After vanquishing Mount Hebron’s Drew Staedeli, 7-4, for third place in Saturday night’s Howard County Wrestling Tournament, 140-pound sophomore Tola Morankinyo of Wilde Lake took a seat in the stands at Oakland Mills High and saw his future in senior teamates, Alvin Harris, and, Zathy Ndiang.

Like Morakinyo, Harris and Ndiang were second-year wrestlers when they placed third in the county tournament as sophomores — this, prior to winning last year’s county titles, finishing second in the Class 4A-3A East Regionals, and placing sixth, and, third, respectively, at 215, and, 189 pounds at the Class 4A-3A state tournament.

Morakinyo watched Harris (171 pounds) score a 7-5 upset in a clash of returning county titlists against Reservoir’s Mark Colabucci, ending a run of 75 consecutive victories that had included going 44-0 for last year’s 145-pound, Class 4A-3A state title.

Morakinyo then observed Ndiang’s 10-4, title-winning effort against Mount Hebron’s Jon Iwaskiw, an effort that followed Ndiang’s pins in 54, and, 86 seconds, respectively, in quarterfinal and semifinal bouts.

“It makes me feel like I’m on the right track, and that I’m following in their footsteps,” said Morakinyo. “They won’t be here next year, but they’ve definitely given me a lot of comfort to know that, hopefully, I’ll be right there in the next few years.”

Morakinyo was, nevertheless, chagrined with his effort. Morakinyo entered the event as the tournament’s No. 1 seed before being upset, 13-6, in semifinals by Glenelg’s Parker Dymond.

Dymond went on to win the overall crown by pinning Reservoir’s Donovan Peek, whom Morakinyo had decked earlier in the season.

“I was disappointed that I had lost, but I looked at that match as if it was the championship match, because I had beaten the guy that he pinned in the finals,” said Morakinyo. “I also knew that I had lost because I had made a mistake, and that I didn’t lose because he was better than me.”

Wilde Lake placed wrestlers within the top eight in all but one of the 14 weight classes, only four of which were seniors. Of those, eight finished within the top four of their weight classes, including two each in county champions and runners-up for the team’s third-place finish.

All of this from a Wildecats’ wrestling team that is as diverse as it has been successful, being a mixture of hard-nosed scrappers and skillful strategists, in addition to a team comprised of those with years experience and those who are relative newcomers.

Like Morakinyo, Ndiang, and Harris, senior county runner-up Marcus Coffield (135), juniors Jode Faulkner (130) and Dwight Ingram (215), and sophomores Raheeem Brown (145) and Nico Jones (285) did not wrestle before high school, according to head coach, Azmar Hagler.

Others on the varsity team did have recreation league exprience prior to their freshman years, comprised of junior defending Class 4A-3A state champion, Alex Polonsky (112, second at counties), senior Ethan Trinh (125, third), junior Ryan Drazenovich (160, seventh), and sophomores Ethan Eckley (103, fourth) and Jordan Trinh (119, fourth).

The Wildecats’ junior varsity crowned five champions, comprised of freshmen Noah Polonsky (103), Tyler Anderson (112) and Malik Jackson (125), and sophomores Adam Satterfield (171) and K.C. Collins (189).

Sophomore Nathan Hasse (171) was a runner-up, junior David Lewis (125) and sophomore Kris Hines (171) were fourth. Jackson, Hasse and Collins are first-year wrestlers, and Hines is in his second season.

The Wildedcats are also resilient, with the two Ethans, Eckley and Trinh, rebounding from injuries that ended each of their seasons a year ago. Eckley broke and disclocated an arm, and Trinh suffered from three, separate concussions.

“Ethan’s [Eckley] elbow was broken and dislocated and he was casted for eight weeks. Then when the cast came off, he went through four months of three a week physical therapy and then two different braces once the physical therapy was over,” said the boy’s mother, Kathy Eckley.

“We had to get his arm as straight as we could, and he was literally cleared just three weeks before the season,” said Kathy Eckley. “I never used to be nervous watching him wrestle, but this year, I was really nervous and afraid of a re-injury. I was just so happy to see him complete the county tournament injury-free.”

Ethan Trinh said that he became more determined to return after having to watch his younger brother, Jordan, and his teammates from the sidelines.

“It was really frustrating watching them lose a few close matches last year where I felt that I could have made a difference. I was happy to see everyone do well during counties, regions and states, but I was also a little jealous that I couldn’t participate,” said Trinh.

“I had to visit the doctors like 15 times, and I was experiencing symptoms for a really long time. Then I didn’t experience any symptoms for about two or three weeks, and they cleared me for full physical activities around August,” said Trinh. “That’s when I started to go to wrestling practices and trying to get into the swing of things again. I will always wish that I could have had last year back, but I can’t really do anything about that.”

Much of that toughness can be traced to head coach Azmar Hagler, whose two-year high school wrestling career was comprised of a third place finish at counties as a junior and a regional championship as a senior under then-coach Adam Eldridge, who is now an assistant principle at Wilde Lake.

“It grounded me and helped me to focus all of the energy that I was putting into other things. In getting better, overall, I only started because [then-football coach] Doug DuVall made me do it during my junior year,” said Hagler, who competed as a heavyweight.

“My first match, I went out and got pinned by a kid from River Hill. But I worked hard and ended up finishing third in the county,” said Hagler. “Matt Nelson of Hammond ended up being the county champion, but I had him on his back in the semifinals.”

