Cooper Flynn (lower-weight), Dominic Solis (upper-weight) and Pete Welch (coach) are area’s best for 2019-2020
by Billy Loverocket
The 2019-2020 high school wrestling season, fortunately, was not heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic as everything but some of the national individual competitions were completed before much was known about the virus and its eventual devastating impact on the nation.
While we all continue to deal with the health crisis, it is appropriate today to celebrate those who achieved at the highest level on the mats this winter with the announcement of our annual VSN Wresters and Coach of the Year – all of which belong to McDonogh School.
The Eagles, although they were defeated by Mount St. Joseph in the private school states, swept both the MIAA A Conference dual meet and MIAA Tournament crowns away from the Gaels, earning McDonogh coach Pete Welch the title of VSN Coach of the Year for a second time. Welch also won the honor following the 2013-14 campaign.
National Prep Champion Cooper Flynn is VSN’s Lower-Weight Wrestler of the Year and teammate Dominic Solis, a three time MIAA and State champion, is VSN’s Upper-Weight Wrestler of the Year
Here are their stories:
2019-2020 VSN LOWER-WEIGHT
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
Cooper Flynn put together an impressive junior league career as he stormed the country side of Tennessee with the Pigeon Forge Club Team, then traveling all over the country throughout his middle school days where he caught the attention of Dan Ricker, the guru behind the Warhawks dynasty. Flynn would journey up North a few times a year to compete with the Warhawks in national events.
Among the accolades Flynn compiled during this run are a fifth place showing at Super 32, third place at Pre-Season Nationals, NHSCA Middle School National Champion, and a fifth-place finish at Fargo prior to his freshman year.
The junior was highly recruited by local Tennessee powers Baylor and the McCallie School. He checked out St. Paul’s on one trip to Maryland, but in the end chose to don the orange of the McDonogh School.
“McDonogh has been one of the best choices I have made,” Flynn said. “It has given me unbelievable opportunities, and an amazing support system to help me reach my goals. The thing that made me choose McDonogh was the opportunity to get a great education, while also giving me the opportunity to be the best wrestler in the country and I truly believe McDonogh is the best place to do that.”
Watching Flynn at the Ironman Tournament in December, it was obvious he was a different, more aggressive wrestler. There was a different intensity in the junior which became evident during his run to the finals there.
“Nothing was different honestly,” Flynn remarked about his offseason training. “I think I continue to get better. I think there was steady progression all throughout the summer. I was training all summer for Fargo. I think I was always at that level. For me it was just a mindset thing. It was just telling myself that I could do it. I feel like I had a completely different mindset than I had the last two years.”
Unfortunately, Flynn came up short in those finals, dropping a 5-2 overtime match to Jordan Titus (Center Moriches, NY). But the mindset from that weekend propelled Flynn to his best season yet capping it with a National Prep championship and earning him VSN’s 2019-2020 Lower-Weight Wrestler of the Year honor. Last season, he was seventh at the Ironman after not placing as a freshman.
“Ironman was a great tournament for me,” Flynn continued. “Ironman was something I started training for since I got back on campus for school in August. That was my goal all school year up until that point. We weren’t training for anyone specifically. We were just training hard knowing that my goal was to go out there and win it. I knew I could. I thought I was completely capable. I think I came in seeded third. I knew each match was going to be tough. I think my first match of the tournament was a 4-1 match. I felt that I was the best. I believed in my training and my coaches.”
Flynn got tripped up in the semifinals of the Beast of the East by Alex Almeyda (St. Joe Regional, NJ), 3-2, but battled back for third and would not taste defeat again the rest of the way, posting a 47-2 record. Flynn finished as the top-ranked 120lber in the state and No. 4 in the nation by FloWrestling. The third place rung on the podium was his strongest showing at the Beast after placing fourth his freshman campaign and fifth last year.
“To be honest, I didn’t realize what my record was until the banquet,” said Flynn. “We’re going through and talking about everybody’s record and I heard it, and it kinda just hit me, like; that’s pretty crazy. I feel like both of those matches (I lost) were matches I should have won. No other blame. It was just me not wrestling. They were good matches, but I was completely capable of winning both of those.”
