South Carroll’s Owen and Pizzutto share Lower Weight Honors; McDonogh’s Fedalen is our pick in the Upper Weight category; SC’s Thomas is the Coach of Year
by Billy Loverocket
Despite some pauses and scrambling, high school wrestling took a welcome turn towards normalcy in the 2021-22 season, and no team worked harder to take advantage of their opportunities than the South Carroll Cavaliers.
It is only fitting that three of our four end of season awards will reside with South Carroll as Gage Owen and Michael Pizzuto are the 2021-22 VSN Co-Lower Weight Wrestlers of the Year, and Cavalier head coach Matt Thomas is the 2021-22 VSN Coach of the Year. Joining this group is McDonogh senior Richard Fedalen, the 2021-22 VSN Upper Weight Coach of the Year.
Here are the stories of this year’s VSN Wrestlers and Coach of the Year:
2021-22 VSN LOWER WEIGHT
CO-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
SOUTH CARROLL HIGH SCHOOL
South Carroll’s Gage Owen came to South Carroll along with Michael Pizzuto , with whom he shares the title of 2022 VSN Lower Weight Co-Wrestler of the Year, as freshmen from the Maniacs junior league program and, together, helped transform the Cavaliers into the state power they have become.
Owen went 38-0 in 2022 and won his third consecutive Carroll County title. The dual meet season didn’t pose a lot of challenges for Owen. His first tough match of the year came at the first edition of South Carroll’s dual tournament when he took out Chopticon’s two-time state placer, Trey Kratko, with a 22-6 technical fall.
In a highly anticipated meeting with Sparrows Point in Mid-December, Owen decked eventual region champ and Baltimore County runner-up, Tanner Cooper, in the first round, 1:37. His next event was the Trojan Wars tournament.
Owen began the year at 138lbs and dropped to 132 for the postseason. He also made an appearance at 132 at the Trojan Wars Tournament in Pennsylvania where he knocked off two-time National Prep placer Dyson Dunham (Benedictine, VA), 5-4. Also at the Trojan Wars, Owen blanked PA AA fourth place state placer, Mason Barvitskie (State College), 2-0.
“It is always great to compete at a high-level against high-level opponents,” Owen said. “I knew that Dunham was a skilled and experienced opponent and it felt good to come from behind to win the finals match against him. Barvitskie placed at PA states in 2021 and 2022 and I am always prepared to win close matches if I need to. Barvitskie was one of the few who was able to ride me out this year. We were tied at zero and I won the match on a spladle while on top in the third (period).”
As the Christmas break dawned, the state saw a surge in COVID-19 cases which led to multiple counties shutting down athletic activities. The Trojan wars was not originally on South Carroll’s schedule. The Damascus Holiday Tournament was nixed because of the surge and replaced with Trojan Wars. Coming out of the break, the Iron Horse Duals hosted by C. Milton Wright was also a COVID casualty.
“It is always disappointing to lose something on the schedule, but I knew I just had to remain calm and trust my coaches to find us replacements,” Owen added. “Also, I knew that even if we had fewer tournaments than usual during the school season, I would make up for them in the spring.”
The Cavaliers pivoted and headed to North Hagerstown for the Hub Cup. Back up at 138lbs, Owen pinned all three of his foes, including a second period one (2:56) over Catoctin’s Braden Bell, who would go on to place third in the 1A/2A state tournament. His other opponents both fell in under a minute, 54 seconds and 40 seconds.
“It felt good to have a tournament that replaced one of the tournaments we lost,” said Owen. “I was not sure what to expect at the Hub Cup, but it was satisfying to have such a good showing. I really enjoyed the opportunity to compete in it.”
Owen won by disqualification over Morgan Corwine (Brunswick) in a dual meet. Corwine was fifth at 145 in the 1A/2A states.
In the state dual finals, Owen flattened Northern Garrett’s Austin Ravenscroft in 17 seconds to help propel his team to victory.
“Probably the most exciting moment of my high school year,” Owen elaborated. “I think winning as a team just felt remarkable. When you or your team are the first in program history to accomplish something, it feels great. It was special watching my teammates who are not often recognized for their efforts do something outstanding to secure a win.”
With the team aspect of the season over, it was time to focus on individual goals. After securing his third county title with a 21-4 tech-fall of Century’s Jake Hurst, Owen captured the 1A North Region crown by pinning Dunbar’s state placer Corey Anderson, 3:39.
“It always feels good to represent your school in counties,” Owen said. “Winning a third individual county title that also helped us secure the team county title is really what it is all about.”
At the 1A/2A state tournament, Owen was barely challenged with his closest bout being a semi-final major decision over Boonsboro’s Hunter Ballantine, 10-0. The Cavalier picked up a fall in the state finals over Baltimore County Champion, Ricky Figuerora (Chesapeake), 3:03. His round of 16 and quarter finals pins were both registered in the same time, 3:27, versus Mason Cowell (Oakland Mills) and Ty Montgomery (Huntingtown).
“I was glad to go back to Show Place Arena after the Covid year,” Owen continued. “I was grateful to get a second state title. My goal was to have a dominating performance from start to finish. The moment that was really special was when AJ (Rodrigues), Michael (Pizzuto), (Rylan) Moose, and I got to walk into the arena together for our finals ceremony. We started training together a long time ago as Maniacs and that moment is one, I will always remember.”
