Urbana High School senior Nick Frank stood near the center of the University of Maryland's Cole Field House surrounded by his teammates. They exchanged hugs and high-fives and later huddled close together to speak with a teary-eyed coach, Ben Arneson.
After winning the first dual meet title in school history last season, the Hawks lost several key wrestlers. Usually, when that happens, outsiders slap a big old “rebuilding” label on the program.
“Everyone last year said that it'd be a rebuilding year,” Frank said before smirking. “Oh yeah? rebuilding year, eh?”
Upon uttering those final words, Frank pointed to the rafters at Cole, implying that the Hawks now will have another banner to hang on their increasingly-crowded gymnasium wall. This one — the top accomplishment of them all in Maryland wrestling circles — a 4A/3A Maryland state tournament championship.
The Hawks became the first team from Frederick County to win a team tournament title, besting second-place River Hill by 8.5 points. Nine wrestlers qualified for the tournament and, rather surprisingly, none won an individual championship. But six placed, earning valuable points for the Hawks along the way.
“This state tournament has been going on since the '70s and no team in Frederick County, in all these years of coming down here and competing for it, has ever been able to walk away with it,” Arneson said. “And the nine young men that came down here and the 36 boys that are on the team fought and worked hard all year long to get here and they managed to pull it off. It takes a lot of heart and pride just to make this happen.
“Too many kids give up. They'll lose early and they won't wrestle back hard. But they all managed to fight through that and handle all that adversity to make that happen.”
Arneson, as he did after the Hawks won the dual meet title last season, choked up upon holding the championship trophy and promptly passed it to his wrestlers and assistant coaches.
“It's a little bit different [than the dual meet title],” heavyweight Nick Keller said. “I don't know how to put it. It's more of an individual stride to know that everybody went as hard as they could. It's nice knowing that your teammates didn't quit on you.”
Despite not having an individual state champion, the Hawks did advance two wrestlers to the finals: 120-pounder Morgan Way and 182-pounder Mike Virnelson. Way's battle against LaPlata's Marty Margolis (the third-place bout from a year prior) was arguably the top match of the finals. Margolis prevailed, 2-1, but the two wrestled in such a way, with so many changes of position and form, that it was hard to know who was on top and who was on bottom for most of the third period. Way, however, was on bottom during the third and couldn't record the escape he needed to at least tie the score and potentially force overtime.
Virnelson's match ended a bit quicker as he ran into the machine that is Garret Lineberger from Thomas Stone. Lineberger earned a technical fall victory against Virnelson, 16-0, in 1:35 as he displayed why he's one of the better wrestlers in the state.
At 106, Jake Makosy (37-5) finished in sixth while his brother, Tyler (34-13) placed fifth. Frank capped his tenure at Urbana with a 42-4 record and a fifth-place finish, while Keller ended a 38-9 season with a fourth-place finish.
“To lose the guys we lost last year and a lot of people said it'd be a rebuilding year,” Arneson said. “We don't consider ourselves as a rebuilding program, we just reload and go to work.
No matter who we lose, there's somebody waiting and getting ready to go.”