Flynn defeated Blair Academy’s Ryan Miller, 3-2, in the National Prep finals. He also beat Miller, 3-1, in overtime of the Ironman semifinals. As freshmen, Flynn and Miller were 1-1, with Miller winning their National Prep final showdown at 106lbs. Last season, Miller won both of their encounters, including a 4-3 decision in the prep semis at 113lbs, which relegated Flynn to the consolation bracket where he took third.
“I knew it was gonna be a tight match,” Flynn said. “It always is. We both know each other so well and we tend to shutdown when we wrestle each other. I game planned this match with Coach Bakewell and Coach Welch probably a hundred times. I think I was controlling the match really well. I felt really good but during that third period I knew I was going to have to get that takedown. I lost the previous year (to him) because I tried to wait it out until overtime and ended up getting taken down with ten seconds left. So, I was really trying to push the pace and be the aggressor. He took a bad shot and that shuck by was there. I ended up getting to a leg and finishing it.
“Once I got that takedown, I knew he was gonna get out. He’s really squirmy, so I tried to ride as much as I could and eat the clock up. He ended up getting away, but I was able to keep him away the last eight to ten seconds. It was an amazing feeling ending the season like that. It definitely feels good to know that all that hard work, and extra stuff, is paying off and you’re getting better. I don’t want to say it was surreal or anything because I had pictured myself there all season. A big thing we do is visualization. I’d visualize myself there and that match, my perfect match, winning that.
“Every season so far that’s been the goal. (It’s something) we really look forward to, and really train hard for, and try to peak for at McDonogh. Something pretty cool, for me, at least; I remember every day I’d walk into the wrestling room and we have a plaque full of National Prep Champions. It has all the names and the year, and it goes by columns, and the last name they have on one column is Myles (Martin) in 2015.
“There was one space open right below his name. I’d walk in the wrestling room every day and I would touch that open spot and I’d say, “2020 National Prep Champion.” Then I’d go practice. It motivated me every day to see that. And I think getting there, not to overlook anybody, that bracket in my opinion was one of the toughest brackets there. I thought it was going to come down to both of us in the finals and that’s how I wanted it. I wanted it to be us two and finish it off like that.”
Flynn captured his second state title (second place as a sophomore) with a 6-4 decision over Bullis’ NaSir Wilkinson. He also won his third Ray Oliver crown, downing Wilkinson in those finals, 10-0.
“Obviously, that was a huge goal of mine,” added Flynn. “I didn’t get that last year. It definitely stunk a lot. It realizes a goal of all offseason, to get that state title. It was nothing that I specifically trained for, but I felt prepared going in. I wish I woulda opened up a little bit more in that match. But I was nervous, I was definitely excited. It’s a huge accomplishment for me to get that second state title.”
The MIAA title was his second straight after finishing as a runner-up during his freshman campaign. Flynn has posted a career record of 132-17.
Coach Pete Welch marvels at Flynn’s development.
“His family made a big sacrifice in wanting to come to McDonogh, far from home. He keeps finding ways to challenge himself and push himself to get better. I think more so this year, I’ve seen him evolve as a leader on our team and really help the other kids. When you have one of the best kids in the country be a leader on your team and really caring about the other guys it becomes contagious and everybody wants to get better. So, he’s taken on that role which has been a huge bump for him. He got what he deserved (winning National Preps). He deserved to win that, and it worked out for him and it was just really sweet.”
Flynn knows his path to a second National Prep title will likely run through Miller again.
“Miller and I have wrestled against each other since I can remember. It’s always been back and forth but it seemed each match you never knew what you were going to get. I believe prior to high school Miller and I have met about five times and since high school, counting the times we have met during the summer, I believe we have met over 15 times? This rivalry has always been great for me, and without a doubt made me better. During the season when I’m tired and start to push it and give it my all, I always hear from a coach “What’s Miller doing?” and it is the little stuff like that would always keep me wanting to get better and work harder.”
“That’s awesome,” Flynn replied about being named Lower Weight Wrestler of the Year. “(It’s) really super cool. It’s a great honor for me. I remember reading them (the wrestler of the year stories) and looking at them last year and the year before. It’s just a cool thing to have, cool title to have.”
A third NHSCA National title is on hold now due to COVID-19. Flynn walked away with gold as a freshman and sophomore. He hopes to add a Fargo title to his resume out there which includes a 7th place showing in Freestyle and 4th in Greco Roman last summer. Flynn was third in Freestyle in 2018 and 5th in that discipline in 2017. The Eagle was 4th at the Cadet World Team Trials in 2018.