On being named one of VSN’s Lightweight Wrestlers of the Year, Owen had this to say, “I am humbled to have won Lightweight Wrestler of the Year and Carroll County Wrestler of the Year. It is always nice to be recognized for the accomplishments that have been achieved throughout the season. I learned from a very young age from coach Tony Rodrigues that I could compete with anyone at any level. Coach Anthony Gigliotti is the one who ensured I believed it! The high school coaches who have continued to push me, Matt Thomas, Zach Blessing, Jay Braunstein, and Tommy King.”
Owen began the year ranked No. 1 in the state at 138lbs by the Maryland State Wrestling Association and held onto that No. 1 designation as he dropped to 132. For an idea of his immense talents, consider this – there were some unofficial events held last year. At those events, Owen picked up wins over Mt. St. Joe’s state runner-up and two-time National Prep placer, Jacob Wright, Northern Garrett’s two-time state champ Jacob Brenneman, and split matches with McDonogh’s state and National Prep placer Enzo Bell.
The first glimpse of Owen’s potential and mental fortitude came in his freshman year. At the Iron Horse Duals, Owen received two humbling lessons on the treacheries of high school wrestling. The first was a loss by fall to Staki Gourgoulianis (C. Milton Wright), who would win a 3A/4A state title that year. In the team finals versus Stephen Decatur, Jagger Clapsadle (a three-time state placer) ran up a 17-2 tech-fall of Owen.
The Cavalier would suffer the final loss of his high school career weeks later in a Saturday morning encounter with Loyola’s Matty Walsh at Loyola in a tri-meet with Dunbar. Walsh, who is now a three-time state placer and National Prep placer, edged Owen 2-1.
Owen rolled to county and region titles and worked his way to the state finals that year, where he would see Clapsadle again. This time, the South Carroll grappler was prepared and shocked the wrestling world, securing an 8-6 win for the ultimate revenge and a state crown.
“Gage Owen is a very hardworking and determined individual and learns and grows on his wrestling and growing as a person every single day,” South Carroll coach Matt Thomas said. “He puts so much time, effort, determination into this sport and his teammates. He doesn’t really say too much and keeps to himself unless he needs to speak up as a leader and push one of his teammates, or a role where he needs to improve something in his arsenal.”
“When he wants to work on something he will ask helpful questions for your insight from a coaching perspective. He has a little brother (Evan) on our team that he pushes to be better as well. He is one mean kid and a switch flips as soon as he steps on that mat. I’m looking forward to watching and coaching him for another season. He has a very bright future, and I also can’t wait to watch him compete on the collegiate scale wherever he chooses to go to college.”
2022 VSN LOWER WEIGHT
CO-WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
SOUTH CARROLL HIGH SCHOOL
Michael Pizzuto went 40-0 in 2022 and has yet to lose in his high school career, going 50-0 as a freshman and 9-0 in his COVID-19 shortened sophomore campaign.
His gaudy record certainly is not the result of South Carroll avoiding competition. In fact, year after year, the Cavaliers put together one of the more difficult schedules in the state.
Pizzuto didn’t encounter any noteworthy wrestlers at the South Carroll Duals, but on that trip to PA for the Trojan Wars, he squared off with Chambersburg’s Karl Shindledecker in the finals, walking away with a 3-2 victory. Shindledecker was second at the PA AAA state tournament last year and seventh this year.
“The pre-seeds came out and I was slotted as the second seed behind Shindledecker and above Kaden Milheim, a third-place finisher at PA states this year. I looked through some of Shindledecker’s old brackets and film and saw he was a PA state finalist. So, I knew heading into the weekend I was gonna have a tough tournament. After a 5-3 victory over Milheim, I was ready to wrestle Shindledecker in the finals.
“Shindledecker’s style was something I had never seen before. He was very quick and even though he didn’t run a lot of moves, his matches were very high scoring. When the match started, he got a quick takedown and almost turned me. I fought to stay off my back. Going into the second period, I had the first choice and got out fast limiting his score to one. He took a bad shot and I scored to take the lead. In the third, I trusted my coaches and stuck to my ride to keep my lead. I felt like Trojan Wars, and the Shindledecker and Milheim matches, further proved that I could be competitive with high level competition in other states.”
After Damascus, then the Iron Horse cancellation, Pizzuto wondered if he would lose out on another state title opportunity.
“When the Damascus Holiday tournament got canceled, I started to worry if we would even get to finish out our season. Montgomery County wasn’t the only county to take a step back and re-evaluate whether winter sports would finish out their seasons. But replacing Damascus for Trojan Wars, ended up being a positive change. Trojan Wars had good size brackets filled with tough competition. And it was great to compete in an individual tournament during the season. We wrestled less matches at that tournament, but all of our wrestlers faced competitive opponents at Trojan Wars.”
