As a first-year freshman wrestler four years ago, Wilde Lake’s Zathy Ndiang recalls going 5-18 during what was a brutal baptism of fire.
“I was pinned all 18 times,” said Ndiang. “I mean, every single time that I lost, I was pinned. It was embarrassing.”
But on Saturday night, at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, the 189-pound senior stood victorious as a Class 4A-3A state champion following a thrilling, come-from-behind, 4-3 decision over North Point of Charles County’s Anthony Zoscak (36-3).
In victory, Ndiang became the Wildecats’ third state champion since 2007, and their second straight after Alex Polonsky earned last year’s 103-pound title.
“Oh God, you know, to come this far just means so much to me. I did it for my coaches and my family. It’s just so big,” said a tearful Ndiang, who completed his season with a 30-1 record.
“This just shows that with hard work and with God-given talent, and the support from your family and friends and all of those around you,” said Ndiang, “that you can go anywhere in life, regardless of the circumstances that you’re in.”
With 15 minutes left in the match, Ndiang and Zoscak were walking back to the center of the mat for a restart of the neutral position.
At that point, Ndiang made eye contact with head coach Azmar Hagler, who screamed from his seat on the corner of the mat, “‘You deserve this. You’ve earned this.'”
On the whistle, Ndiang targeted Zoscak’s lower left leg, zoned in, shot in and grabbed it, knocking Zoscak off balance, backward and literally onto his butt.
From there, Ndiang crawled up Zoscak’s body for the takedown and the 4-3 lead.
But when Ndiang failed to advance his position, the referee ruled that he was stalling — a second warning would have tied the match — with four seconds left.
“I just had to keep on shooting, regardless of what happened,” said Ndiang. “I just told myself, ‘Keep wrestling for six minutes.”
On the restart, however, Ndiang was able to cling to Zoscak for the win.
“I can’t be prouder. This is hard to put into words, because there is no wrestler in the room who works as hard as this kid does, and who has the kind of open minded approach that he does,” said assistant coach Lloyd Keaser, a former World Cup champion and Olympic silver medalist.
“Knowing where he came from, I mean, he was being detroyed as a freshman. To grow as a sophomore and not making it here as a sophomore because of a skin infection,” said Keaser. “To have this as the crowning achievement for him, you know, and to watch the emotion that he’s displaying right now, I’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it. This is a special moment.”
The final score and the finish were replays of two other matches wrestled at states by Ndiang, a two-time Howard County champion who placed third at counties as a sophomore, and a one-time Class 4A-3A East Regional champion who placed second last year.
A year ago, Ndiang edged Zoscak for third place by the identical score of 4-3.
And also, in Saturday’s earlier semifinal, Ndiang’s takedown with 20 seconds left broke a 1-1 tie for a 3-1 victory over Catonsville of Baltimore County’s Tyler Weedon, who had placed third, and, fourth, respectively, in past Class 4A-3A state tournaments.
“On the restart, I think that there was about 15 seconds left. I was thinking, ‘When I was wrestling Tyler Weedon, that’s what he did too,'” said Ndiang of his match with Zoscak.
“So the final shot was a sweep single,” said Ndiang, “and I held onto it tight because I knew that he would try to sit on his leg and try to counter it.”
Hagler was in tears as Ndiang went into the stands and was embraced by admirers during the post-match celebration.
“It’s just a special acheivement for a special kid,” said Hagler, who also has guided Zack Brown to third, second, and, first place state tournament finishes — the latter in 2007 — as well as Polonsky to last year’s crown.
“I honestly don’t know what to say right now. I’m just happy that I had this opportunity to win a state championship my senior year,” said Ndiang. “It’s the last match and the last six minutes of my high school career. This just means the world to me right now.”
A junior, Polonsky was fifth on Saturday, as was senior Alvin Harris (171), with senior Marcus Coffield (135) placing fourth.
“We don’t get the kinds of kids that everybody else [in Howard County] gets. And these kids just come in and they bust their butts from Day One and they get better,” said Hagler.
“For that kid, Zathy, to win, you know, it’s just special,” said Hagler. “Because that kid is a good kid. He does nothing wrong and he deserves it.”