2019-2020 VSN UPPER-WEIGHT
WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
VSN’s 2019-2020 Upper Weight Wrestler of the Year, McDonogh’s Dominic Solis (182), started wrestling when he was five years old. His junior league journey took him from the Hammond Golden Bears to the fabled Warhawks program ran by Dan Ricker, where he stayed until high school beckoned.
Surprisingly, Solis only captured one state championship as a junior leaguer (runner-up three times). In that run, which was his final season in the junior ranks, he stormed through his bracket with all falls, a theme he would return to this year in his final high school campaign.
“Right before I went to Kindergarten a preschool buddy said I’m gonna do wrestling, you should join with me, and I was like, Ok I’ll do it,” Solis relayed. “Well he actually quit the first day. And I just stuck with it ever since. I loved it. I actually joined the Hammond Golden Bears. Then after two years I went to the Warhawks. My dad was a football player. He didn’t really wrestle but I was always a very active kid so (wrestling made sense).”
Solis was a highly recruited football player in addition to schools trying to acquire his wrestling talent. This year he was senior captain of the football squad.
“I’ve always been a pretty big football player too, so I was getting looks for football,” said Solis. “I was getting them from Good Counsel, that was the main school. I’m pretty sure MSJ too. And then wrestling season came along and that’s when I really started getting interest, more from Good Counsel because they also had a good wrestling program at the time. And then there was McDonogh and I’m pretty sure, Spalding. But one of my best friends, Ray Kable, was a freshman at the time at McDonogh, so that was one of the things convincing me to go to McDonogh. Then after I had my visit, with the dorms and everything, I was just like, “Yeah, I want to go here.”
The senior broke through this year on the national level. At the prestigious Walsh Ironman in December Solis came in fourth. The pivotal win from that tournament was a 3-2 win over JT Davis (Smyrna, DE). Davis defeated Solis a week before in the finals of the Ray Oliver Tournament, 7-2.
“That week was crazy,” Solis continued. “I got back from a college visit on a Wednesday and I was like 12lbs overweight. That was my first week into wrestling because I had football the week before. I was just really out of shape and everything like that. After I lost, that week I was like, “Ok, Ironman is coming up, I needed to have a match like that to humble myself.
“The second day of Ironman, honestly, it’s tough. Anyone can beat anyone. I was warming up on day two, I was thinking to myself, ‘Dude, I can’t even move.’ But as soon as you step on the mat, it all goes away, and after I beat him (Davis) that definitely boosted my confidence a lot. And I started really running through things.”
The confidence gained from the fourth place showing at Ironman and the win over Davis pushed Solis to the podium at the Beast of the East, where he finished in seventh place.
“Then at Beast of the East, I wrestled the kid that got second at Ironman (Jake Evans, Elyria, OH) and I lost 3-1 and I definitely think I could have won. After that, I was really steamrolling. I was losing to ranked kids. I wasn’t losing to kids that (I should beat). I was wrestling consistent, that’s what it was. I was wrestling more consistent because I had more confidence after those matches.”
The Eagle had a bigger dragon to slay in Mount St. Joe that would make his time at McDonogh more satisfactory. Solis tasted defeat in every encounter with the Gaels during his time wearing the orange singlet, until this year when they were able to capture the MIAA Dual and Tournament titles.
“Well, we were on a roll,” Solis explained. “We had just won the Virginia Duals. The first time McDonogh has ever won the duals. We just had the most confidence and we knew we could beat them. For the dual meet it showed that, for the MIAAs it showed that. We definitely could have wrestled a little bit better at states but I’m not disappointed in the way we performed. I think we all had a great year.”
The Eagles downed the Gaels, 41-25, in a Friday night showdown at McDonogh that was packed to the gills. Solis kicked the night off with a 3:18 pin of Gavin Dixon to start a run of four straight wins to put the home team ahead 19-0. St. Joe never recovered, and it gave Solis his first taste of a team victory over his nemeses in purple.