“A week later, Iron Horse got canceled, I had that panic feeling again about if we would even get to finish our season. It was one thing to lose my sophomore season but facing the idea of losing my junior season also was hard. I was thinking about college recruiting and how I would be impacted without a season. The coaches worked quickly and were able to pick up The Hub Cup to replace Iron Horse Duals. I was bummed we missed Iron Horse since we had some really good potential matchups individually and as a team that we could really test ourselves. But at the end of the day, we were really just happy that we were wrestling more, and the season was continuing.”
At the Hub Cup, Pizzuto pinned his way to the finals where he met Braden Sitton (James Wood) and pitched an 8-0 shutout. Sitton was fifth at the Virginia 4A state tournament this year.
“Dominating and winning the Hub Cup as a team definitely started to build some momentum for us. We closed out 2021 with a good win over Sparrows Point and then our team had some tough matches at Trojan Wars. So going into Hub Cup it was exciting to see so many SC wrestlers in the finals. It made our team feel good, it made us work harder. Once you get the taste for that high of a first place finish and winning it can become infectious. We used that to motivate us as we had already started thinking about State Duals.”
In a January dual meet, Pizzuto would have his first run in with Glenelg’s Kyle Hansberger. In this edition, the Cavalier posted a 5-0 decision.
His post season journey in both the team and individual competitions was mostly uneventful outside of how dominant he was. In the dual meet state finals match with Northern Garrett, Pizzuto blanked Caleb Brenneman, 8-0.
“One of the things that makes sports fun is being part of the team,” Pizzuto continued. “It was exciting to set a goal as a team and all working towards meeting it. Those of us who were returning from my freshman year couldn’t forget the loss to Glenelg in the region dual finals. From day one of the season, we were determined to finish the season undefeated and win states. We came in as favorites for 1A. But we knew that all the teams there wanted that title just as much as we did. As a team we didn’t have our best performance in that first dual. The nerves that go along with those high-pressure situations can sometimes mess with your head. But we pushed through and were able to get a convincing win over Harford Tech.”
“We knew Northern Garrett wasn’t going to be an easy victory. They have tough wrestlers throughout their lineup. Each match the stakes got higher, and my teammates rose to that challenge. We were able to get bonus points in a bunch of matches and that helped to make the difference. We have a handful of wrestlers that normally get all the accolades, but it was great to see that other wrestlers on the team were difference makers. We are losing a few wrestlers this year, so all the returning wrestlers know that we have work to do to fill those holes. It was great to be part of that history, to win the first team title for South Carroll but now that the season is over we are all already thinking about next year’s title too.”
Pizzuto pinned Francis Scott Key’s Zach Kinloch in the county (2:29) and 1A North Region finals (1:13).
There was no easy road for Pizzuto at the state tournament as all four of his adversaries went on to place. Stephen Decatur’s Reid Caimi would end up in the sixth spot after dropping a 14-2 major-decision to the Cavalier in the opening round.
Next up for Pizzuto was three-time state placer Justin Knapp (Southern-AA), who he would deck 25 seconds into the second period, 2:25, (Knapp was fifth at this year’s states). His semi-final opponent, Clark Smith (Smithsburg, 4th at states), wrestled tough, but fell 4-0.
This set up a rematch with Hansberger in the finals. While Hansberger kept it closer this time, he would still suffer defeat, falling 2-0. Pizzuto ended the year with his second state title and was ranked No. 2 in the state, behind Spalding’s Brady Pruett (two-time state champ, state runner-up as a freshman and three-time National Prep placer).
“I thought I wrestled well all weekend at states,” Pizzuto elaborated. “I am not usually a high scoring wrestler, but I was able to score a lot. I have been trying to expand my skills so that I can become a stronger all-around wrestler. I only gave up two points all weekend. So, my defense remained tough. Winning my second title as a junior reminded me again that I lost my opportunity for being a four-time State Champ but, having the chance to win a second still felt great. Each victory like that makes the target on your back bigger. It is just more reason to keep working harder since you know that everybody out there is just going to be gunning to beat you.”
On being named one of VSN’s Lightweight Wrestlers of the Year, Pizzuto said, “Being named Lightweight of the Year is an honor. Training for any sport at a high level requires hard work, dedication, and lots of time. I train and compete because I love the sport and the thrill of the match, not for the recognition or the trophies, but I won’t say it doesn’t feel good to be named Lightweight of the Year. I have seen the names of other wrestlers who have been recognized, wrestlers I admired. So, to know my hard work allows me to be grouped with those wrestlers is pretty cool.”
“I need to thank my Maniacs coaches to start, they instilled in me a need to grind and work hard, seek out the toughest competition you can find, as that is the only way to become tougher. Coaches Tony (Rodrigues), Justin (Owen), Coach Gigs (Anthony Giglioti), Tommy (King) and Jay (Braunstein) always believed in my abilities and encouraged me to work hard.”
“My high school coaches, Matt Thomas and Zach Blessing, who believe in mine and my team’s abilities and push us to do our best every day so we can achieve our goals. My teammates and practice partners, Gage, AJ (Rodrigues), (Rylan) Moose, Manny (Rodrigues), and Ryan (Athey), who pushed me in the room and made it fun enough to want to work hard. And my family and friends who have spent hours traveling, sitting in gyms, and supporting me.”
Pizzuto won his previous two county titles against Manchester Valley’s Travis Green, who is a two-time state placer.
