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After starring the last two seasons for the La Plata Warriors with a perfect record against Maryland competition that included back-to-back Class 4A-3A state tournament crowns at 152 pounds, Llopez decided to take his immense talents to St. Mary's Ryken.

I decided towards the end of my wrestling season last year, around the SMAC tournament, Llopez said about when he realized Ryken would be where he would finish the final two years of his high school career. I was looking to get a good education and of course go to a good wrestling program. [Being able to wrestle in many more elite tournaments at prep school] played into [my decision to leave La Plata]. That definitely influenced [my decision] a lot because wrestling is pretty much my life along with God and my family.

Llopez is the reigning Junior Nationals freestyle champion at 152 after winning the tournament in North Dakota in July.

To have national competitions in [my high school] season [with Ryken], I get the opportunity to compete with these [nationally ranked] guys and thats pretty exciting, he said.

On Dec. 4, Ryken defeated fellow Washington Catholic Athletic Conference elite contender DeMatha in thrilling 40-37 fashion in what was described as the best thing in my coaching career, by Ryken head coach Matt Myers, who was the helm of his alma mater of McDonough for three years before now being in his second season with Ryken, ranked 25th in the state among public and private schools. Llopez recorded a pin in the victory.

I do get anxious, I wouldnt say nervous, Llopez said. I definitely go into each match confident when I step into the circle. I go into each match like Im the best wrestler. At the end of the day, they put on their shoes just like I do.

Llopez, the won his second straight state title last March at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House in College Park.

I wrestled this year to my full potential and did what I could, and all those guys out there [competing at states] worked their butts off just as I did. So praise the Lord, said Llopez after a 19-3 technical fall win over Matt Wax of Tuscarora of Frederick County in the finals.

Llopez and Thomas Stone junior Garrett Lineberger were named All-County Co-Athletes of the Year, with Llopez getting the honor as the All-SMAC Most Outstanding Player.

AJ MASON