“It was just the best feeling. It was our Senior Night. It was my last time in a dual meet situation for McDonogh. It was just great to end off with a win, especially with a team we’ve lost to (so many times). My freshman year we lost to them in two dual meets, a regular dual meet, and (Flo’s) Who’s No.1 dual meet and then MIAA and states we lost to them. I lost to MSJ quite a few times so ending my senior year winning as a team (was great). After that, everyone’s happy. Not just, you are happy because you won your match. The whole team is happy and then going into practice the next Monday, the room was vibrant. We were all excited. We all really had a good practice and going into MIAAs the following week it showed.”
As a freshman Solis was an MIAA and MIS State runner-up, falling to Mt. St. Joe’s Neil Schuster in both finals. His sophomore and junior campaigns saw him end a St. Joe’s foe’s season on a sour note, besting Jonathan Short both times for his first two state titles.
This year, Solis went on a storybook and dominating run to capture his third straight MIAA and state titles, pinning all his opponents in both tournaments.
“After Beast of the East and Ironman, I really realized I am a very elite wrestler,” said Solis. “And no one should finish a match with me in the state of Maryland. That was my mindset. I wanted to just dominate the entire six minutes. If you were gonna survive, you were gonna be punished. You understand what I’m saying.”
In the MIAA final, Solis dropped eventual National Prep placer Jeremiah Aybar (Loyola) in 55 seconds. He reached that final with pins of 46 and 27 seconds.
More of the same followed at the state tournament with three falls to reach the finals (:37, 2:34, and :45). In the championship bout Solis decked Bullis’ Austin Brown, a two-time state placer, in the second period, 2:34.
“It was great because one of my biggest supporters is my brother (Anthony) and he never got a state title (while wrestling at Hammond),” Solis continued. “He always made it his goal to help me get my state title. He calls me all the time, motivating me, just making sure I’m getting up in the morning to work out. It felt good for me, but it felt good for my whole family because I feel like we all did it together.
“I couldn’t do it without my team either. There were days I did not want to be in there. But they boost you up. They make you feel a lot better. And in the end, it feels good to be worth it, getting three state titles. It was a great feeling. Even though we didn’t get the team title, which I really, really wanted, it was still just a great feeling.”
At season’s end, Solis improved on his National Prep placement as well. After being fifth as a junior, the Eagle brought home bronze from Lehigh.
“I lifted a lot more in the off season,” Solis offered. “My main goal, I didn’t want anyone in the country to be stronger than me. And I really felt that. I don’t think anyone was stronger than me at any of the tournaments. I definitely got out wrestled in matches but no one out-strengthened me in any match. Even at Ironman, even at Beast. I still felt stronger. Even against Rylan Rogers (Blair), the No. 6-7 kid in the country, I felt so much stronger than him. That was my main focus in the offseason. Working with Coach Ed (Holland) and Coach (Brandon) Phillips. I was lifting with them and wrestling with them just trying to improve my overall game but mostly just lifting and just getting stronger.”
The breakthrough Solis experienced this year did not surprise his coach, Pete Welch.
“Dominic’s always been capable. A tremendous athlete. He came out and placed in both Ironman and Beast coming out from being a main player on our defense for football team. He did a whole season of football and kept trying to find Sunday workouts and times that he could work on wrestling. But his focus was football.
“He took second at Ray Oliver and came back and beat the kid from Smyrna at Ironman, and then pacing at Beast when he really hadn’t even hit his stride yet. It just shows you what a talented athlete he is. But Dom put a lot of extra work in. A lot of extra Sundays wrestling when he could, training during the offseason, going to Fargo, so he’s put the work in. He’s always had the athletic ability but he put the work in and gained a lot of experience in the last year and a half that has taken him from not placing in those national events to placing in all three of them this year. And really getting the attention of a lot of colleges, he was getting some attention, but not like he was after he started placing in these events.”
Solis, whose season record was 43-7 (31 pins) with an overall record of 154-34, including 84 pins, was not expecting to win a Wrestler of the Year award, but promises this is not his high point, as he will be taking the mats for Maryland in the fall.
“I was kinda surprised. I didn’t think I was gonna win it because there’s a lot (of good wrestlers). Garret Kappes is a very dominant wrestler too, so I feel blessed. All my hard work is really paying off. I’d just like to thank everyone that helped me through my journey to get to this point. This is not a peak at all because I definitely want to do great things in college, but this is definitely a great steppingstone for me for the near future.