A look at Pizzuto’s freshman season reveals some impressive wins as time has played out. In his opening high school tournament at Boonsboro, he downed Winston Churchill’s Ethan Nasvaderani, 8-2. Nasvaderani went undefeated this year en route to the 3A/4A 120lb state title.
At Damascus’ Holiday Tournament, Pizzuto posted a 12-4 major-decision of Enzo Bell in the finals while he was still at Bullis. At Iron Horse that season, the Cavalier registered wins over Hereford’s Owen Bell (state placer) and CMW’s Demetrios Gourgoulianis, a state runner-up this year.
Pizzuto beat Green 11-7 in a dual meet that year, and in that match with Loyola, took out two-time state placer Logan Kisner, 14-2.
In the regions, Pizzuto edged Williamsport’s Zach Starr 4-3 in the finals. Starr was a state champ this year and is a three-time state placer. In the state finals, he posted an overtime win over Mountain Ridge’s Jesse Fresh, 3-1. Amongst his other wins at states that year was a 6-2 decision over Alex Bellarin, who was at Kent County then, but won a state crown for Laurel this year (3A/4A 126).
“Pizzuto is a kid that I have been very close with since Day one,” said South Carroll coach Matt Thomas. “He’s the hardest worker in our room, he listens to every single thing you tell or teach him without question. Either in the practice room or out on the mat in the biggest of moments or matches, he listens and trusts in everything you say. He’s under control and always controls the outcome of every match and position in every match. He’s a huge leader on our team and pushes our guys to get better. He’s currently sitting at 99-0 on His High School Career and I’d be willing to bet the 0 at the end will be there at this point next year. He’s a great kid and I’m also looking forward to watching him compete at the next level. He deserves everything that he accomplishes.”
Owen and Pizzuto put a bow on their seasons with outstanding performances at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach. Owen captured the 126lb national title, beating Washington state champ Mitchell Neiner, 3-1, in the finals.
“After NHSCAs last year (2021) where I placed fifth, I really thought about what I would need to do to improve on my performance as a junior,” Owen said. “I decided to train harder than ever and attended countless practices during the offseason to improve. I was really nervous in the quarters match, and I let the pressure get to me when I did not escape on bottom. Once I got through it, Coach Tommy King told me to believe in my abilities and the hard work I had put in. Something just clicked after that and in my semis and finals matches, I felt great. To win a NHSCA title is something amazing and there are so many people who helped me reach this goal.”
Pizzuto also earned All-American honors with a fourth place showing at 132lbs.
“NHSCAs always brings out some of the toughest talent every year,” Pizzuto added. “Whenever you have wrestlers from 50 states and three countries, you know that people are competing at their best. As I felt towards the end of the regular season, I was feeling confident. I was wrestling well, and everything seemed to be clicking. I had two tech pins and a decision win on day one. I knew my quarter finals match would be tough. Jackson Baglio, the No. 1 seed, is committed to NC State and won his bracket at last year’s NHSCAs. But I wrestled my match and was able to come up with a win, 4-3.”
“My semis was another tough one. I came up a bit short in the semis in a tough, hard contested match. It is never a good feeling to lose a match like that when you know that six seconds could make the difference but at this level every second can make a difference. Wrestling is just as much mental as physical and there are going to be tough losses like that where you have to forget that last match and keep moving forward. I was able to get a good win in the consi-semis, but my placement match wasn’t my strongest. A tournament like NHSCA is great preparation for the next level. And every match wrestled at that level is an opportunity to become a better wrestler. My goal with this sport is to keep growing and improving and while the losses are always tough, sometimes from a growth perspective, they make you work harder for improvement.”
2022 VSN UPPER WEIGHT
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
Richard Fedalen walked into the McDonogh Wrestling Room his freshman year a highly decorated youth wrestler. The senior started wrestling when he was six years old for the Vipers program. After a few years, he switched to the Warhawks program, under the tutelage of Dan Ricker, where he remained until high school.
“He had tremendous potential,” McDonogh coach Pete Welch said. “He had already had tremendous success. He was a size (106lbs) that really fit our lineup back then. More than that, he was just a great kid. Very calm demeanor. Just goes to work, gets down to business, and takes care of things. I love that about him and we’re excited that he came to McDonogh.”
In addition to being a multiple time state champion (at least seven titles), Fedalen had made his mark nationally as well. Among the many crowns claimed are, Tulsa Kickoff Classic (two times), Tulsa Nationals, and Reno Worlds. In fact, one year, Fedalen won the Trinity Award, which is given to a wrestler who wins Tulsa Kickoff, Tulsa Nationals, and Reno Worlds in the same year.
In the middle school division of Super 32, Fedalen had placed second and third. He has placed at USAW’s Fargo Nationals every year he has attended (5th in FS 2018, 5th in GR 2019, plus 6th in FS and 7th in GR in 2021).
“I had a pretty successful junior league career, so I had really high expectations for myself going into high school,” said Fedalen.
