American’s Elijah Murphy wins ESPY Award but relishes on continuing his mentorship work

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Jay Mutchnik

WASHINGTON – American University student-athlete Elijah Murphy recently saw his face on television being honored during the ESPY Awards and was left in awe.

Together with Howard University student-athlete Niah Woods, Murphy was one of seven recipients of the 2020 Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award. The 157-pound wrestler said he did not know he was nominated until days before the show.

The moment his face flashed on the screen during the broadcast was “surreal,” but confirmed to Murphy that his work mentoring middle-school-aged children in the Washington, D.C. region meant that he was “doing something right.”

“[To] be in the same conversation as all those professional athletes and having people like Billie Jean King say your name and acknowledging the work that you’re putting in and saying that you’re an inspiration and that you give her confidence for the future alone, it really means a lot,” Murphy said.

The Northwestern High School alum was awarded for his work for The Grassroot Project, mentoring middle schoolers in Washington, D.C. in an array of topics, and will direct a grant to the organization to continue its outreach programs in the city.

The Grassroot Project partners with more than 50 D.C. public and charter schools to provide health education programs taught by NCAA student-athletes, which they call “non-traditional health educators.” The program chooses to work with student-athletes to build trusting relationships with the young students to discuss sensitive issues related to their health.

Topics include sexual, mental, and physical health, as well as nutrition. To break the ice, the “educators” are trained to start the conversation with interactive games before splitting into small group sessions.

While several of college friends were mentors, Murphy was unsure that his introverted personality would fit with the program’s objectives. His reservations on public speaking and being “goofy” around middle school students made him feel nervous and apprehensive initially.

“At the beginning, I didn’t see myself doing that because of the person I was, but I saw it as an opportunity for personal growth and also giving back and doing great community work,” Murphy said.

The Eagles athlete recalled the first few visits at a Washington, D.C. middle school where he was caught off-guard by their advanced knowledge levels on sexual health. Students already knew about antiretroviral drugs, the types of other medications needed to manage HIV, and the exchange of different bodily fluids can spread sexually transmitted diseases.

The District of Columbia Department of Health reported 12,322 D.C. residents, or 1.8% of the population, were living with HIV in late 2019. The humbling experience of not having answers, taught to mentors during training, moved Murphy to be a better listener and speak in a conversational tone.

“I talk to them as equals,” Murphy said. “Because I know that when I was that age, I didn’t like people talking down to me as if they were better than me or just because they’re were older than me, so they’re my equals.”

Along with his status as an American University student-athlete and a native of the area, students began to gravitate towards him.

“Being a Black student-athlete from Prince George’s County, you can go into one of the middle schools and impart to someone just basically being someone who looks like them and who is doing something that they want to do, which could potentially be a D-I athlete, or it could be to go to a college,” Murphy said.

Admittedly, having students trust him to share their lives with him can take its toll on Murphy. The discipline instilled in him as a wrestler pushes him to strive for perfection and shoulder their experiences with multiple conversations.

His journey began at Northwestern, where he went 85-30 during his career, leading him to American. The sport’s push for excellence helped him “walk the walk” in becoming a better mentor for his students.

“I wouldn’t be at American University right now if it weren’t for wrestling,” “I would never have met my coach while I was in high school, which allowed me to have that access to American University and had that connection to be able to go to American or be a part of The Grassroot Project.”

Murphy recently received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and has begun working towards his master’s degree. He plans to return to the mat for the 2020-21 season as a redshirt senior wrestler while completing the course work for his advanced degree a year early.

Murphy also plans to continue his work with The Grassroot Project as a paid internship program, while helping the organization revisit the mental health curriculum. He hopes to add listening sessions that tackle topics like systematic racism stemming from the protests fueled by the death of George Floyd.

Had the pandemic not occurred, Murphy believes students would have used the program to discuss police brutality and its effects on mental health in their community. The desire to share one’s experiences inspired him to join together with University of Maryland wrestler and Fort Washington native Jahi Jones in a two-part Instagram discussion on race in America.

His overall goal is to spread the importance of mental health in the African American community, and Murphy believes it starts with his work on a mentor. 

When asked about his thoughts of being looked up to, Murphy said his position as a role model goes beyond than his personal exploits as an athlete and relishes the opportunity to continue that path going forward.

“It’s being able to help them in any way, shape, or form, and that’s extremely important to me, as a psychology major, as a human being, and as a Black man,” Murphy said. “That’s extremely valuable to me to help when help is needed or make any type of impact, and I can.”

Tommy Akingbesote commits to play football at UMD

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

SPRINGDALE – Charles Herbert Flowers high school football star Tommy Akingbesote announced his verbal commitment to play at the University of Maryland on Wednesday night.