“My recruitment process started a little bit later than everyone else because I didn’t really start to shine until after Ironman. The recruiting process, especially for D1 at those elite levels, is a lot earlier, like end of junior year or summer going into senior year. Mine was a few weeks into the season already. It was a crazy process. I had a whole bunch of visits and everything.
“After Ironman, Maryland called me and had a really good offer for me. And I really wanted to stay home, close to my parents so they can actually come to watch me wrestle. Overall, I think it was a great decision for me. I love my future teammates already. Garrett Kappes, one of my teammates now, is going to be one of my roommates. Nathan Porter from MSJ is also going to be one of my roommates. So, I’m already familiar with the kids on the team.”
2019-2020 VSN WRESTLING
COACH OF THE YEAR
McDonogh head wrestling coach Pete Welch was born into a life of wrestling. The New Jersey native wrestled for his father, John Welch, at Ridge High School where he won a state championship as a senior after finishing third his junior season. Welch also earned All-American honors in Freestyle and Greco Roman in addition to winning three New Jersey state Freestyle titles.
The father/son bond was furthered in 2015 when Pete was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame joining John, who was elected to the New Jersey chapter in 2003.
For his collegiate career, Welch took his talents to North Carolina where he won an ACC title and reached All-American status at the NCAA Wrestling Tournament in 1991, while amassing 108 wins in his career.
Becoming a coach was a natural step for Welch at this point and in 1994 he landed on the campus of McDonogh, who he has built into a state and national power.
“I was a year out of college, and I knew I wanted to get into teaching,” Welch said. “It was either going back to school and getting more education or find a private school where I can get my foot in the door right away and the Athletic Director at the time was Frank Antonelli, whose one son (Jay) is at the Naval Academy and the other (Brian) is at Blair now, and Brian is a McDonogh alum.
“Frank was a rival coach to my dad when I was growing up. He coached at a local high school and they coached against each other. We’ve known the families for a while and that was a contact I had. There were looking for an Assistant Wrestling Coach at the time and I came up and interviewed for the job, got the teaching position and that brought me up here.
“I didn’t think it was going to be 27 years later. My wife and I had just gotten married and spent one year as an assistant and was going to head back down to North Carolina and that area where her family is from. Then they needed a head coach, so I took over the program after my first year and just put roots in the ground in Maryland ever since. My oldest daughter graduated here, my middle daughter graduated here, all went through the school, Kindergarten up, my son is a junior. We live on campus so we’re kind of all in on this place and have been for a long time.”
Recent seasons saw the Eagles playing second fiddle to Mount St. Joseph as they watched their rival win five duals over the previous four years and win three straight MIAA and State Tournament titles.
Early results from the Walsh Ironman coupled with a top ten finish at the Beast of the East suggested this would be the year McDonogh dethroned St. Joe. At both tournaments the Eagles led the local contingencies with the most placers (4 at each).
VSN’s Wrestlers of the Year shined at both tournaments, Cooper Flynn (120) was 2nd at Ironman and 3rd at the Beast of the East and Dominic Solis (182) placed 4th at the Ironman and 7th at the Beast. Jack Wimmer (195) also landed on the podium at both events, 8th at Ironman and 5th at Beast. Heavyweight Garrett Kappes was 6th at the Ironman but missed the Beast while nursing an injury. Freshman Clayton Gabrielson reached the Beast awards stand with a 4th place showing at 132lbs.
“(After) our results at those two events, I knew we could be great,” Welch continued. “We’re a team that seems to be one guy away from being amazing and one injury away from really struggling. So, the years we’ve been able to put it together we either had that extra guy or everything just came together, and core guys performed well. I knew we had the experience going into events like that. We had the experience to score really well because we had some upperclassmen that could all place and some sophomores and juniors that were in the mix, and some freshmen that could surprise people.
“We had a few guys really step up. I think Dominic Solis showed what he was really capable of by placing in both events. Jack placed well, Garret placed at Ironman, Cooper really opened the door. He’d always done really well on the national level but to get into the finals of Ironman and compete so well was just eye opening for a lot of people. I think that kinda set the tone for us. We had a good nucleus there. With that nucleus you can beat anybody but if part of that nucleus doesn’t perform well, then you can lose to anybody as well.”