Injuries derailed his career as a freshman and sophomore, then his junior season was lost to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“I was thinking this kid has had a string of tough luck,” Welch elaborated. “It was uncontrollable things that were frustrating. His freshman year, he had a great start and got sick, and really, it just took him out of the season. His sophomore year, he was really on a roll and looking really good going into the league tournament, then he had to have an emergency surgery – got sick again, again uncontrollable, which we’re like ok, this is really frustrating.”
“His junior year was lost to COVID. So, he just has hit bumps everywhere he went. Adversity everywhere he went. But he kept coming back. He kept doing the work, even with COVID, he found wherever he could to go compete. Training wherever he could during that time where a lot of people were sitting home. The work proved to be very advantageous because he continued to grow in his wrestling. Even at a time when a lot of things were shut down.”
Heading into his final season with something to prove, Fedalen prepared for the season by placing second at the Junior World Team Trials in Greco Roman and was second at the Pan American Championships.
“It (injuries and COVID) was pretty frustrating to deal with since I couldn’t achieve some goals I wanted to achieve as a result of them,” Fedalen said. “But I knew as long as I could control what was controllable everything would end up alright. This fall I was training at McDonogh with my coaches and wrestling with my partner, Billy DeKraker, and some former McDonogh wrestlers (Quinn Devaney and Cam Harrell) that helped me a lot.”
The season got underway for him at the preseason Super 32 tournament. Fedalen came into the action ranked No. 6 in the nation by FloWrestling at 145lbs. The Eagle picked up wins over No. 11 Gavin Brown (OH) and No. 13 Joey Blaze (OH) on his way to a fourth place showing. He fell to the nation’s top ranked grappler in the semis, Cody Chittum (TN) and lost 7-0 to New Jersey’s Ty Whalen in the consolation finals.
“It definitely showed me some things that I had to work on for the big in-season tournaments,” Fedalen added. “And it gave me some valuable experience against some of the best guys in the country. I was able to get some good wins along the way.”
Fedalen settled in at 152lbs for the high school season and kicked things off with a 20-5 tech-fall of Loyola’s Matty Walsh (a three-time state placer and National Prep placer) in the Ray Oliver Tournament finals.
“It was a good tune up for a tough Ironman tournament the following week” Fedalen remarked. “It showed me that when I actually commit to pulling the trigger points will come.”
Next up was the country’s toughest high school tournament, the Walsh Ironman. Fedalen shined here as a freshman with a fifth-place finish. In this edition, he would outdo himself and reach the finals. He blanked Liberty, MO’s Logan Rathjen, 4-0, in the quarters. Rathjen is a three-time Missouri 4A state runner-up.
In the semis, Fedalen took out Derek Raike (Point Pleasant, WV), a four-time state champ, 5-3. He dropped his finals bout to Colorado’s Daniel Cardenas (No. 4 in the nation), 10-1.
“Ironman is probably my favorite tournament of the year, so it was fun to make the finals in my last Ironman,” the Eagle said.
Injuries kept Fedalen from competing at the Beast of the East as a freshman. He was two wins from placing in his sophomore campaign. The McDonogh star would reach the podium on this trip, though, landing in the fourth-place position. Oddly enough, in the consolation final, he met Whalen again – and lost by the same 7-0 score. Whalen ended the year ranked No. 9 at 145lbs.
At the Beast, Fedalen beat Spalding’s Joe Fisk, 5-0. Fisk is a three-time state runner-up and four-time National Prep placer.
“Beast really showed me some holes that I had in my wrestling, and also some simple positional things that I needed to fix,” Fedalen said.
Unfortunately for Fedalen, past demons reared their head, and the senior missed a chunk of the season following the Beast due to an illness. When Fedalen was entered into the MIAA Tournament, there was speculation that he would ultimately be pulled and not compete (this happened during his freshman year at MIAAs and the state tournament).
“At his point there were some complications related to COVID that caused me to be out for about six weeks,” Fedalen elaborated. “It was frustrating missing the Powerade Tournament and the Escape the Rock Tournament. During this time period, since I couldn’t exercise or work out, I was just trying to do other things right (schoolwork, get enough sleep, focus on nutrition) until I was able to come back.”
Ultimately, the Eagle landed and competed in the first MIAA tournament of his career. He encountered Fisk in the finals and showed that while he may have not been healthy enough to compete, he had been working hard out of the spotlight to be ready when it mattered most. Fedalen wowed the crowd on hand with a 15-0 tech-fall that wasn’t close to being a competitive match at any point.
“And even this year, again uncontrollable hard luck, off to a great start, gets sick and it took him out longer than expected due to some complications,” said Welch. “But he kept sticking around, he kept sticking around. We really thought as he just came back for the tournaments, well, we hope he’s in good enough shape. He’s got some tough competition we were worried about. I didn’t question his ability. I was just wondering where his conditioning was. It never showed. He just steamrolled everybody, MIAAs, states, and even to the National Prep Finals. He just wrestled so well. That’s just mental toughness. He just has a mental toughness on competition day that is like no other. It didn’t matter whether he had been off for six weeks or a day, he was going to get where he was.”
“MIAAs was a good tournament to show myself that I was back and ready to compete,” Fedalen said. “I only had one week to prepare after six weeks out of any kind of training. It also once again showed me that when I pull the trigger points will come.”