Akingbesote is a four-star defensive tackle at Flowers, who is part of the Class of 2021 and will play his senior season in 2020 before heading off to College Park.

“I feel great,” said Akingbesote. “I’m happy to be a Terp.”

The rising senior made his announcement on Twitter, via a 44-second video showing various logos of colleges that showed interest in him, and a poster with his Maryland commitment at the end, with Meek Mill’s song “Dreams and Nightmares” playing in the background.

Akingbesote is just another one of the DMV’s elite high school players committing to a local school, such as Our Lady of Good Counsel and UMD alum Stefon Diggs.

On 247Sports.com, the four-star defensive tackle has a 93 rating, while on Rivals.com, he has a 5.5 rating.

“The DMV raises young stars,” said Akingbesote. “I believe you should want to put on a show for your hometown.”

According to a scouting report, Barton Simmons, 247Sports Director of Scouting, described Akingbesote as a “long-armed, athletic-framed interior defender with big hands and the type of body that will need to add weight but has significant capacity to do it.”

Besides Maryland, East Carolina, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Virginia Tech thought he would be a good fit for their respective programs.

“The DMV raises young stars,” said Akingbesote. “I believe you should want to go on a show for your hometown.”

One person pleased about Akingbesote’s decision is Jaguars head coach Dameon Powell, who coached him during the 2019 season.

“I was excited for him,” said Powell. “He always wanted to stay home and be with his family and friends here, so it’s not surprising at all.”
The defensive tackle spent his freshman year at DeMatha Catholic High School before transferring to Flowers in Springdale.

However, Akingbesote was a late bloomer as basketball was his primary sport; he only started playing football in junior high school.

“When I first met him, he was on the basketball court,” said Powell. “He played football before, but he was also playing basketball. He showed us a lot. His athletic abilities, his weight, the way he can move from sideline to sideline, and the way he can move up the field.”

Akingbesote also loved playing for Powell, as he shows significant positivity around him.

“It feels great,” said Akingbesote, “because he makes sure you’re good on the field, off the field, and in the future. Also, playing for him just excites me because his drive to win is 100,000, so he always has positive energy.”
Heading into his senior season, Akingbesote’s goals are to “dominate his opponent” and to win States.

“It’s a big year,” said Akingbesote, “because I’m not just representing my high school, I’m just representing Maryland as well, so now I have to prove a point.”

“He’s got a lot to learn,” said Powell. “Once he starts to understand everything, he’s going to be a star.”

One of Akingbestote’s football idols is Chase Young, who also went to DeMatha and will begin his NFL career with the Washington Redskins in fall 2020.

PGCPS celebrates student-athletes on College Signing Day

By Demetrius Dillard and José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributors

BALTIMORE – Student-athletes across Maryland comprised of the class of 2020 have experienced a year unlike any other graduating classes due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, as part of Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) celebration of College Signing Day, this year’s seniors made it a point to celebrate and announce where they plan to begin the next phase of their lives. Here are some of the key commitments announced:

4A schools announce historic signings

Kaniyah Harris (1) puts up a shot during a MPSSAA Girls Basketball 4A State Quarterfinal game at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, MD. Photo by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse.

Charles H. Flowers guard Kaniyah Harris reaffirmed her commitment to Howard University at the school’s virtual signing day while also announcing that she received more than $2 million in scholarship money. She led Flowers to its second consecutive county championship and a state semifinal berth while also being named the 2020 Prince George’s County 4A Player of the Year. 

“What more can I say about Kaniyah Harris,” Head Coach Roderick Hairston said after her 25-point performance in the state quarterfinals on March 26. “This was her senior year and she plays like the best senior in state.”

In Upper Marlboro, signing day attention at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School, generally reserved for its football team in February, was shifted over to its basketball programs. First, boys basketball senior Kejuan Frager announced his decision to head to Texas, where he would attend Paris Junior College. The 5-foot-8 senior help lead the Pumas to its first state semifinal appearance since 2017.

Meanwhile, Lady Pumas point guard Mesa Floyd announced her commitment to Caldwell University after leading the team in points per game (17.3). Floyd’s 11-point performance on March 2 allowed Wise to earn its first state playoff win over rivals Eleanor Roosevelt.

Following a 19-win season, the Eleanor Roosevelt High School boys basketball team will say goodbye to multiple players, including All-County First Team star Quinton Mincey, who will attend Mount St. Mary’s in the fall. Raiders officials also confirmed that guard Olumide Lewis would head to St. Mary’s College of Maryland after graduation.