In Early January at the Rock Ridge Duals in Virginia, McDonogh won the title with a convincing 57-21 drubbing of Robinson, a perennial Virginia power.
“We did not do an event between the two holidays this year, and the year before for the first time ever,” said Welch. “And I thought it was actually a good move because the way Ray Oliver, Ironman, Beast all pushed into late December it kinda gave us a chance to relax a little bit and recover and then go into Rock Ridge. There was some competition that we should have done really well against, then some competition that would challenge us. To come back and have that event and get six duals was great. Robinson is always a tough team out of Virginia. I think some of their really good kids matched up against our really good kids and we performed very well. So that was a good test and a confidence boost going into the Virginia Duals for sure.”
That was just a tease of what was to come when the Eagles rolled back down to Virginia later that month for the Virginia Duals, a tournament they had never won. The Eagles got past their Delaware rival, Smyrna 48-22 (Smyrna outpointed them for 1st at Ray Oliver) and downed Erie Cathedral Prep from Pennsylvania 40-30 in the finals. But the biggest feather in their cap was a semifinal win over eventual PA AAA State Dual champs, Nazareth, 35-30. Despite that result, Intermat ranked Nazareth No. 24 in the country and McDonogh No. 42 in their final team poll.
“I think we’ve probably taken better teams down there and not won it,” Welch remarked. “But the competition once you get there in that environment, it’s just a great place to compete. I love a dual meet tournament. I love dual meets in general and dual meet tournaments because you can see the team aspect, you can feel the momentum, and there’s no better place to feel it than when you’re on the floor of the Virginia Duals with all the wrestling going on around you. In our ten years or so of going down there, we’ve been in some crazy matches that we pulled out against some really good teams and we’ve gotten embarrassed down there.
“Knowing this team going into it, we knew we had the capability to do some great things. I think we were the fourth or fifth seed. Everything had to lineup right and I think it did. The win over Nazareth really was a showcase win for our program. Especially since they went on to do so well in Pennsylvania this year. For us to beat a team in a dual meet that won the PA Dual Meet Championship says a lot about our program and how well our kids performed that day. I don’t think there was any flukes. I think Nazareth might have been surprised but we won where we thought we could win.
“Richard (Fedalen) had a big pin that day. Harrison (Trahan) came up with a huge win that day against some of their better kids. Then going into the finals against a team that had really put it to us the year before we were in a great position, in control, and then Clayton Gabrielson is getting ready to tech fall a kid and his arm slips out of a headlock. The ref called it illegal. The kid couldn’t continue. That’s a 12-point swing for us and real unfortunate situation. We were in real trouble there and then some of our younger guys, that aren’t necessarily the guys we rely on, stepped up and got us some tight matches, got us some wins, and we clawed back and beat another really good team.
“That was probably the point in the season where I knew we weren’t just a team that was counting on our six-to-eight really experienced wrestlers. Our other guys were coming along too and really improving. As a team we were gelling and the guys were really caring about each other, and pulling for each other, and helping each other out. That’s when we showed it the most and that’s when I knew this was gonna be a special run here coming down the stretch.”
Leading up to the St. Joe dual meet the Eagles had already taken out the No. 4 and 5 teams in the state (Loyola 56-22 and Spalding 42-24 respectively). The packed house at McDonogh that night was expecting St. Joe’s streak to end. The question posed frequently before the match, was, how badly would McDonogh beat them? The Eagles got off to a hot start and never looked back, winning nine of the matches while cruising to a 41-25 victory.
“Anytime we wrestle St. Joe anything can happen,” Welch said. “There where years where they were better than us, but we took them really tight and beat them or almost beat them. Then years when we were better than them and they either took us tight or beat us. That’s just the way it’s been the last 15 years between our two programs. It makes it fun. It’s a great rivalry that I hope continues for a long time. It’s nice that we’re on the good side of it after a few years of being off. We had some things go our way and things weren’t perfect for them this year. Rarely at that point of the year is any team 100%. They weren’t 100% and we weren’t 100% but we were able to keep it together that night and came out on top. That was kinda the pinnacle of us performing well and wrestling well and feeling confident and having a great night.”
The good times continued for the Eagles at the MIAA Tournament as they took home the title crowning six champions. Claiming those golds for the Eagles were, Flynn, Gabrielson, Solis, Wimmer, Kappes, and Jackson Bonitz (220).