With a MIAA title finally secured, it was time for his first MIS appearance. More of the same ensued as he decked St. Mary’s-Ryken’s Will Buckler (4th in the state) in the first period, 1:49, in the semis, then proceeded to plant Fisk in the third period of another dominate effort, 5:56, for the state title.
“Similar to MIAAs it was cool to finally compete at and win the states,” Fedalen added. “It was also awesome watching three of my teammates win individual titles as well (Billy DeKraker, Noah Onkst, and Gerard Johnson).”
That left one last thing on the docket for Fedalen – the National Prep Tournament. Fedalen was seeded second and ended up placing second, losing in the finals to Beast of the East Champ, Joe Sealey (Wyoming Seminary, No. 6 in the nation), 15-5.
In the quarters, Fedalen, who ended the year ranked No. 8 in the nation by Flo, posted a 10-2 major decision of Nathan Rickards (Malvern Prep, PA), who went on to place seventh. He needed overtime to get past Blair’s Nick Kunstek, 8-3, in the semis (Kunstek placed fourth).
“Again, it was a relief to finally compete at preps,” Fedalen continued. “I had an exciting semifinal match where I could hear all the Maryland people cheering as I got the tying reversal and winning takedown so that was really exciting. The final obviously did not go how I would have liked, but it kept me hungry and showed me some flaws I have in my wrestling.”
Now that the dust has settled, and an ending he can be satisfied with was achieved, Fedalen had this to say about his future at Columbia and being named VSN’s Upper Weight Wrestler of the Year.
“It was bittersweet. I’m excited to move on to Freestyle/Greco and college wrestling, but I will really miss McDonogh and high school wrestling. I’m really excited about Columbia. We have a fast-growing program with awesome coaches and great teammates. The coaches and teammates really welcomed me on my visit, and I could immediately tell these were people that I wanted to learn from and grow around. It (VSN Award) is definitely a really cool honor, and I was excited to hear that I received it.”
“He is a better kid than he is a wrestler,” Welch added. “He’s smart. He’s quietly funny. He’s polite. He’s somebody that’s going to do well inside and outside of wrestling. As far as wrestling, he’s just a student of the game. He studies it, thinks about it all the time. He keeps finding ways to get better. If I’m trying to show something in practice, I’ll get him to help demonstrate it, he always adds, coach what do you think about this or what do you think about this way, or I saw it that way. I think he’ll be a great coach someday. He’s got a huge career ahead of him in anything. He’ll do well at Columbia too.”
2022 VSN WRESTLING
COACH OF THE YEAR
SOUTH CARROLL HIGH SCHOOL
South Carroll head coach Matt Thomas came into this season knowing his squad had the potential to do something no South Carroll team had done before – win a state dual meet championship.
“Coming into this season we were super eager to get back to a normal routine and schedule after having only an in-county dual schedule along with a county tournament as our so-called post-season last year,” Thomas said. “We had some young talent coming in and as always sad to see the seniors gone from the previous shortened season. We knew we had a special bunch and set our goals from day one to have a perfect undefeated season and knew it was going to take all hands-on deck and for everyone to have the will to get better every single day, but were willing to stretch our limits to achieve that goal and to not look forward or past anyone.”
During Bryan Hamper’s tenure, the Cavaliers rarely fielded a full lineup which would hurt them in dual meets against the better teams in Maryland. They would excel at the individual states though, as their collection of high-level talent fueled a run of four consecutive tournament titles.
The MPSSAA decided to take the team scoring away from the state tournament a few years ago in favor of naming four state dual champions. The state duals used to be 2A/1A and 3A/4A, now each division would have its own title.
Thomas took over the program for the 2017-2018 season. He graduated from Northern Garrett in 2011, where he was a three-time state placer. Thomas wrestled in Division II for West Liberty University.
“I moved down to this area for work but also had ties with Bryan Hamper from the past and he was in touch with me once he found out I moved to this area. I coached as an assistant at Mountain Ridge for one season in 2015 when I was finishing college. That season we made the state duals but fell a little short to Kent Island.”
Three years ago, a core group of Maniacs migrated to South Carroll and the Cavaliers started their move up the state rankings again. Gage Owen and Michael Pizzuto, VSN’s Co-Lower Weight Wrestlers of the Year, along with fellow junior AJ Rodrigues started the revitalization.
Thomas has taken their considerable talents and turned them into not just state powers, but forces to be reckoned with on the national level.
At the NHSCA Nationals at the end of March, Owen captured a crown, Rodrigues was second, and Pizzuto placed fourth. All this to go along with the two state titles each has won during their career.
The Cavaliers ended the year as the No. 3 team in the Maryland State Wrestling Association’s team rankings. A spot that puts them as the top public-school team in the state.
“(I’m) proud of our guys for where we finished the season, obviously the goal is to be No. 1,” Thomas continued. “Being the top public school is a great honor! The rules are a little different as for recruiting/number of guys on the roster and certifying for certain weights always plays a role and factor for us at South Carroll. Some may not know but we didn’t even have a body that certified at 113 so we had to forfeit that weight all year and only having one guy at 106 there wasn’t much we could do there if we got into a bind.”
