Damascus High School senior Dennis Creegan has spent the majority of his life as a passionate fan or member of the Swarmin' Hornets wrestling team.
So when he defeated Winston Churchill senior Jake Sutton, 5-3, on Saturday to win the 145-pound weight class at the 50th annual Montgomery County Public School Wrestling Tournament, he fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“I can't believe I finally did it,” said Creegan, who has had several relatives wrestle for Damascus. “I've been staring at the wall in the [wrestling] room with all the names [of past champions] on it since I was 6 years old. I've pictured all the letters in my mind and what it would look like to have my name painted on it. It is all reality now.”
The victory also proved to be the deciding match that secured the team title for Damascus with 165 points. Teammate Mikey Macklin was the runner-up at 106 pounds and eight other Swarmin' Hornets placed sixth or better.
Thomas S. Wootton trailed by 12 points entering the championship round and placed a tournament-high five wrestlers in the finals, but finished second with 157 points. Springbrook (131.5), Col. Zadok Magruder (106.5) and Walter Johnson (104.5) rounded out the top five.
Immediately after the referee raised Creegan's hand, the senior sprinted off the mat, out of Montgomery Blair's gymnasium and down the hallway where he let out a celebratory scream. Moments later, he shared an emotional embrace with his father and assistant coach, Jim Creegan.
“There is no better way I could've imagined this,” said Dennis Creegan, whose team endured three rebuilding seasons after Hall of Fame coach Dave Hopkins retired. “To bring Damascus officially back to the top of the tournament that we won seven times in a row at one point is the perfect ending for me.”
Wootton's Austin Tritto (106) and Ralph Bernardo (220) won gold while Jacob Weaver (113), Stephen Potemken (152) and Josh Strauss (285) earned silver.
“With five guys in the finals, you'd like to think you would win,” said Patriots coach Kevin O'Neil, who only entered 12 of his 14 wrestlers in the tournament. “But tournaments come down to how well guys do in the consolations. We placed seven, but Damascus placed 10 guys so that was the difference.
“Damascus, with all those freshman, is going to be real tough for next four or five years. I think we will be too.”
Just like old times
For three years, Clarksburg seniors Eddie Kennedy and Mac Raum developed into two of the county's best pound-for-pound wrestlers under the tutelage of former coach Josh Munsey.
This winter, however, Munsey was not able to coach due to his position as the school's special education resource teacher. But the duo still flourished with coach Rob Pinsky at the helm.
On Saturday, Munsey returned to the coaches' chair on the corner of the mat and guided Kennedy and Raum to their second county titles at 113 and 126 pounds, respectively. Kennedy easily defeated Weaver, 18-5, and Raum beat Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Will Witkop, 7-2.
“It meant the whole world to me that Josh was in the chair, and I can't thank Coach Pinsky enough for allowing Josh to sit with us,” Raum said. “To do it with Eddie means a lot too. We've pushed each other so hard all year. I don't think I could've done it without Eddie.”
“It was hard on us with Josh not coaching, but it was a really cool gesture Pinsky let him be in our corner today,” Kennedy said. “It was good to have him back for a day. … Mac and I have been wrestling together since fourth grade. This is our last go at it as seniors and we have two [tournaments] left.”
Pinsky, who watched from a few feet off the mat, said letting Munsey sit in the coaches' chair it was the only appropriate thing to do.
“They are Josh's guys,” he said. “Josh has been with them. He didn't want to do it at first, but there was really no other option in my mind.”
For just the second time the history of Montgomery County high school wrestling, a grappler won four county championships. Quince Orchard senior Eli Bienstock equaled 2009 Sherwood graduate Steven Gamble's record-setting performance in impressive fashion.
The 120-pounder pinned Sherwood's Chris Minor in 1 minute, 39 seconds to complete the gold medal run. Bienstock barely had to break a sweat as he pinned all four of his opponents in the first period for a total bout time of just 4:27.
“I never imagined I would pin everyone in the first period especially in the final,” Bienstock said. “It definitely is an exclamation point. I was sitting there as a freshman when Steven won his fourth title and I told myself, ‘I want to do that too.'”