“That’s really a great event to win,” Welch added. “The night before the event I heard one of St. Joe’s really good wrestlers was out. Actually, a reporter called and told me that, I said, “What? I haven’t heard that yet. He said you must be feeling pretty good, and I’m like well I don’t know something might happen to us.” And this is 6 o’clock the night before the tournament, and sure enough, I got a call that night, Richard was sick.
“Until the guys show up at the scale as a high school coach you never really know what you’re gonna get. You try and control everything that you can, but somethings are uncontrollable. For us to have that hole in our lineup but still have another one of our wrestlers, Connor Bollinger (126), step up and make it to the finals was huge points for us. That just kind of shows the team aspect of this sport, even in tournaments. That was a great tournament win for us.”
Unfortunately, they couldn’t end the Gaels’ state title run as they fell short but still led the State Champion count with five and Welch watched senior Jack Wimmer (195) and junior Harrison Trahan (160) capture their first crowns. Solis picked up his third state title in dominating fashion registering all pins, Flynn logged his second title, and Kappes claimed state supremacy for a second straight year.
Welch reflected on one of the few hiccups his squad encountered all year.
“People always ask me, “What’s the most important? The dual meets, the MIAA, or the states?” I’m like whatever we’re doing at the time is most important. To not win the states was disappointing. It’s not how we’re marking our season. There are other years we should have won it and didn’t, there’s years we probably shouldn’t have won it and did. It would have been great to have won it, but I still think some of the things we did during that event were pretty amazing. We wrestled, again, without Richard in our lineup. I think we wrestled very well. We had Gerrard Johnson (126) step up and place and go to National Preps who had been JV all year long. Harrison to take third in the MIAA’s and then win the states, that was a huge highlight and a huge turnaround. Even though we didn’t win as a team there were some real bright spots and it just wasn’t our day, team point wise, but I think we wrestled very well in that tournament.”
At the National Prep Tournament, McDonogh once again outpaced St. Joe, placing fourth while the Gaels were fifth. At Lehigh, Welch saw junior Cooper Flynn capture his first National Prep crown. Trahan and Kappes reached the finals with both coming up just short of the crown. Solis was third, Wimmer fourth, and Gabrielson seventh.
“It parallels the national level events of Beast and Ironman in terms of a lot of similar competition,” Welch said. “When you have six to eight guys that can place in that level of a tournament, you can score a lot of points and do really well. Of the guys we took, they all competed very well. Even the ones that didn’t place, everybody scored us points and when that happens in the early rounds it puts you in the mix for being up in the top five of that tournament.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid so driven as Cooper Flynn. We’ve had some great kids, tremendous athletes, tremendous workers over the years, but if winning was solely based on work ethic, he’d blow everybody out of the water. For it to come together for him at the end, wrestle a very tight match against a kid he’s lost to before several times and finish on top was a great finish for him and a great finish to our year.”
In his time at the helm the Eagles have won 11 MIAA Dual Meet titles, 9 MIAA Tournament titles, and 6 MIS State Titles. They finished the season as the No.1 team in Maryland in the state rankings compiled by BillyB’s Wrestling World. One of those previous stellar seasons led to Welch earning the 2013-2014 VSN Coach of the Year award.
“Coach of the year is a nice thing but it’s easy when you have great kids to get recognition as a coach,” Welch elaborated. “The great athletes make the great coaches. I probably coached a lot harder, had to do a lot more than other years, when I had a lot less results. It’s been a process over many years to have the success of this year.
“And that process is not just me. I got to give kudos to all the guys that coach with me. Joe Bakewell has been coaching with me for 26 years and has shared in the vision. He’s an Associate Head Coach and worthy of recognition. He’s got the same passion. There’s a lot of days when he takes it and I support. Josh Fitch is an alum that works at the school who has been a huge asset to us. Travis Holmes is another alum that works at the school, grabs them out of the hallway and gets them out from football, and coaches them up. Randy Bode is a former parent whose been coaching our junior program for years and supports us. Ed Holland, our club coach. All these guys coach with me but one thing we have is just a real team effort on our staff, as I’m sure most coaches would say. But particularly Joe whose been there for 26 years. That’s really why it works.”