“Also up top we had two guys at 182 that we had to constantly play matchups with. Our heavyweight is 195 soaking wet so he was always giving up a ton of weight but held his own and contributed for the team. Not only were we thin up top but very young and green but those guys played a big role when it comes to the team/dual situations for competing for a Dual State Title.”
On December 8th, South Carroll squared off with Frederick County’s Middletown (No. 11), a team that had numerous dual and individual state titles on its resume. Longtime coach, James Schartner retired shortly after Middletown’s state dominance took a downward turn.
After the lost season due to COVID-19, no one was sure who the top dogs were in the state this year, especially when this early season encounter took place. South Carroll won that meeting, 45-33. The win looks more impressive now as coach Chad Strube guided his team to a 2A state duals final appearance where they gave No. 6 Stephen Decatur all they could handle, falling to the three-time state champions, 30-27.
“Middletown is always our opening night dual and sets the tone for the entire season,” said Thomas. “Great respect for them on their great season. As always, they do not really throw much out there to scout or plan for. Our guys couldn’t wait to get out to compete that night. We had a set game plan that night and everything went our way and the guys executed from top to bottom.”
A week later, the Cavaliers took on another Frederick County power in Urbana and walked away with an impressive 51-24 win.
In the middle of December, the team kicked off their inaugural dual meet tournament. They went 8-0 over the two-day event, picking up a 56-21 win over No. 24 Calvert Hall.
“We talked over the off-season and wanted to start a new tournament for the upcoming season as South Carroll has never hosted one,” Thomas elaborated. “We decided on a dual tournament to maximize matches for all. It’s always hard to get tons of entries from powerhouse schools as they don’t know what to expect. I’m very grateful for all who showed up and showed interest.”
“We’re very excited to grow this and get this to hopefully be the best/toughest Maryland tournament in the near future. Our guys wrestled lights out the entire weekend and it was more of a weekend where you just sit back and keep the momentum rolling. Being that early in the season and seeing the entire team wrestling at that level and beating teams that bad round after round, myself along with our coaching staff was very pleased with the outcome.”
Right before the Christmas break, No. 14 Sparrows Point made the trek from Southeast Baltimore County to take on South Carroll in their house. At the time, the Point was a Top 10 team (injuries and misfortune led to a late tumble) and they held their own against the Cavaliers.
This was perhaps, the kind of match that South Carroll would have lost in the past due to holes in their lineup. It was the first signal that things would likely be different this year, as their depth played a role in securing a 38-33 victory.
“The Sparrows Point match was another solid match that we put on our schedule,” Thomas added. “We had two swing matches that we had penciled in going into that night. Manny (Rodrigues) at 152 with a major over Matt Laubach was a big match on our radar and then the final match, which at that time, the dual was already clinched was Gage Carr over (Rylan) Moose, 3-2. That’s one I’d love to have back as Moose didn’t open up and had numerous ways he could have won that match, but at the end of the day they both ended up being in the state finals with Carr winning a state title. Hats off to him along with their team making state duals.”
As the Christmas break was getting underway, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was rearing its head, leading to many counties suspending activities during the holiday and after. The Cavaliers were slated to participate in Damascus’ Holiday Tournament, which was now wiped from their schedule.
Instead of sitting around complacently and enjoying the holiday, Thomas and his staff rallied to find an alternative. They found one, but it was not an easy alternative. They would be heading to Pennsylvania to compete in the MyHouse Trojan Wars at Chambersburg Area High School, a tournament stacked with top wrestlers from PA and the surrounding states.
“COVID was something that I’m sure we all were tired of hearing, along with dealing with, but we said we were rolling with the schedule we have posted until people higher up say otherwise,” Thomas explained. “We have a huge support system at South Carroll, our parents, along with CCPS being supportive and heading in the right direction, getting past all the rules and cancellations unlike other counties and states.”
“The second we heard a slight rumor of something being cancelled we were immediately in contact with other events and getting approval/confirmation to do so. Those kids work way too hard to just sit back and say let’s just see what happens. They deserve to be out there competing as much as possible so that’s what we made happen.”
Thomas’ squad showed it was up for the challenge of the Trojan Wars as his “Big 3” all brought home titles (Gage Owen, Pizzuto, and AJ Rodrigues), and the team placed seventh despite only taking seven grapplers to the affair.
A Groundhog Day scenario played out for Thomas as his team returned from the holiday break and he learned that Harford County was continuing its activity shutdown. The Iron Horse Duals field was fierce and would have been the most difficult dual meet tournament in Maryland in some time.
Amongst the teams in the field were No. 5 Loyola (who was No. 1 in the state at that time), No. 4 Archbishop Spalding (who beat 3A State Champs Chesapeake-AA at NE Duals), No. 6 Stephen Decatur (No. 3 at the time with a win over Chesapeake-AA at the Grindstone Duals), No. 8 South River (who spilt with Chesapeake-AA), No. 12 Kent Island (who beat South River at the South River Duals), No. 14 Sparrows Point, No. 19 Montgomery Blair, Bel Air (HM) and the hosts, who were also a honorable mention team. Plus, two Delaware powers, Cape Henlopen and Smyrna.
South Carroll, Stephen Decatur, and South River were dual meet state champs – so you would have had three of this year’s four dual meet champs in one building.
