LaPlata freshman Josh Llopez has taken the Maryland high school wrestling season by storm, having posted a record of 38-2 following a 48-second pin and 14-3 major decision, respectively, over Aberdeen’s Jasaan Beck and Paint Branch’s Garrett Hoover entering Saturday’s Class 4A-3A state semifinals at the University of Marylanfd’s Cole Field House.
In victory, Llopez joined semifinal teammates John Papanicolas (103), Daniel Brannon (140), Connar Zimmerman (160) and Jon Boarman as the Warriors pursue their third state tournament title to go with three Class 4A-3A state dual meet crowns.
The Warriors were in first place following the quarterfinals with 51.5 points, followed by Tuscarora of Frederick County (39 points) and Wilde Lake of Howard County (35 points).
Llopez’s lone defeats this year have come by 14-3 major decision to Archbishop Spalding’s Charlie Lynch, who went 60-0 for the Maryland private schools and National Preps Tournament titles, and by 5-3 in overtime to Jacob Crawford, a three-time Virginia state champion from Milbrook High.
Llopez has earned championships in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference as well as the Class 4A-3A South Regionals, and has a semifinal match against North County’s Cordell Blair (34-1), who had a fall in 2 minutes, 49 seconds over Ryan Murphy of Oxon Hill, and a 14-5 major decision over Kanen Barnes of Magruder.
Another standout performer in the same Cole Field House gymnasium is Centennial junior Nathan Kraisser (125), who is pursuing his third straight state title after having earned crowns at 103-, and, 112 pounds, respectively.
Like Llopez, Kraisser is looking to join Aberdeen of Harford County’s Matt Slutzky, Owings Mills of Baltimore County’s Steve Kessler, Hereford of Baltimore County’s Josh Asper and Southern of Garrett County’s Bubba Scheffel as Maryland’s only four-time state titlists.
Besides earning a milestone four Maryland titles, Llopez can place himself in further elite category by becoming what would likely be the heaviest freshman to win a public school crown. Asper won his first title as a 135-pounder, and followed with championships at 145, 160 and 171.
Beyond his obvious talents on the mats, however, Llopez has impressed LaPlata coach, Todd Sharpe, with his general concern for others.
“On Wednesday, I was driving back from North Carlina. There was an emergency with my dad. And I get a call on the phone,” said Sharpe.
“And it was Josh, saying, ‘Hey, how is your dad.’ And, ‘you know, I was thinking about you and praying for you,'” said Sharpe. “It just tells you what kind of kid he is. I don’t think that you need to say anymore than that.”
Varsity Sports Network caught up to Llopez for this Q&A.
VSN: Where did you get your start?
JL: I started out at Middle River for about three or four years until I was about 10 or 11, and then I went to Cary Kolat’s. We moved down to Southern Maryland this summer.
I was going to go to Archbishop Curley.
VSN: How many state titles did you win?
JL: States? Eight. I wrestled for Middle River and Kolat when I won them.
VSN: How did you decide to attend LaPlata?
JL: I mean, it was nothing that I could control. My father’s a production manager fixing houses and stuff like that, and his job moved him. So, when he moved, I moved with him.
I was considering going to North Point, and we were debating. But my friend, Garrett Lineberger, he felt that LaPlata would help me out more, so I decided on LaPlata.
VSN: Do you embrace the notion that you could potentially become a four-time state champion?
JL: I think about being a four-time state champion but I’ve got to take it one match at a time. I have to think about this state championship first before anything.
Being a four-time state champ, at this point, is too far along to think about when I haven’t even got my first one yet.
VSN: Is it tough as a freshman winning at 152 pounds?
JL: I don’t wrestle any differently. If anything, I try to make my opponents wrestle differently against me. I just wrestle my match.
I don’t pay attention to the freshman, sophomore, junior, senior thing. I just wrestle like Josh Llopez, and then we see what happens.
VSN: Am I accurate in saying that your tilt was a little tougher to get against Garrett Hoover because he was a little stronger and physically mature than you are?
JL: Well, I tried to work a tilt, but it was just that he was a little stronger than me. A lot of my guys are stronger than me. They’re all stronger than me.
But it really doesn’t matter to me. In my mind, I’m the strongest kid out there. I’m not trying to be cocky, that’s just my mentality. That’s just the way it is. I use their strength against them. I got a couple of back points a few times.
But he was good at keeping his back at 90 percent. So I had to cut him and take him down a couple of times and was able to break him.
VSN: Can you discuss your losses this year to Charlie Lynch and Jacob Crawford?
JL: Charlie Lynch was my fourth or fifth match in the finals of the War On The Shore. I just learned not to get too nervous. I had nothing to lose, but I had lost, mentally, before I even went out there. That’s where I learned to take every match like I’m the underdog for every match.
Against Crawford, I think I could have beaten him. But I was just too fatigued. My conditioning wasn’t there, and it just gave me something to work on.
He was a great wrestler and he caught me.
VSN: What are your goals for this Class 4A-3A state tournament?
JL: I want to dominate everybody. My goal is to break my opponent and just win my matches clearly.