State champion, runner-up shocked by opponents
Prior to the 138-pound championship bout, B-CC's Charlie Banaszak was in a little bit of “awe” of Churchill sophomore Hunter Sutton, a reigning state champion.
After Banaszak upset Sutton, 3-2, his outlook was slightly different.
“I was definitely admiring Hunter going into the match, but I didn't want to think about [wrestling a state champion] too much,” he said. “I didn't want to give him too much respect and not be aggressive, but I still had to respect him a lot for obvious reasons. … I've worked so hard, but I can't get too confident because I may see him next week.”
It was the first time a defending state champion lost in the county tournament since Magruder graduate Zach Tolbert fell to Sherwood's Rhett Beattie in 2006.
Banaszak secured a takedown late in the opening period to gain the early lead and added to it with an escape early in the second. Sutton escaped in the third period, but Banaszak held off several takedown attempts.
In another surprising outcome, James H. Blake senior Edwin Callender defeated reigning state runner-up and Walter Johnson senior Elad Covaliu, 11-4, in the 182-pound championship bout.
Callender was the aggressor from the opening whistle and controlled the pace for the entire bout. He turned Covaliu, whose only previous loss during the past two years came in last season's state final, to his back three times.
“First two times I wrestled Elad, I lost 3-1,” Callender said. “I took it to him this time. I consider myself one of the best wrestlers into the state, but I guess I was a little bit of an unknown until now. I am just excited I'll get a plaque now since it has been my goal since freshman year.”
Winning wins again
A year ago, Poolesville senior Robert Winning entered the county tournament as an underdog, but ended up winning his weight class.
This time, the 160-pounder was the No. 1 seed and proved his worth. Winning nearly pinned Northwest's Will Ngonga in the final, but settled for an 11-2 major decision.
“This was two completely different wins,” Winning said. “I beat Luke [Stocky] last year in a surprise. This year, I had to defend and was the favorite. The county tournament just means a little bit more since everybody knows each other. Regionals next week is obviously real important to get to states, but it just has a little bit of a different feel.”
Other weight class winners included Col. Zadok Magruder's Andrew Conine (132), Seneca Valley's Kellen Staton (152), Springbrook's Aaron Perez (170), Blake's Will Sewell (195) and Walt Whitman's Josh Daryoush (285).
2012 MCPS Wrestling Tournament
Team scores1. Damascus 165
2. Thomas S. Wootton 157
3. Springbrook 131.5
4. Col. Zadok Magruder 106.5
5. Walter Johnson 104.5
6. Winston Churchill 91
7. Poolesville 88.5
8. Quince Orchard 87.5
9. James H. Blake 83
10. Northwest 81.511. Bethesda-Chevy Chase 78
12. Walt Whitman 67.5
13. Montgomery Blair 67
14. Clarksburg 61Paint Branch 61
16. Sherwood 5617. Gaithersburg 42
18. Watkins Mill 36
19. Richard Montgomery 31
20. Seneca Valley 29
21. Northwood 2622. Rockville 18
23. Albert Einstein 3
23. Wheaton 325. John F. Kennedy 2.5
106: Austin Tritto (TSW) d. Mikey Macklin (DAM), 8-7
113: Eddie Kennedy (CLK) m.d. Jacob Weaver (TSW), 18-5
120: Eli Bienstock (QOR) f. Chris Minor (SHE), 1:39
126: Mac Raum (CLK) d. Will Witkop (BCC), 7-2
132: Andrew Conine (CZM) d. Michael Nguyen (SPR), 8-5
138: Charlie Banaszak (BCC) d. Hunter Sutton (WCH), 3-2
145: Dennis Creegan (DAM) d. Jake Sutton (WCH), 5-3
152: Kellen Staton (SEV) d. Stephen Potemken (TSW), 4-2
160: Robert Winning (POO) m.d. Will Ngonga (NWT) 11-2
170: Aaron Perez (SPR) d. Cammeron Mayberry (CZM), 5-2
182: Edwin Callender (JHB) d. Elad Covaliu (WAJ), 11-4
195: Will Sewell (JHB) d. Tyler Dykes (CZM), 9-3
220: Ralph Bernardo (TSW), d. Luis Beteta (NWT), 3-1 OT
285: Josh Daryoush (WWH) f. Josh Strauss (TSW), 3:47