Meanwhile, at Laurel High School, girls lacrosse star Clara Larios-Soto became the first Lady Spartan to commit to playing the sport at the collegiate level, signing with Mount Aloysius College. The senior recalled meeting with the coaching staff last season and visiting their campus in Cresson, Pennsylvania.

While she was unable to play during her senior year, Larios-Soto said she plans to continue training at home and continue working on her stick work, to ease in the transition to the college game. Together with her announcement, Laurel confirmed that free safety Markus Smith would play football for Chowan University this fall.

“I never thought I would be making history as the first lacrosse player to be recruited from Laurel; it makes me happy that I did,” Larios-Soto said. “I would like to thank everybody who supported me throughout my journey, including my parents, coaches, teachers and teammates.”

After capturing a 4A/3A regional title, Bowie High School’s 126-pound wrestler Dainon Kappes announced on his Instagram account that he would be attending the University of Maryland as part Head Coach Alex Clemsen’s first recruiting class. Kappes finished his senior year with a 31-2 record and a 3.8 GPA. He joins cornerback Devan Parrish (Frostburg State University) as Bulldogs athletes announcing their college designations.

Several student-athletes elected to stay close to home and continue their athletic endeavors with Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). Joining the Owls’ men’s basketball team are Central High School’s 6-foot-5 center Michael Calloway, Northwestern High School guard Marquise Delahaye and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Jahari Simon.

Bladensburg High School boys soccer captain José Argueta will take his talents to PGCC as well, becoming the Owls first signing for the 2020 season. The midfielder scored seven goals and completed five assists as the Mustangs won their second consecutive regional title.

3A/2A/1A student-athletes stay local

After leading the Oxon Hill High School boys basketball to a 21-4 season, senior Ronald Polite decided to sign with George Mason. The 6-foot-2 guard emerged as one of the premier athletes in the area as he averaged 22.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. George Mason Head Coach Dave Paulsen spoke highly of Polite’s leadership qualities and sees a bright future for the youngster.

Oxon Hill’s Ronald Polite (1) drives to the basket during a Prince George’s County boy’s basketball game at Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, MD. Photo by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse.

“He has excellent vision, is very unselfish and knows where the ball should go. He has a knack for finishing in the lane and is becoming an excellent long-range shooter,” Paulsen said. “He competes on both ends of the floor and improves every time I see him. He’s going to be a big college guard with outstanding versatility.” 

Largo High School’s Vanessa Schwarzmann capped off a remarkable career as a 2019 All-County 3A/2A/1A First Team selection after averaging 19 points per game. Next season, she will play collegiate ball with the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex (CCBC-Essex). Fellow teammate Taylor Lewis, who earned All-County Honorable Mention recognition, announced her commitment to Coffeyville Community College.

Schwarzmann blossomed into a marksman from long range and discovered her role as a team captain by her junior year. While CCBC-Essex showed interest multiple times throughout the season, only one other school, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, attempted to recruit her during the season.

Because CCBC’s style of play welcomes 3-point shooting, signing with the program was virtually a no-brainer, the Lady Lions guard said.

“Really I feel like they were my only option and they were the most interested in me at the time,” Schwarzmann said. “I feel like they play the style that I play. I like to shoot 3s and that’s like what they do, so I feel like I can fit in.”

Largo’s track and field team, featuring members from last year’s state championship squad, announced their school commitments as well. They include Sade Panton (LIU-Brooklyn), Sanaya Ross and Alysha Pullium-Robinson (Chicago State University), Jaylen Jackson (NCCU) and Renaldi Falwell (Johnson and Wales).

Another local track athlete, Frederick Douglass High School’s Miles Gray, announced that he accepted a full athletic scholarship at Indiana Tech. On Feb. 1, Grey captured the 2A West Region Championship in the 300-meter race and finished second in the same event at the Indoor State Championships.

Gwynn Park High School Principal Melissa McGuire highlighted several scholar-athletes on their way to careers in collegiate sports, including girls basketball player Jenae Dublin. The 6-foot-2 guard will be playing for Iona College (N.Y.) after capping off her Yellow Jackets career by being named the 2020 PG County 3A/2A/1A Co-Player of the Year.

Potomac High School had several football players announce their college commitments early, including wide receiver Corey Dyches to Maryland and quarterback Dominique Anthony signing with Old Dominion.

However, several players from its 2A state runners-up squad made their commitments known on the special signing day, according to Coach Ronnie Crump. They include linebacker Anthony James (Marshall University); safety Xavier Dozier (Virginia Union University); defensive tackle Zion Pitman (West Virginia State); defensive tackle Donnell Watson (Chowan University); receiver Marquise Richardson (West Liberty University); tackle Maurice Hicks (Cisco Community College-Texas); receiver/safety Ortez Marshman (Bridgewater University); fullback Kwamai Phifer (Salisbury University); running back Dmarcus Holmes (Bluefield College); receiver Amir Anderson (Monterey Peninsula Community College); guard Kwane Booker (Anna Maria College) and guard David Moore (Bowie State).

