Category: VSN Wrestling Feature
VSN extends its top wrestling honors to Owings Mills' Phil Smith, Dunbar's Jorden Pryor, St. Joe's Austin Stith and Glenelg's Matt Bichner
by Billy Loverocket
An undefeated champion who discovered himself as a sophomore, a lego enthusiast who dreams of being an engineer, a young man destined to be a state champion, and a coach that embodies the Gladiator spirit that represents his school.
These are the individuals who have risen above the rest in the wrestling world of 2017-18 as Varsity Sports Network reveals top mat honors for the recently concluded season.
Owings Mills’ Phil Smith has been named our 2017-18 Lightweight Wrestler of the Year; Jorden Pryor of Dunbar and Austin Stith of Mount St. Joseph have been named as our co-Upper Weight wrestlers of the Year and Glenelg’s Matt Bichner has claimed the mantle of Coach of the Year.
Here are their stories:
OWINGS MILLS HIGH SCHOOL
VARSITY SPORTS NETWORK
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
When the curtain closed on Phil Smith’s freshman season he saw himself standing on the third-place step of the state podium. Smith, who wrestled at Franklin last year, came into the state tournament undefeated and favored to win it all.
Smith let his guard down in his quarterfinal match with DuVal’s MaMadou Diallo and the match went into overtime where Diallo secured the takedown. Smith powered through the consolation bracket and squared off with Diallo in the third-place bout. The outcome would be different this time with Smith tallying a fall 35 seconds into the third period.
That loss motivated Smith to go on a run in 2017-2018 that saw him finish the undefeated season this time and take out many accomplished wrestlers along the way.
“Last year when I lost I was pretty disappointed in myself," said Smith. “This year coming into the season I wanted to dominate everybody. I had to grind and grind to get to my goal of being a state champion.”
That mission to dominate everyone started with a tough test at the Franklin Fall Showcase at Gilman in October when Smith faced Bel Air’s two-time state champion, and VSN 2016-2017 Lightweight of the year, Brent Lorin. At that time, Lorin had yet to suffer a loss in high school. While this match didn’t count towards official records, it was an important one for Smith who shocked the crowd on hand rolling to a 22-7 technical-fall.
“People were hyping him up a lot,” Smith added. “In the first period I was trying to feel him out. The second period I tried to turn it up a bit. It (the win) boosted my confidence a lot. Him being undefeated and me beating him by a lot made me have more motivation into working harder towards my season.”
That was just a taste of what was to come.
In a December dual meet, Smith moved up a weight class to 126 and took on Eastern Tech’s Ryan Wagener. Wagener, who would go on to be a 2A/1A state runner-up, dropped a 10-8 decision to the Eagle.
Over the Christmas break, Owings Mills participated in the Westminster Duals where Smith encountered the No. 1 120lber in the state, King Sandoval (St. Mary’s-Ryken). Sandoval was a three-time private school state champion and National Prep runner-up, but that would not derail Smith as he walked away with an impressive 7-2 victory and the state’s top ranking at 120lbs.
“I was very confident,” Smith continued. “I had studied so much film on him for the past weeks or so (leading up to the match). I studied his style and a whole bunch of stuff. First period was a little iffy, second period I started feeling him out more. It meant a lot to me. A lot of people doubted I could beat him. When I beat him, and everybody else saw I beat him, it felt great.”
The roll call of distinguished wrestlers continued from there as Smith won his second Warpath Invitational title with a pin of Mount Hebron’s No. 17 Yahir Lemus. Lemus failed to place at the 4A/3A state tournament this year but was sixth last year.
Smith also took out Loyola’s four-time state placer Ryan Thomas with a 19-4 technical-fall at 132lbs. He came up just shy of a major-decision against the 126lb 2A/1A state champion, Damascus’ Johnny McLaughlin, at the state duals, 12-5.
Smith cruised to his second Baltimore County and 2A/1A North Region titles registering six pins and a 17-3 major-decision along the way. Smith won the 106lb county title last year over his current teammate Alex Dufour, 15-4. Dufour won the 106lb county, region, and state crowns this year.