Thomas again decided not to leave his scheduling up to chance. Instead of selecting a replacement event that was weeks out that could potentially be lost to cancellation, he reached out to North Hagerstown’s Greg Slick and was granted entry into that weekend’s Hub Cup.
South Carroll ran away with the team title by 68.5 points over West Virginia’s Berkley Springs (234.5-166). The Cavaliers pushed seven wrestlers to the top of the awards stand (Evan Owen (106), Ryan Athey (120), Pizzuto (132), Gage Owen (138), AJ Rodrigues (160), Brandon Athey (170), and Rylan Moose (182)). They placed an additional four wrestlers, Manny Rodrigues (3rd at 152), Anthony Bond (4th at 145), Padraig Govier (6th at 220), and Jarnell Davis (8th at 195).
“Hub Cup was something we had to get at the last minute due to The Iron Horse Duals being cancelled,” Thomas said. “We ran away with the tournament due to the fact that the guys wrestled lights out yet again. We won by a very comfortable margin with 234.5 points total. We went seven-for-seven in the finals and had 11 placers out of the 12 weights we entered in.”
Thomas’ squad kept plugging away for the rest of January, staying undefeated and setting up a county showdown on January 25th with No. 23 Manchester Valley, who they would defeat 44-27.
The following week, on the final day of January, South Carroll had a cross-county battle with perennial Howard County powerhouse Glenelg (No. 13). This is another match that past squads might have come up short on, but the strength of this year’s team shined through and propelled the Cavaliers to a 40-31 win.
After taking care of business with Winters Mills (Honorable Mention) to the tune of a 58-18 win on February 2nd, their focus turned to the dual meet regions and states.
“Ending the regular season undefeated was an accomplishment that we could check off our list of goals, but we knew we were not finished yet,” said Thomas. “We had five more duals to finish the undefeated perfect season.”
On paper, the Cavaliers were heavily favored to win their region and did just that, defeating ACCE, 72-6, in their Monday match. That Wednesday they took out Francis Scott Key 63-12, then blanked Dunbar in 1A North Region Finals, 68-0.
On February 12th, South Carroll rolled into the MPSSAA State Duals at North Point High School in Waldorf confident in their ability to bring home that elusive state dual crown. They opened with Harford Tech (HM) and posted a 48-24 win.
Northern of Garrett County easily handled Lackey 74-6, to setup an exciting final that was tough to pick a favorite to win. Both teams appeared to be evenly matched, so when Northern Garrett was holding a 19-14 lead after half the matches were in the books, no one was surprised.
What happened next was a surprise though, as the Cavaliers would peel off six straight wins to take a commanding lead and seal the victory, 45-25.
“Winning a Dual State Title was our main top goal going into the season and on Feb 12th we did just that to hang the first State Champ Dual Title Banner in school history,” Thomas added. “It was a very special moment that we all will never forget.”
Team scores are still officially tallied at the County Tournaments and South Carroll captured that crown by 15 over Manchester Valley, 191-176. They crowned six champions, Evan Owen (106), Ryan Athey (120), Pizzuto (126), Gage Owen (132), AJ Rodrigues (160), and Rylan Moose (170).
“After winning the Dual State Title and having an undefeated season, the last thing we could do is slip up and not win a County Title,” remarked Thomas. “There is too much talent on our roster and all the guys had to do was go out and do their individual jobs and it bring home another County Title. The guys did just that and we walked out of the gym with another County Champ Plaque to add to the collection.”
Teams scores are not tabulated at the region tournaments, but if they were, South Carroll would have run away with the 1A North. All their county champs repeated as region champs and were joined at the top spot by Anthony Bond (138), Janero Marchany (195), and Logan Brightful (285). Manny Rodrigues finished second at 145 to make the trip to the state tournament.
Varsity Sports Network kept track of the teams scores at the state tournament. South Carroll won the 1A/2A division over No. 10 Williamsport, 144.5-118, crowning three champions (Pizzuto, Gage Owen, and AJ Rodrigues), to go along with three other placers – Evan Owen (4th at 106), Athey (3rd at 120), and Moose (2nd at 170).
“They (the MPSSAA) need to bring that official title back, that’s something we continually talk about, and we thank you (VSN) for taking the time as always and putting in the work to make it (the team scores) happen,” reflected Thomas. “Four in the finals with three of them repeating as champs. The other fell a little short but will bounce back next year and plans to get his own title and finish his high school career on top of that podium. We had another two guys grab medals in the consolation finals. Luckily, we only graduate one of those guys this season. I’m super proud of all the guys that competed that weekend.”
Thomas gave his thoughts on the future and being chosen as VSN’s Wrestling Coach of the Year.
“Being named Coach of the Year is a huge honor and I’m very grateful and thankful to be chosen. It wouldn’t be possible without this super talented group of kids we have, our phenomenal and talented coaching staff, our support system from our AD and Administration, and our parents that make all of this system run smoothly.”
“Accountability is a word we push very heavily to our kids and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today. We’re looking forward to this upcoming season. We’re only graduating two guys and have a handful of super talented freshmen coming in this upcoming season. Again, thank you for all that you do for us at South Carroll and the entire wrestling community!”