Cavaliers win the battle of bonus points to claim victory

by Billy Loverocket

Owings Mills wrestling has a long and storied history as one of the state’s perennial powers, but the Eagles took a downward turn following the retirement of legendary coach Guy Pritzker. The new regime, however, now has the Eagles moving back in the right direction.

The first leg of an upgraded schedule played out Thursday evening at Archbishop Spalding, as the host Cavaliers racked up more bonus points than the Eagles to walk away with a 37-33 victory. Both squads won seven matches and the dual prove worthy of the hype.

Shawn Girch manned the helm at Owings Mills as the new age dawned and Solomon Carr has been a mainstay. Eventually Ryan Mackin came along as an assistant coach and, this year, Mackin has taken over the head coaching duties. His first order of business was to put together one of the toughest schedules of any public-school team. In addition to Thursday’s match, Owings Mills heads to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for a Holiday Tournament, and will face McDonogh in January.

“I’m never, ever, ever gonna be accused of being smart or soft,” Mackin said. “If I’m stupid for doing it, it doesn’t matter. These kids will be tougher at the end (of the season). What do people remember? They’re gonna look back at this in ten years, and they’re gonna remember coming to Archbishop Spalding and going toe-to-toe with a private school powerhouse. They’re going to remember going to Bethlehem and wrestling there. They’re going to remember these trips and that’s the stuff that builds camaraderie.”

The Cavaliers opened with a 12-0 lead and would never trail in the dual meet. Back-to-back falls from John Gibbs (106) and Brady Pruett (113) set the table for the home team.

Owings Mills showed it wasn’t going to roll over though, winning the next two bouts to pull within one, at 12-11. Abdulaziz Burkhanov picked up a fall at 120 followed by 2A/1A state champion, Alex Dufour, running up a technical-fall over Andre Allen, 18-1, at 126lbs.

The teams would trade wins over the next four matches starting with Spalding’s highly touted freshman Joe Fisk, registering a first period fall against Azimjohn Jurakulov, 1:35.

Owings Mills’ Phil Smith, the last-year’s VSN Light-weight Wrestler of the Year works during his 4-3 win over Spalding’s Rick Couch, at 138.

This set the stage for the first of two marquee battles on the card. Owings Mills’ undefeated state champion, Phil Smith (No. 1 at 138 in the Maryland State Rankings), squared off with three-time state placer Rick Couch (No. 6). The tight bout swung on a third-period reversal that resulted in four points, which would be good enough for a 4-3 victory.

“I didn’t wrestle that well,” Smith remarked. “I let him tie me up and keep me from using my speed and outside shots. He did that very well. On bottom, I guess I was the superior guy, I got a reversal and back (points).”

Even though a potential move up or down a weight class in the dual may have resulted in bonus points, the move to face Couch continued a trend of going after the toughest wrestler around his weight class that Smith and the coaching staff started last season.

“I just looked at it as another wrestling match,” Smith added. “I don’t worry about rankings and stuff like that. If a guy is good and he’s near my weight class I go after him, if I have to cut weight or go up a weight class, it doesn’t matter. I like to go after every good guy. Make sure my name is known out there.”

No. 4 Nick Paolucci put the Cavaliers back in the win column at 145 with a workmanlike major-decision, 14-4, over one of the Eagles’ promising up and comers, Dre’yon Eure. Randallstown transfer, Machiavelli Amaya (No. 15 at 152), matched Paolucci’s major-decision, and 10-point margin, with a 17-7 victory over Caleb Zaruba, to add four points to Owings Mills’ total. Alex Gregory then received a forfeit for the home squad at 160.

Garrett Fisk (No. 2 at 152) and Roell Ngounou (No. 1 at 160) clashed at 170 in what was arguably the most anticipated matchup of the dual. The two grapplers spent most of the match on their feet with both managing a lone escape until Fisk got a third-period takedown to go up 3-1. Ngounou would escape, but was not able to score again, as he fell 3-2 to Fisk.

“I just wanted to keep attacking and it ended up working out,” Fisk explained. “I got a single and drove him in and was able to get the takedown. I have some work to do but I think by the year end tournaments and National Preps I will be able to improve on my season. Win some big matches. Just like that one.”

Mackin has seen his athlete handle adversity before and come out better because of it.

