing for Team Maryland in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
Bernstein had been wearing a protective mask after his first injury and continued after he fractured his ankle.
Bernstein went 36-8 last year, being a regional and Class 4A-3A state runner-up during a season in which he lost to state champion Ryan McLaughlin of Damascus on the way to placing third at counties, and to Linganore’s state champion Earl Blake.
As a sophomore, Bernstein was 0-1 at counties, and, 1-2 at regionals.
“I called it one of the most-meteoric rises from one year to another, especially considering it was coming from a wrestler in the lower weights. Jacob was an eighth-seeded regional qualifier in the 2016-2017 season. He lost two matches at regions to end that season,” said Robert Yi, a former assistant at Rockville, Clarksburg, B-CC and Walter Johnson.
“I coached Jacob’s brother [Josh] as an assistant at Walter Johnson. I met Jacob when their Mom brought him to WJ matches to see his brother wrestle…To go from there to the 4A West Regional final and to reach the 4A-3A state final the following year was unheard of. [One could argue] that if wasn’t against two-time state champion Earl Blake both times, he would have won both the regional and state titles.”
During last year’s county semifinals, Bernstein lateral-dropped McLaughlin and nearly pinned him before being decked himself in the second period.
“I threw him to his back, he got up, then I took him down again and I was up, I think, 7-2, going into the second period. He got me on my back and was able to pin me toward the end of the second. That was a heartbreaker,” said Bernstein. “I felt like I wrestled scared too much [against Blake] instead of treating it like just another match. I should have been treating him like any other opponent and just wrestled my match. No matter who it is, I’ve gotta be ready to go to war with anyone.”
Meanwhile, the Springbrook-Kennedy-Walter Johnson tri-meet, the Blue Devils of coach Rob Whittles received two pins each from Grayson Wendel (113), Sayfore Sieh (132) and Edwin Peralta (152), with both Matthew Kilby (126) and Richard Nguyen (160) pinning once with a major decision win.
Against Walter Johnson, the Blue Devils also received falls from Pierre Jean (120), Jean Mehul (145), Sahid Antar (170), Anthony Gomez (182) and Aimrick Nya (285).
The Blue Devils were coming off a victory in their own Jan. 18-19 in the Grapple at The Brook Tournament, being crowned for the second straight time in the event’s 21-year history.
The tournament triumph followed a non-divisional 41-25 victory over Bethesda-Chevy Chase on Jan. 16 as the Blue Devils (15-1) bounced back from a 39-24 loss to county champion Damascus on Jan. 12.
In other action over the course of Jan. 25, defending Interstate Athletic Conference champion Landon swept its quad meet, as the Bears handled St. James (78-6), Severn (60-19) and Wilson (69-9).
Seniors Axel Giron (126) and Jelani Machen (182) won all three matches, as did seniors Jonny Gherman (160) and Miles Tonkel (220). Senior Patrick Townsend (120) was 2-1 for the Bears, whose seniors were honored by their parents on “Senior Night.”
A former state runner-up at Parkdale as a sophomore, Giron earned his 154th, 155th and 156th career wins, moving one victory ahead of former state runner-up Brendon Gallagher, who re-established a record before graduating last spring.
In addition, the Bears’ overall dual-meet mark of 18-5 has surpassed last year’s 16-victory campaign, setting a new single-season school record.
During a 57-24 victory by Sherwood over Wootton on Jan. 23, the losing team’s sophomore Liau twins, Eric (113) and Jason (120) pinned the Holda twins, juniors Brandon (113) and Brady (120).
Liau won 30 matches last season and was a regional runner-up a week after being third at counties. Brandon Holda was fourth at counties, and Brady was a runner-up in last year’s junior varsity tournament.
In a 45-18 loss to Clarksburg on Jan. 26, Jason Liau earned a 5-4 decision over Alex Gonzalez, a sophomore who was fourth at counties and fifth at regions last season.