At the state tournament Smith put on quite a show starting off with a tech-fall and a pin before downing South Carroll’s returning state runner-up Dakota Bowers, 16-7, in the semifinals. Smith jumped out to a big lead in the finals before planting North Caroline’s Ryan Bauer at the 5:20 mark of the third period.
Smith was determined to avoid the disappointment that occurred at last year’s state tournament. He finished the year undefeated (45-0) and has a career record of 88-1.
“During my semifinals match I was thinking to myself constantly don’t lose, keep pushing through, keep the pace up,” said Smith. “I feel like I accomplished a lot this past year. Going undefeated I was very proud of myself. It’s the beginning of my whole high school career (the 1st state title).”
A look at last year’s docket shows just how impressive Smith’s two-year run in high school has been.
Among his notable wins last year were two victories over Northwest’s Yonas Harris, who won the 106lb 4A/3A state title this year. He defeated both of this year’s 4A/3A 113lb state finalists (Huntingtown’s Blake Jury, 10-1, and North Hagerstown’s Tyler Cook, by fall, in the region finals).
Smith moved into the Owings Mills’ school district last summer and the addition of him to the line-up pushed Owings Mills back into the state rankings. The Eagles captured the 2A North Region Dual crown as well as the Warpath Invitational title, they were also County runner-ups to Sparrows Point.
“I thought he had a lot of talent coming in,” Owings Mills Coach Shawn Girch said. “Then what impressed me the most was his work ethic. His wanting to get better and not just know that he’s talented and just say, hey I’m gonna win most of my matches anyway. His hard work day in, day out. Putting the work in out of season, and before school, after school, and his work ethic really.
“Somebody like Phil coming in has helped everyone around him get better because they know that in tournaments he’s going to be there in the finals and they want to be there. I think specifically it helped Alex Dufour who he beat in the county finals last year. The two of them wrestling together everyday, kinda pushed each other, also giving a senior like Tyson McDuffy somebody to work with that’s at his level was great.
So, in general just having our room step up a notch talent wise allowed everybody else to see, that hey, we could be there. What I think it did for our team in particular was it allowed all the other guys, our average or below average guys, to step up to the plate and actually be successful.”
DUNBAR HIGH SCHOOL
VARSITY SPORTS NETWORK
2017-18 CO-UPPER WEIGHT
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
Dunbar’s Jorden Pryor came into this season as the No. 1 heavyweight in Maryland and went wire-to-wire with that designation. Pryor kicked his season into gear with a strong sixth place showing at the Super 32 preseason tournament in North Carolina. Super 32 is considered by many to be the toughest preseason tournament in the nation.
The junior put a bowtie on his first undefeated season by capturing the 2A/1A 285lb state championship with an 11-5 win over Damascus’ Elijah Baisden. Pryor’s record this year was 33-0.
Pryor owns a win over Mount St. Joseph’s state runner-up Isaac Righter by disqualification. The two met in the finals of the War on the Shore tournament where Pryor built an early 9-2 lead that seemed to frustrate Righter.
He also defeated Edmondson-Westside’s two-time state placer Keon Hunter twice this year, the first to win his third city title, the next earned him his second straight region crown.
In the state semis, Pryor downed Parkside’s Jose Vazquez, 8-4. Vazquez was second in the state last year. He pinned his quarterfinal opponent, Williamsport’s Tayquon Johnson, 27 seconds into the second period. Johnson came back to take third. Pryor’s first round match also resulted in a pin of a state placer, Jesse Fenner (Havre de Grace, 4th), at the 1:43 mark of the first period.
“You just have to put your mind into it, just to go out there and stick somebody, and pin them,” Pryor said about his state tournament run. “My coach told me to get it out of the way (the early matches at states). Get on the mat, get off, so you can rest up. The last two I was just taking one match at a time. The semifinal match is always the hardest match for me.”
As a sophomore wrestling at 220lbs, Pryor suffered the only loss of his season in the Hub Cup semifinals to Jon Birchmeier (Broad Run, Virginia), 7-4. He ran the table the rest of the way to grab his first state title and compile a 44-1 record.