MPSSAA calls off basketball finals, spring sports season

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

HYATTSVILLE – More than a month after calling off all high school athletic events throughout the state due to coronavirus known as COVID-19, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) announced on April 28 that it is canceling the remainder of its basketball state finals and its spring sports season and championships.

The decision comes after Maryland State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon announced canceling all athletic events during a state Board of Education meeting. MPSSAA released a statement following Salmon’s announcement that the decision was made after “careful review and consultation” between both parties.

“[MPSSAA] is officially announcing the cancellation of all MPSSAA events for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” the statement said. “This includes the remainder of the 2020 Boys and Girls Basketball State Championships and all spring sports, as well as spring State Championships.”

With the cancelation, MPSSAA is the last public school association to cancel its spring sports season in the metropolitan region. The Virginia High School League (VHSL) shut down all high school athlete competitions on March 23 as the state began its quarantine efforts.

Once Washington, D.C. announced its plans to continue at-home learning for the rest of the school year, both the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) and D.C. Public Schools Athletics (DCPS) office confirmed the cancelation of their spring seasons in mid-April.

Luckily for DCSAA, the championship games were held earlier this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Photo by Cory Royster/The Sports Pulse

The state was in the middle of its final weekend of the state basketball championships, scheduled to take place on March 12-14. With the continued spread of the coronavirus, only players, coaches and their immediate families were going to be allowed in the Xfinity Center in College Park and SECU Arena in Towson for their respective tournament games.

As the spread continued, officials elected to postpone the finals on March 12 and all athletics events indefinitely on March 27. Numerous coaches and student-athletes voiced their concerns on playing via social media, especially after the death of Northwestern High School boys basketball coach Terrence Burke due to COVID-19 on March 27.

“Do I want to play the game? Absolutely I want to play,” Dr. Henry Wise, Jr. High School boys basketball Head Coach Louis Wilson said. “I definitely want to have a chance to compete and have a chance for a state championship, but I know it more than basketball. This is a real-life situation.”

Dr. Henry A. Wise High School will no longer have a chance to finish postseason competition because of the MPSSAA tournament cancellation. Photo by Phillip/Peters/The Sports Pulse.

Spring sports affected by the decision include baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field and tennis. Teams were in the middle of their preparations for the year once practices began on Feb. 29, preparing for the season to start on March 20. Their state final games were slated to begin on May 12 and finish on the 23.

“With this announcement, the MPSSAA wishes to extend its heartfelt gratitude and admiration to all of our member schools’ graduating seniors, underclassmen, coaches, administrators, and extracurricular athletic and activity sponsors who have dedicated countless hours to these programs,” MPSSAA said.

Moving forward, MPSSAA said it would work on ensuring the return of high school athletics by working under the guidelines in Gov. Larry Hogan’s “Maryland Strong Road Map to Recovery” plan, which was announced earlier in the day. 

The plan, created by the governor’s office with the help of scientists, business leaders, and public health experts, is a “safe, effective, and gradual approach” on how to reopen Maryland during the pandemic, Hogan said.

Northwestern High School Basketball Coach Burke dies from complications of COVID-19

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

HYATTSVILLE – Terrence Burke, head coach of the Northwestern High School boys basketball team, died on March 27 after battling with symptoms of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Burke, who worked at Northwestern as a counselor and was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, died late Friday evening, according to a post by a family member.

Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) CEO Monica Goldson confirmed Burke’s death early Saturday, stating that she extends her “deepest sympathies” to his family, friends and students whose lives he impacted through his work. Prince George’s Educators’ Association President Theresa Mitchell Dudley asked for prayers for his family in a Facebook post.

“I know this news is devastating and shocking to many in the Northwestern High School community and all who knew and loved him,” Goldson said. “Please know that my heart is breaking with yours, and I am praying for your strength and comfort during this time.”

Reactions following the news of Burke’s death were swift, with the attention pointed to his coaching career with the Wildcats. This past season, Northwestern finished with a 13-10 overall record. Northwestern girls basketball head coach Keith Devoe called it a “pleasure” working together as part of the Wildcat basketball community.

Guard Marquise Delahaye last spoke to Burke the day before schools closed due to the pandemic as they worked together to figure out his future. The senior said he will never forget that final conversation and how Burke always looked to help every player reach their goals.