Hagler fell in love with the sport, and dedicated himself to it during the off season.

“I worked hard during the summer, but I didn’t do well at the county tournament, which was a disappointment,” said Hagler. “I made a decision that I was going to win the regionals, and I went out and beat a kid from C. Milton Wright, Carter Hugo, for the regional title.”

Hagler was eliminated after his first bout at the state tournament, however, being pinned after leading, 14-1.

“Wrestling helped me. It’s one of the things that turned my life around. My philosphy is to push the kids the same way that Adam Eldridge pushed me,” said Hagler, who coached his first of two state champions, Zack Brown, in 2007.

“You make sure that they’re wrestling during the summer in the hopes of maximizing their potential,” said Hagler. “Some of the more experienced guys, they might think they know everything. But they respond to me after going at it in that sweat-box every day when it’s 95 degrees some days.”

Hagler credits assistants, Lloyd “Butch” Keaser, a former World Cup champion and Olympic silver medalist, and Doug Ramsey, a former state champion at Atholton.

“They deserve as much credit as I do. Doug’s in there with Alex banging every day, and I would say that Alvin and Zathy get their aggression from me, but they get the little things from Butch,” said Hagler.

“Butch does the things that you don’t think about, like, ‘Your arm was here, when it should have been over here,'” said Hagler. “With me being a person who wasn’t extremely experienced as a high school wrestler, Butch brings those things to the table for me and has raised the game for me and all of the rest of the team.”

One of those team members is Morakinyo, whose athleticism is apparent not only in his chisled facial features,
but also, his general muscularity.

“I’ve always been pretty good at individual sports, and I was looking for something different. So Ethan Eckley suggested wrestling, and I decided to do it,” said Morankinyo, whose past athletic endeavors were comprised of football, basketball, gymnastics, swimming and tennis.

“I wasn’t really taking it seriously at that point and more or less treated it as just something to keep me in shape. But I thought that it was pretty fun the first two practices,” said Morakinyo. “I had no idea what was going on when I first started, and I was just flopping around on the mat. So I was pretty surprised that I made varsity.”

But it didn’t take long for Morakinyo to develop a disdain for losing and a penchant for redemption.

“I remember going to the first event at the Aberdeen Tournament. I got pinned in my first match. I’m not a fan of it. But the next day, I ended up headlocking a kid from Marriotts Ridge and pinning him,” said Morakinyo, who was seventh at last year’s county tournament.

“I did a few offseason tournaments and went to practice two or three times a week during the summer,” said Morakinyo, who was pinned for a loss in his first match of this season in a dual meet against Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County. “When I came back this year, I had a lot more confidence. But I still didn’t think I was that good.”

That is, until after winning five of six bouts at the Keaser Classic as a 135-pounder at North County Invitational.

Morakinyo followed up that effort by defeating Boys Latin’s Alex Malinowski in the finals of the Perry Hall Invitational Tournament, his title-bout victory coming over a wrestler with nearly a decade of experience.

“I think that I was up by two points at the end of the third period,” said Morakinyo. “I was really excited because that was the first tournament that I’ve ever won. I didn’t think that I was going to win, going in, but now, that’s given me a lot more confidence.”

lakeAt January’s prestigious Mount Mat Madness Tournament, considered the state’s premiere invitational, Morakinyo won three of five bouts — two on pins and one by a major decision — for the Wildecats’ second-best performance in the tournament behind Harris’ fifth place finish.

“I thought that maybe I would lose two and be out, but I wasn’t ecstatic about the performance. I’ve gone from being really happy at the beginning of the year to having more expectations of myself,” said Morakinyo.

“My coaches told me that I had wrestled well, and I knew that I had wrestled, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t go further,” said Morakinyo. “Now I have more of a sense of responsibility to the team because I know that I’m expected to do well.”

Morakinyo is seeded fifth heading into Friday and Saturday’s Class 4A-3A East Regionals, which will be hosted by the Wildecats.

“I feel like it’s an important tournament, and my weight class is pretty tough. I feel like even if I wrestle my hardest, it’s still going to be very  tough for me to do extremely well. But I’m getting ready, and I’m ready for it,” said Morakinyo.

“Our coaches are awesome. Coach Keaser has so much knowledge and he teaches you so well,” said Morakinyo. “Azmar, he’s going to push you in the end. You love them when you win, but you hate them during practice.”

Wilde Lake’s Howard County place winners.


103- Ethan Eckley, Soph. (fourth)

112- Alex Polonsky, Jr. (second)

119- Jordan Trinh, Soph. (fourth)

125- Ethan Trinh, Sr. (third)

130- Jode Faulkner, Jr. (seventh)

135- Marcus Coffield, Sr. (second)

140- Tole Morakinyo, Soph. (third)

145- Raheem Brown, Soph. (fifth)

160- Ryan Drazenovich, Jr. (seventh)

171- Alvin Harris, Sr. (first)

189- Zathy Ndiang, Sr. (first)

215- Dwight Ingram, Jr. (eighth)

285- Nico Jones, soph. (eighth)

Junior Varsity

103- Noah Polonsky, Fr. (first)

112- Tyler Anderson, Fr. (first)

125- Malik Jackson, Fr. (first)

125- David Lewis, Jr. (fourth)

171- Adam Satterfield, Soph. (first)

171- Nathan Hasse, Soph. (second)

171- Kris Hines, Soph. (fourth)

189- K.C. Collins, Soph. (first)