The Poet, who was fifth in the state as a freshman, became the first Baltimore City wrestler to be a two-time state champion. His career record stands at 109-5.
“Winning back-to-back state titles is good,” said Pryor. “I’m working harder to achieve higher. Like, get my third state title, be a national champion for next year. This year I hurt myself (training for nationals). The first title I was working hard. The second title I felt like I had it down pact.
On being the first city wrestler to win multiple state titles:
“It feels awesome to do that and represent Baltimore City. Baltimore has my back. I just want to do something new. I want to create history. It’s a lot (to take in). A lot of people come up to me and ask, how do you do it? (I) just practice, practice, practice. It means a lot to me.”
Pryor’s journey began with the Mt. St. Joe Titans junior league team where he was an AAU All-American and three-time state champion.
In addition to his regular season accomplishments, Pryor is a two-time NHSCA All-American, was second at the Junior Olympics, and last summer competing for Defiant out of Pennsylvania, he placed second at a freestyle tournament in Romania.
Reflecting on his move from 220 to 285 Pryor said, “(The difference) was mostly weight wise. I had to lift to get stronger. It (285) is more of a challenge because of the weight. The guys were just heavier. They were stronger. I messed up my shoulder from double-legging them.”
“Jordan is a big deal at Dunbar and in Baltimore City as an athlete,” Dunbar Coach Doug McClain said. “It is very hard to get that recognition with football and basketball being king. But with that being said, he has to be one of the humblest guys you’ll ever want to meet. He doesn’t have the big head. He is a hard worker on the mat and in the classroom. He’s funny, very polite, and is always willing to help his teammates.
“As a coach, when you have a very good wrestler, you always feel that maybe they will get bored with things and maybe have a lapse and get caught slipping. Jorden wrestles everyone like a finals match. The other good thing is that he sets the standard in the room that anything less than your best isn’t what we do. The undefeated season is just a stepping stone for him. He wants to be the best wrestler Maryland has had. Jorden’s future is very bright. He gave up football to wrestle full time, so this is a kid who is very self-motivated, and it shows in his body of work. Everybody wants him, and wherever he decides to further his wrestling career, they have a kid that’s all in.”
Wherever Pryor decides to attend college he plans to parlay his love for building Lego models into an architectural engineering career. He has been building Lego models since he was four and has earned the nickname “Lego Master.”
MOUNT ST. JOSEPH HIGH SCHOOL
VARSITY SPORTS NETWORK
2017-18 CO-UPPER WEIGHT
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
If you need proof to see how far Mount St. Joseph’s Austin Stith has come throughout his high school career, look no farther than his freshman season when he wore the DeMatha singlet. During that campaign, Stith was pinned by Damascus’ Paul Purkey - who was then wrestling for Good Counsel.
In the finals of this season’s War on the Shore tournament at Stephen Decatur, Stith turned the tables on Purkey and threw him to his back near the end of the second period of a match he was controlling and pinned the Swarmin’ Hornet with three seconds left in the stanza. Purkey had become a two-time state champion by the time they met as seniors. With the win, Stith secured his second consecutive War on the Shore title and took the state’s No. 1 ranking from Purkey.
Stith would not relinquish that top spot, ending the year as the No. 1 195lber in the state. In the post-season, Stith pinned all his opponents in the MIAA Tournament and Private School State Tournament.
“(It) feels great,” said Stith. “What made me want to wrestle was I saw an article about my dad (Dettrick) winning a state championship (at Sussex Central High in Virginia), so ever since I was about seven years old I was always saying I want to be a state champion. And for it to happen is just great.”
In addition to Stith being No.1 at his weight class, the Gaels capped off their second straight MIAA and state titles, and back-to-back years as the top-ranked team in Maryland.
“I love my team,” Stith added. “It’s a great room. Everybody pushes each other to be the best they can be. We’re definitely a no-nonsense team. It was fun too at the same time. I love leading these guys. I don’t know what I’m going to do next year without ‘em.”
Stith was a wrestler that seemingly improved everytime he stepped on the mat after he transferred to St. Joe prior to his junior season. As a junior he was a MIAA and state runner-up but did not place at the National Prep tournament.
