Damascus High School's wrestling program had one of the more successful seasons in its proud history last year. The Swarmin' Hornets won a Montgomery County title, a 4A/3A West Region title and also captured regional and state dual meet championships. The only trophy they didn't take home was at the Maryland state tournament at Cole Field House.
So what's the first thing coach John Furgeson did at his team's opening practice of the 2013-14 campaign?
He ripped all those records off the wall and threw them in the trash.
“This is a whole new year and we told them you've got to go out and get it,” Furgeson said. “The kids are in a good state of mind right now and they're letting things go, letting the chips fall where they may. But it's obviously a goal of ours to get the five championships that we're after.”
Such has become the norm at Damascus, which speaks remarkable volumes to how Furgeson has continued the legacy left by former coach Dave Hopkins. From the youth program all the way through to the varsity team's top competitors, wrestling is a passion at Damascus that's seemingly unmatched anywhere else in the county, possibly the state.
“This is what you hope you would build up,” Furgeson said. “The feeder program keeps bringing in kids who are willing and able to put forth effort and put a great team together. They've been together for so many years, so they all know each other and like each other.”
As crazy as it might sound, this year's team could potentially be better than the group that won four out of five possible titles last season. And that's a scary proposition for local coaches.
“Damascus is clearly the cream of the crop,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase coach Nick Arnone. “I'd be shocked if they don't win the state title for the next few years. Just seeing the team that they have coming back and the youth they have coming in, it's going to be tough for any team in the state to compete with them.”
The Swarmin' Hornets are led by a juniors in Owen Brooks, Ari Capacardo, Johnny Fischer, Mikey Macklin, Cory Obendorfer and Michael Wilkerson. Macklin won a 4A/3A state title at 106 pounds last season, while Wilkerson took home a region title and Brooks lost in the region final. They'll also likely be able to absorb the blow of losing four key seniors from last year's team (Caleb Baisden, Andrew Nickell, Michael Scafate and George Vinson) with relative ease, which says something about the talented underclassmen stepping in.
“Those guys are setting the tone already in the room,” he said of his juniors. “No nonsense, no complaining. For the most part, these guys wrestle year round and are doing everything they can to be successful. With that in mind, they're just kids and they just want to have fun. It's really special and cool to see them do that.”
Of course, perspectives can vary when it comes to the county's opponents sizing up the Hornets. Everything from great respect to a deep desire to beat them. But Northwest coach Joe Vukovich, whose teams are traditionally very strong, said it's important to have a squad like Damascus set the standard for excellence in the area.
“We can really benefit by having a state championship-caliber team like them in our region because everyone's got to rise to that level,” he said. “It's all about who's going to step up to their level and challenge them.”
Whether any team will be able to do so remains to be seen, but Furgeson did his grapplers no favors by setting an extremely difficult schedule that includes a trip to Glenelg, a visit from DeMatha Catholic and a tournaments that feature Oakdale and River Hill. He wants to make sure no venue, including the eight mats and bright lights of the state tournament, is too big for his group.
“We're not going to creep up on anybody,” Furgeson said. “We're not one of the younger teams anymore. There's pretty much a bull's-eye on our chest. But the kids are going about it with a great energy and they're having fun too.”