“I’ll never forget how hard he was invested in [each of] his players and how he wanted to make us better men in life more than anything,” Delahaye said. “He was very hard on me, but I knew it was tough love. He saw something in me [and] he always constantly reminded me.” 

PGCPS will provide remote counseling to students and staff dealing with Burke’s death with the help of a support team of psychologists, professional school counselors, and pupil personnel worker, Goldson said. 

The school system plans to continue consulting with the county’s and state health department on preventative measures, reporting protocols and communication.

“We will make it through this time together,” Goldson said. “Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones.”

As of March 28, Prince George’s County has confirmed 196 cases of the coronavirus, the second most of the state. In total, Maryland has over 990 confirmed cases with Gov. Larry Hogan stating late Saturday evening that the number of people who have died has doubled, from five to 10, since March 27.

Looking back at the top performances of the inaugural girls wrestling championships

By Lem Satterfield/The Sports Pulse Wrestling Writer

UPPER MARLBORO – Walt Whitman High School senior Stephanie Solloso was within 20 seconds of accomplishing her dream of winning a second consecutive girls wrestling title in three championship appearances – if not losing it.

Down by a point against senior Julia Fitzpatrick of James M. Bennett High School in the 127-pound finals of the inaugural Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s (MPSSAA) state championship tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro on March 6-7, Solloso was competing two years after a runner-up finish in the first annual girls’ invitational folk-style event and following a 127-pound title-winning performance in last season.

“I was down by one point [11-10] within the last 20 seconds,” said Solloso of the females’ first officially sanctioned state championship, which was contested simultaneously alongside the boys.’ “I realized that I had to do something or else I was gonna lose.”

Solloso scored a buzzer-beating takedown for a dramatic 12-11 decision, having reached the finals on pins in the first and second periods.

“I got my two points for the takedown in the last second,” said Solloso, who ended the year with a 7-2 record. “This feels great and provides me with quite a memory to be able to be at and to win an official state tournament. I’ll be able to brag about this to my kids.”

Solloso was among 14 female title winners and among five from Montgomery County, the latter including Wootton High School sophomore Jasmine Gong (100), Richard Montgomery freshman Nadia Estrada (122), Montgomery Blair freshman Jackalyn Heath (144) and Watkins Mill junior Seda Tsami (152).

A third-place finisher in last year’s tournament, Tsami pinned twice before winning her title bout, 12-5, over Dulaney senior Nicole Wanga.

Heath pinned all three of her opponents, including Smithsburg High School freshman Allie Grosnickle at 4:51 of their final, and Gong required two falls, the last at the 2:36 mark of her title match against Quince Orchard High School junior Becca Soto.

Estrada decked senior Ogechi Nwughala at 2:47 of their championship bout after having won her two previous matches on tough decisions of 12-10 and 4-2.

Solloso’s older brothers wrestled for Whitman coach Derek Manon, with Anthony graduating in 2014, and Marcos, in 2016, after being a regional runner-up.

“Marcos had a motor that was unmatched,” said Vikings’ coach Derek Manon. “He won The Grapple At The Brook [at Springbrook High] as a senior.”

Marcos was mat-side for at states for his little sister, said Stephanie Solloso.

“My older brother Marcos was on the sidelines, coaching me, and recording my match. He’s always been there, and he’s made it clear on just how proud he is of me,” said Solloso, who pinned senior Brooke Markell of Baltimore County’s Kenwood High School in 2:38 of last year’s state championship match.

“My brothers were the only reason I started on the mats. Watching their matches when I was in seventh and eighth grade made me want to be out there wrestling the guys they were up against…I would get anxious and be stressed from just watching. But during my freshman year, I ended up going to the first practice, and I’ve loved it from the first day.”

Other champions were Bowie senior Krista Kappes (106), Fairmont Heights juniors Nina Small (112), Smithsburg freshman Jen Hood (117), Dulaney sophomore Sarah Sunday (132), Middletown senior Kalin Bower (138), Randallstown junior Jaylen Hyman (164), Western Tech sophomore Mame Thiam (180), Eleanor Roosevelt senior Arrey Mbutambe (200) and Great Mills freshman Jocelyn Cacek (225).

MPSSAA Basketball State Championships Update, play could resume on April 6

By The Sports Pulse

GREENBELT – The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) has provided the public with more information on the state championships plan of action moving forward until further notice. See below:

Effective immediately: 

  • All interscholastic athletic teams are required to cancel all team practices until schools are reopened which at the earliest will be March 30, 2020.  After schools reopen, interscholastic athletic teams may not practice until they are authorized by their respective local educational agency to resume practices.
  • All interscholastic athletic contests shall be cancelled through April 6, 2020. April 6, 2020, becomes the first available play date for scheduling consideration. All schedules after April 6, 2020, must meet the weekly limitations as detailed in the MPSSAA Handbook.
  • All interscholastic teams should reconsider contests after April 6, 2020  that may include more than 250 individuals.
  • All interscholastic athletic teams should reconsider any opponents after April 6, 2020 that may be out-of-state.
  • The MPSSAA State Basketball Championships remain postponed until further notice.  The MPSSAA will remain vigilant regarding interscholastic athletics and the health and safety of students and school communities.