Keeping with the improvement theme, Stith placed seventh at this year’s prestigious Beast of the East tournament after failing to land on the podium last year. Blair Academy’s Peyton Craft placed third at the Beast of the East. When Stith toed the line against Craft in the National Prep quarterfinals, he did what has become commonplace for the senior, sticking Craft 57 seconds into their bout.
The Gael dropped his semifinal match to three-time National Prep Champion Michael Beard (Malvern Prep), but bounced back to finish third, beating Craft again in the consolation final, this time by a score of 3-2.
Stith placed sixth at the private school states his freshman year and ended the season ranked No. 20 in the state of Maryland at 160lbs. He transferred back to his neighborhood school, Gaithersburg, for his sophomore season where he was third in Montgomery County and fourth in the 4A/3A West Region but did not place at the state tournament, ending the campaign ranked No. 22 at 170lbs.
Stith wanted more from his athletic career and convinced his father to allow him to make the move to MSJ. Coach Harry Barnabae had been recruiting Stith since his junior league days at Mt. Airy where he won a state title as well as winning the Tournament of Champions in Ohio.
“I didn’t feel like I could succeed athletically at Gaithersburg like I could here,” Stith added. “I knew coach Barnabae for a while. We had constantly talked about coming to Mount St. Joe, but my dad would just talk about how it was so far.
“One day I just came to my dad, and we had a conversation and I just told him, hey I want to be as good as I can possibly be and it doesn’t feel like it’s happening right now. He made the sacrifice, both of my parents did, my whole family really made a huge sacrifice to adjust and decide to bring me here. I didn’t want to leave Gaithersburg, but I knew to be at the top you had to make sacrifices.”
Barnabae was more than happy to welcome Stith to the team.
“I have watched and coached against Austin since he was in junior league and always felt he would be a great fit in our program. I knew he had the work ethic and dedication that could be developed into something special.
“Frankly, I was surprised when he finally made the decision to come to Mt. St. Joe. It was a leap of faith on his part. A new school, friends, and teammates. Many high school students would be afraid to make this transition, however, Austin fit right in from day one.”
Stith ended the year with a 40-6 record (including 30 pins), and 155 career wins. His only loss to a Maryland wrestler this season was to St. Paul’s two-time state champion Jack Parr (No. 1 at 182), 1-0, in a dual meet. In addition to his other accomplishments this year, Stith was a runner-up at Mount Mat Madness falling to Chris Vazquez (Mountain View, Virginia), 3-2.
Stith reflected on the journey from the bottom of the state rankings to the top, and to what he attributes his success.
“My family, first and foremost, for always believing in me. Especially my dad for getting me in the weight room and pushing me, and my mom for pushing me. Coach Barnabae, Jay Braunstein, and Tyler Rill were three huge factors for my success this year. Tyler came in the room and I drilled with him and he pushed me to be so much better. When you have the coaching staff that I have in your corner you can’t do bad.”
Barnabae feels Stith has the intangibles and talent to succeed at the next level.
“Dedication, enthusiasm, leadership, and confidence are some of the core values that come to mind when I think of Austin. I believe that he has not yet reached his true potential and that's what makes a college coach excited. To see such an athlete that is still willing to learn and then dedicates himself to continue to improve week after week speaks volumes.
“You couldn't ask for a better ambassador for the school or our team. He always has a smile on his face and is extremely supportive of his teammates. His work ethic in the classroom mirrors his attitude on the mat, hard work, perseverance and a never quit mentality is his driving force.
“I believe to achieve your full potential that you must have a strong desire to do your very best. Austin always displayed that desire. Then you add his workout partners Schultz, Keagan Rill, Henry, Warner & Righter, along with his coaching staff and great results can happen. Austin always was talented, we just added the icing on top of the cake.”
GLENELG HIGH SCHOOL
VARSITY SPORTS NETWORK
2017-18 COACH OF THE YEAR
Matt Bichner is a Glenelg Gladiator through and through. Bichner was a three-time state placer for the Howard County school as a high schooler, winning the 160lb state title as a senior in 2006. He rejoined the program in 2010 as an assistant coach and held that position until ascending to the head coaching gig in 2013.
