Tim Grover and his Montgomery Blair High School wrestling team are feeling empowered after winning 10 of their first 12 dual meets, finishing second at a prestigious event and defeating a pair of state powers so far during this young wrestling season.
The Blazers (10-2) were runners-up in the season-opening Scorpion Duals at Howard County’s Oakland Mills High School on Dec. 5, outlasting the home team, 43-24, but falling to the tournament’s title winner, Sparrows Point High School of Baltimore County. While the Blazers also lost to Class 2A West Regional Duals semifinalist Middletown, they defeated Old Mill, 36-30, on Dec. 6.
“We’ve been working real hard since last year with 26 of our kids going to summer camp,” Grover said. “Just about everyone was wrestling and lifting in the preseason. I’ve been really excited about this group for a while, and they’re all outstanding young men in addition to being tough wrestlers. We’re shooting for a state title; that’s the new normal at Montgomery Blair.”
The increased level of competition that Blair has faced and defeated so far this year has the group feeling confident about their state title dreams, the fourth-year coach said.
“Blair is here, and we’re here to dominate,” said senior Mervin Mancia, who competes at 285 pounds. “Beating those powerhouses was just our first step towards the state championship.”
Leading the way for the Blazers, who were Class 4A North Regional Duals runners-up last year, are Mancia and junior Brian McCaw (106) with identical 12-0 records. Mancia is a returning third-place regional finisher with six pins, and McCaw, a fourth-place regional place winner with five pins and one technical fall.
The Blazers are balanced throughout their lineup, with sophomores Elias Chen (195) and Holden DuBois (113) at 11-1 and 9-1, respectively, seniors Junior Kim (145) and Shalom Ayivi (170) at 10-2 and 8-1, and senior Jason Kaplan (160) at 8-4.
“I believe that our team is one of the best, if not the best conditioned team in the state. Coach Grover and the rest of the coaching staff push us hard day in and day out. When it comes to match time, that shows,” said McCaw.
“Big matches are won by the team with the most endurance as well as the most heart, of which I feel our team has both. Coupled with a great returning lineup and a bunch of experienced starters, that makes us a huge force on the mat leading to big wins over big programs.”
Blair’s success is happening on the heels of a pair of losses by a few of the county’s strongest wrestling teams as both Damascus and Springbrook were unsuccessful in their meet appearances on Dec. 14.
The “Swarmin’ Hornets” lost twice in one day at The Warriors Duals at La Plata High School in Charles County, ending Maryland’s longest-ever winning streak – and the third-longest all time – at 182. They went 26-0 last year to win their seventh straight state duals crown following two consecutive 25-0 seasons, and were 4-0 before losing, 40-33, to Virginia Power Great Bridge High School and falling, 37-30, to South River.
On the same day, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School ended the Blue Devils’ 19-match winning streak, 41-22. Springbrook went 25-1 a year ago, with the only loss coming against Damascus, 39-17. In their previous encounter against the Blazers last season, the Blue Devils won 43-27, in the regional duals finals.
Given those results, the Blazers believe they have established themselves among the county’s, if not, one of the state’s top teams.
“We might not have all the ranked wrestlers, but we sure do have the heart and will to beat teams ranked higher than us,” said Mancia. “We’re climbing the stairs towards the ultimate goal and there’s a lot to improve on, but we’ll get there.”