The MPSSAA will continue work collaboratively with the MSDE and other relevant state agencies to determine the best route for interscholastic athletics to resume.  All schools should direct questions to their local educational agencies and be mindful this guidance may change at any given time.

Local wrestlers crowned during State Championships

By Lem Satterfield/The Sports Pulse Wrestling Writer

UPPER MARLBORO – Damascus crowned senior repeat Class 4A-3A Titlist Tim Furgeson (195) along with first-timers in senior Aiden Beall (182) and junior Michael Emerick (138) among the eight Montgomery County wrestlers who won individual crowns at the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Championships on March 6-7 at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Also winning Class 4A-3A crowns were seniors Sayfore Sieh (145) of Springbrook and Issac Righter (285) of Magruder as well as sophomore Isaac Guttentag (113) of Bethesda-Chevy Chase and junior Jason Liau (106) of Wootton, representing the jurisdiction’s most prolific performance in nearly two decades.

Springbrook’s Sayfore Sieh (145) won a Class 4A-3A crown.
Photo by Mike Clark/The Sports Pulse

Along with senior Xavier Kresslein (170) of Poolesville capturing a Class 2A-1A version, having dedicated his career to an older brother, Zack, who died in January 2018, the eight individual champions and 10 finalists rivaled the six and 11 from 2003, with Furgeson (50-0), Sieh (45-0), Liau (40-0) and Righter (11-0) going undefeated.

Prince George’s County had one finalist in 138-pound senior Jaron Fernandors (40-2) of Fairmont Heights, a two-time county champion whose Class 2A-1A runner-up finish was an improvement on having placed fourth as a junior. Fernansors lost in a valiant effort, 4-2, to repeat state titlist Maximus Bentley (34-2) of Easton, who had pinned his previous three tournament rivals.

Kresslein (49-2) was dethroned as county champion by senior Jaedyn Harris of Gaithersburg after winning the county and region; he finished third at states last year.

However, Kresslein bounced back to win his state title bout, 6-4, in overtime over previously unbeaten Dustin MacDonald (34-1) of Mountain Ridge to avenge a 14-7 Class 2A-1A West Regional championship loss of a week earlier.

“Zack would be proud, and he was undoubtedly a driving force in my ability to push through obstacles,” said Kresslein, whose other tournament wins were by 35-second fall and decisions of 3-2, and, 5-2 over junior third and fourth-place finishers Jake Rallo (45-2) of Sparrows Point and Micah Bourne of Stephen Decatur.

“It feels great because of how much work and effort I have put in these past few months and years with one goal in mind. The feeling is incredible.”

A four-time county title winner who has thrice won regionals crowns, Furgeson scored his third tournament fall at 2:41 of his title bout against Woodlawn sophomore Justyn Briscoe, running his winning streak to 95 consecutive matches with his single-season victories surpassing last year’s mark of 45-0.

Furgeson earned a semifinal 2-1 victory over eventual third-place finisher Adam Pfeiffer (34-3) of Sherwood, a University of Maryland-bound Class 4A-3A North Region champion Furgeson handled, 13-4, in their county championship bout.

Furgeson also owns an 8-1 victory over Class 2A-1A state champion Lexx Carr (44-2) of Sparrows Point in Baltimore County.

“Adam Pfeiffer is a really good wrestler, and I knew if I won all of the positions that I would be in good shape, so I focused on that,” said Furgeson, a linebacker on the Swarmin’ Hornets who has signed to play that sport on scholarship at Villanova University.

“It’s been a blessing to wrestle for the coaches at Damascus. They really have helped me to become the man I am today. It was really exciting to finish my career with a pin in the finals, and I’m really proud of Aiden and Michael. I have seen how hard they worked and it has paid off. I will also be wrestling in The Dapper Dan Classic in Pittsburgh on March 14.”

A third-place state finisher last season, Beall (48-3) sandwiched a pair of falls around a 13-2 decision in the quarterfinals before edging Northwest senior Yoann Olympio, 5-3, in the championship bout. Beall overcame Olympio (31-5) for the third-straight week, having pinned him in the county finals before finishing him, 7-2, at regionals.