“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Bichner said. “I’m really proud of the community. I really like that area. Growing up there, we have a lot of the same families, and community, and teachers that I grew up with. To have them still there, still invested, and be able to give back, and make Glenelg wrestling one of the strong points of the community. It’s great. The community’s always embracing. It’s a good support system with the teachers, with the staff, with the families.
“And it also helps that we have a great feeder program with the Warhawks, and Dan Ricker, that is always able to get us constant talent and hard-working guys that come in year in and year out that allow us to be successful.”
Bichner has been at the helm as Glenelg moved its way up the state rankings. They began and ended the year as the No. 5 team in the state. Damascus (No. 3) was the only public-school team ranked higher than the Gladiators. They saw the Swarmin’ Hornets three times this season, placing second behind them at the Damascus Holiday Tournament and fourth at the War on the Shore to Damascus’ second (Mt. St. Joe was first, Caesar Rodney from Delaware third), and losing in the state dual meet finals, 49-16.
Bichner guided the team to its third consecutive Howard County dual and tournament crowns. They won the 2A South Region, the previous two seasons Glenelg captured dual region titles in the 4A/3A East. They won the 4A/3A Region tournament both years as well, and this year the Gladiators would have been crowned 2A/1A South champs if team scores were tallied at the individual tournament.
Other notable wins this year include a 51-25 showing against private school power Archbishop Spalding (No. 7 in Maryland). They downed No. 21 Loyola 41-36 at the Bauerlein Duals and took out SMAC Conference power La Plata in the region duals, 49-25.
But their biggest win of the year was over Urbana, 40-27, to win the Bauerlein Duals. Urbana (No. 8) would go on to win the 4A state dual meet championship.
“We had a pretty experienced team this year,” Bichner continued. “Last year we didn’t graduate very many. We’ve gotten to state duals the last three years. The expectation the last few years is not to be happy to be there. We want to get there and excel and push ourselves to do better. Two years ago, we made it to the finals, we kinda got blown out of the water. This year we thought we had a little bit better shot of hanging with Damascus. Obviously, it didn’t happen the way we had planned but our guys used that to propel them into the individual tournaments.
“We want them to be peaking at the end of the year, state tournament, and being ready to go. So instead of making it two separate tournaments, where it’s duals and then the individuals, we kinda used it as part of the process to get our guys wrestling the best at the state tournament to accomplish their goals. I think we did a better job of emphasizing that and the guys just bought into it, and just worked real hard this season.”
Glenelg had the best showing of any Baltimore Metro Area teams at the state tournament. If team scores were kept the Gladiators would have finished second - in their fourth encounter with Damascus. Their six placers and four finalists were the most of any local teams.
Junior Jared Thomas (132) and senior Max Sotka (170) won their first state titles. Sotka was a runner-up last year. Landing on the No .2 spot on the podium were Sam Alsheimer (junior, 182) and Robbie Baxter (senior, 220). Juniors Kevin Hansberger (6th at 120) and Jacob Jones (5th at 160) round out the Gladiators’ award winners. Senior Logan Gwin (113) and sophomore Drew Sotka (152) reached the blood round and were one win from placing.
“It’s great (having the most state finalists and placers in Baltimore),” said Bichner. “We’re fortunate with our region to be able to get some good draws. We knew it’s important to win those regions to get a good setup for a good draw. But we won a lot of close matches in the semis. That was awesome because we don’t always win those close matches and that’s what you need to do in those tournaments.
“I think a couple years ago, we had a tournament where we didn’t win any close matches and we didn’t have any placers. It kind of just shows the growth of focusing more on competing for six minutes. You might get taken down first but you can’t let that get in your head and worry you. You just have to get up and get the next point and keep pushing and working hard.
It was good to see the guys that we felt could do it, get it done. I think all of our guys that qualified won at least two matches. So, we had six placers and two guys that lost in the blood round. That’s pretty awesome and five of those guys come back so that’s a good foundation for next year too.”