“Roell, it’s gonna take him a month or so to start clicking. It’s gonna take a couple of these battles like that. It’s all gonna payoff at the end. He’s been there before where he almost got tech-falled by a very, very good wrestler (Damascus’ John Allan Furgeson at last year’s state duals), then three weeks later (at the individual state tournament), he’s pinning him one time and dominating him the other time. That’s what we care about. We don’t remember that state duals match. We remember how he finished.”

The finish of this match started to look like a forgone conclusion after Fisk’s win pushed the team score to 31-18 in favor of Spalding.

No. 10 Diondre Space picked up an unexpected fall at 182 to breath life back into the Eagles’ victory hopes. Tyler Savage (No .6 at 160) made the big bump up in weight and actually held a 5-2 lead at the conclusion of the first period. Space turned it up in the second frame though and put four on the board before planting Savage at the 3:14 mark.

With the score now at 31-24 this set up a match at 195 that would either keep the Eagles alive or seal the deal for Spalding. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Spalding’s Max Werking was not only able to fight off his back in the third period, but in doing so, he put Azeez Onigbanjo on his back to tally the pin and the win for the Cavaliers. At 37-24, the win was mathematically secured with just two weight remaining.

Owings Mills won the final bouts as Bobo Taiwo collected a forfeit at 220 and Daniel Olorundare ended the match with a decision at heavyweight to make the final score, 37-33.

“I was happy with a lot of the kids,” said Spalding coach Mike Laidley. “We bumped up a little bit, like Tyler (Savage) bumpin’ up. He weighs 63, he wrestled an 82lber. But we had to because we had (Dustin) Radford out of the lineup tonight. We made the calls.

“Obviously, it worked out. I wish the kids could have wrestled their weights but we had to cover. We had a couple holes, there’s three kids out of the lineup right now because of (weight) descension and injury. So, when they get back, we’ll feel a lot stronger. We’ll only have one hole this year, so I’m pretty excited about it. We’re looking forward to a good year.”

Mackin also expressed satisfaction.

“They wrestled really well,” Mackin continued. “They were the better team. It’s obvious. I honestly feel that it wasn’t as close as the score showed. They’re missing some key players, we’re missing one. There’s nothing that you can really stack up and say, ‘Oh, if this would have happened, or that would’ve happened.’ They really showed up to wrestle and defend their house. Our guys are a tough group of kids. They will bounce back.”

While the memory of the result won’t be endearing, seeing his team compete hard in his head coaching debut had Mackin brimming with pride and dropping jokes in his usual manner.

“I’m excited, it’s cool,” he said. “I started my coaching career 16 years ago. I guess they ran out of people to give a head coaching job to, so they settled with me finally. I think they were just jealous of how good looking I am. That’s probably what the big deal was. Now they just don’t mind anymore so they’re letting part-time models be coaches, not just teachers in the building.”

Archbishop Spalding is one of the few private school powers that regularly schedule public schools for dual meets. Laidley said he liked the idea of this matchup and others with public schools.

“Coach Mackin is a great coach. He asked if we could have the match. I know they have some good kids on the team. You know, we love it. We always try to schedule Old Mill, but it never works out. We have Arundel next Friday night. I like it. I like for the kids to see both sides, public and private school. We also see each other in some of the big tournaments so I like it.”

Pictured above: Spalding Garret Fisk (left) works a single leg during his 3-2 win over Owings Mills’ Roell Ngounou in their match at 170.

Archbishop Spalding 37, Owings Mills 33
(match started at 106)
106-John Gibbs (AS) pinned Jaylon McDonald, 2:29
113-Brady Pruett (AS) pinned Damen Tiller, 1:32
120-Abdulaziz Burkhanov (OWM) pinned Gabe Foster, 3:05
126-Alex Dufour (OWM) tech-fall Andre Allen, 18-1
132-Joe Fisk (AS) pinned Azimjohn Jurakulov, 1:35
138-Phil Smith (OWM) dec Rick Couch, 4-3
145-Nick Paolucci (AS) maj-dec Dre’yon Eure, 14-4
152-Machiavelli Amaya (OWM) maj-dec Caleb Zaruba, 17-7
160-Alex Gregory (AS) won by forfeit
170-Garrett Fisk (AS) dec Roell Ngounou, 3-2
182-Diondre Space (OWM) pinned Tyler Savage, 3:14
195-Max Werking (AS) pinned Azeez Onigbanjo, 5:03
220-Bobo Taiwo (OWM) won by forfeit
285-Daniel Olorundare (OWM) dec Chase Lusk, 3-1