“Last year, I placed third, and I knew I didn’t put in enough work to be at the top of the podium and that’s what motivated me in the offseason and during the season to constantly get better so that I could become a state champion, so so it’s a great feeling to end on top finally,” said Beall.

Damascus High School wrestler senior Aiden Beall (182) celebrates after a victory as champion. Photo by Mike Clark/The Sports Pulse

“Going against Olympio was fun. Each time I got on the mat with him, I didn’t exactly know how it was going to turn out. Luckily, I won each time we faced each other, but he was a difficult opponent with his explosive double-leg. I had to constantly be on my toes, but he also couldn’t stop my offense, which led to the victory. It was so disappointing losing last year that I wouldn’t let that happen again.”

Emerick (50-3) earned his first county and regional titles as well as his first state title, this, after having placed second and third at each of the previous state tournaments.

At states, Emerick pinned his first pair of opponents before defeating eventual senior third-place finisher, Armon Nettey (19-2) of Springbrook, 3-0, in the semifinals and senior Caleb Everhart (46-3) of South Hagerstown in the finals.

“After placing second and third the past two years, I knew what it felt like to lose at states,” said Emerick, who defeated Everhart, 4-3, in the regional finals and Nettey for the fourth time in their careers. “It’s always a tougher match when you’re facing someone that you’ve wrestled previously, but I’ve matured in the fact that I wasn’t nervous. Winning this year meant a lot.”

Junior Sam O’Brian (220) pinned four of five opponents to finish third for the Swarmin’ Hornets, who won the Class 3A state dual crown, 38-21, over Manchester Valley on February 15, at North Point High of Waldorf in Charles County, representing their unprecedented eighth-straight Maryland duals crown.

It was a highlight during a season in which the Swarmin’ Hornets lost three times, including twice in one day on Dec. 14 at The Warriors Duals at La Plata High School in Charles County, ending Maryland’s longest-ever winning streak – and the third-longest all-time – at 182.

A fourth-year wrestler who earned his first county and regional titles as well, Sieh pinned his first two opponents in the first period, earned a semifinal 4-2 decision over third-place finisher Jeo Martinez of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, and defeated Huntingtown senior Jackson Cramer, 7-3, in his championship bout to become the Blue Devils’ first state champion since Nadjitade Badje in 2009.

“It feels unreal to say the least,” said Sieh, who “has a 4.3 grade point average, never missed a practice, always works hard, and he accepts coaching extremely well,” according to Blue Devils’ head coach Rob Whittles.

“With only four years of experience, I felt that I needed to prove that hard work is the deciding factor in big matches, not letting lesser experience hinder my goals. But all of the success comes from the Springbrook atmosphere. It truly is a family with support and encouragement from coaches, parents and teammates.”

Led by Sieh, seniors Armon Nettey (138) and Anthony Gomez (182) placed third at states, senior Pierre Jean (126) was fourth, senior Matt Bauer (220), fifth, and sophomore Grayson Wendell (132), sixth.

“From Day One as a freshman, Sayfore has done everything the right way as a person and wrestler. When he started wrestling, we knew that he could become special, despite not having any wrestling experience coming into high school because he paid attention and was very committed from the start, said Whittles.

“He wrestles with our stable of other talented middle-weights every day, as well as Coaches Matt and Chris Halkos, and they all work to push each other to be the best that they can be. Sayfore would ask questions if he couldn’t figure out how to score in a certain position, and he would always listen to whatever our coaches would tell him.”

The Blue Devils earned their second-straight Class 4A state dual meet crown, 40-21, over Annapolis of Anne Arundel County, dethroned eight-time champion Damascus as Montgomery County titlist the following weekend (February 21-22) at Gaithersburg High School.

In the state dual semifinals, the Blue Devils avenged an earlier loss in the semifinals, 34-30, over previously unbeaten county neighbor Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

The Blue Devils clinched the B-CC victory, 34-18, with two bouts remaining on Nettey’s 5-3 decision over Fabio Martinez. Nettey also edged Nate Ditmars of Annapolis, 4-3, meaning the unranked wrestler vanquished the Class 4A-3A’s sixth and eighth-ranked grapplers, according to Billy B’s ratings.

Martinez was beaten three times this season by Nettey, including once by fall, and Ditmars later won the Anne Arundel County title. Guttentag (46-2) pinned three opponents before earning an overtime, 5-3 victory over junior Kielen Huff (40-4) of North Point, with his semifinal fall coming against state champion Eric Liau, who finished fourth.

Guttentag had edged Liau, 4-2, in the county finals, this a year after Liau had gone 41-0.

“Obviously beating Eric Liau once is awesome, but beating a wrestler and competitor of his level twice is quite an accomplishment, and I’m just really glad that I stuck to my game plan and that everything worked out,” said Guttentag.

“The finals match was a little closer than I would have liked, but I got my hand raised and made it a little dramatic with the overtime victory.” Guttentag’s eldest brother, Eli, was a state runner-up before graduating in 2019, and Drew, a junior, was sixth at states on Saturday. “It’s amazing to be a state champion. I’m still in shock and disbelief. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” said Guttentag.

Jason made up where his sibling left off, defeating county champion Chris Simpson of Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 21-13, in the title bout after having sandwiched a pair of technical falls around a quarterfinal, 13-1 decision. “Eric’s record was 41-0 last year, and mine was 40-0 this year.

He’s bragging because he has one more win during the undefeated season,” said Jason Liau, who handled Simpson, 17-6, in the regional finals a week earlier.

“I am very proud of being a state champion and being undefeated like Eric last year. He let me have the lighter weight class this year, so we’re both state champs and have our names in the wrestling yearbook. Next year, I hope we both can be state champs at the same time.”

Righter pinned his way through the county, regional and state tournaments, planting Reservoir senior Dylan Altman (35-2) at 3:57 of their title match.

“I am very happy to have won. I would like to thank my family and coaching staff at Magruder for their support.,” said Righter, who is headed for American University. “I am extremely happy to continue my success at American University.”

Harris scores 25 as Flowers holds off Severna Park

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributing Writer

SPRINGDALE – The Charles H. Flowers High School girls basketball team struggled early to find their shot in the state quarterfinal game against Severna Park High School on Friday night, missing their first five attempts before scoring their first bucket from the field.

While she is naturally a distributor-first, point guard Kaniyah Harris realized that her team needed for her to take over. With every possession of the ball she took, the senior Lady Jaguars star pounded at the Falcons defense with multiple drives to the basket.

By the end of the game, while trying to catch her breath, Harris said she knew she “gave it my all” to victory.

“I love it when my teammates score more than I do, I have nothing against that,” Harris said. “But sometimes, I got to go hard, and I felt like they came here tonight to end my senior career, and I was not ready for that.”

The senior scored a game-high 25 points as the Lady Jaguars earned a hard-fought 55-34 victory over Severna Park to head to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A state semifinals next week.

Springdale, MD – March 6, 2020: Kaniyah Harris (1) of Flowers scores two of her 25 points during an MPSSAA Girls Basketball 4A State Quarterfinal game at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, MD. (Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse).

After early-scoring struggles, Flowers found its scoring touch thanks to freshman Kristian Harris’ two 3-pointers and Kaniyah Harris’ buzzer-beating three-point play to end the first quarter with a 16-12 lead.

Slowly, the rest of the team started to find its way as guard Taniyah Hogg (8 points) fired off two consecutive 3-pointers as part of a 14-2 run in the second quarter.

Severna Park found holes throughout the game in Flowers’ trap defense, as Lena McLaughlin led all Falcon players with 13 points.

However, they were unable to score when on offense consistently. Meanwhile, Flowers’ adjustments at halftime created extra space for turnovers as they finished the second half with five steals.

Kaniyah Harris continued pressuring the Falcon defense with drives in the paint for scoring opportunities as the Flowers advantage grew to 14 points at the end of the third quarter.

Head Coach Roderick Hairston called her “the best player in the state” based on her performance and was glad to see her take control when her teammates were struggling to lead them to another win.

“She took charge in every aspect that we needed her to do,” Hairston said. “We needed baskets; she made baskets. We needed some rebounds, and she made rebounds. She controlled the tempo and did a really good job tonight.”

Flowers will have a big task ahead of them in the state semifinals on March 12 as they prepare to take on undefeated Churchill High School at Towson University’s SECU Arena.

The Bulldogs are led by junior power forward Parker Hill, who completed a double-double performance of 25 points and 14 rebounds in their state quarterfinals win over Paint Branch.

Hairston said he and his coaching staff plan to study game film to prepare for the matchup against a “well-coached” Churchill team.

While Kaniyah Harris will be asked to lead Flowers to a win, a more collaborative effort by all their players can make the journey to a state title a lot smoother.

“We need more energy as a team,” Kristian Harris (11 points) said. “Sometimes, one person pops out for a game while someone else pops out in another game. I think if we just all pop off at once in one game, our energy will be amazing, and our score will skyrocket.”

Potomac falls to St. Charles in regional championship (Photos)

The Sports Pulse photographer Michael R. Smith ventured to Waldorf to catch St. Charles High School in action against Potomac High School in the boys basketball regional championship. Potomac (18-3) could not slip past the undefeated side and lost by three points (75-72) on March, 5. Here are some photos from that contest.