38-30 competition was close until the end
The Blair Blazers (9-0-4) beat the Rockville Rams (11-3-3) by a score of 38-30 during Saturday's senior night. Blair got out to a big lead early but had to fight hard to hang on in the waning matches. The team celebrated its graduating seniors, captain Nauman Funyas and wrestlers Tommy Norris and Zhaxi Zerong.
Blair's first wrestler, freshman Jason Kaplan, was pinned with twenty seconds left in the first round, putting the Blazers in a quick 6-0 hole. The team found its footing, with Funyas winning 12-4 in three rounds and junior Bryan Huynh earning a second victory by a score of 9-4 by decision. This gave the Blazers a 7-6 lead.
According to Funyas, despite the individual nature of the sport of wrestling, it really came down to a team effort to get the win against Rockville. "Even though we were winning, we were still fighting for more points and to pin our opponents. Even the kids who lost kept trying, kept pushing their hardest. The division title we have now is a result of every member of the team putting his effort into it," explains Funyas.
Up next was junior captain Ryan Holland, who was able to control his opponent through two rounds, getting ahead by a score of 6-1 before pinning him with 35 seconds left in the second. Blair had taken a commanding 13-6 lead.
Junior Aqueni Wilson turned in a dominant performance, but was unable to get the pin, winning in three rounds by a score of 10-0. Zerong also turned in a dominant performance, leading by a score of 8-0 through two rounds. With 24 seconds left in the third round, Zerong was able to capitalize on his advantage and get the full six points with a last second pin, putting the Blazers up 23-6.
Norris opened his match on the defensive, going down 2-1 in the first round to an especially aggressive Rockville wrestler. He was able to tire his opponent out and use his cunning and patience to turn things around in the second, taking a 4-3 lead and finishing the match by decision, 7-3. Norris was happy with his own progress from last year. "I beat my opponent by one point last year but four this year, so I think I've showed a lot of improvement," explained Norris.
Blair suffered only its second loss in the next match, with a pin on junior Pelumi Akinpelu in the second round. Akinpelu fought valiantly, twice wriggling free of what looked like a sure pin, before going down with 47 seconds left in the round. Junior Leo West was able to regain Blair's momentum with a 12-6 victory in the next match, going all three rounds and putting the Blazers up by 14.
Sophomore Joel Paulino was pinned early in the first round by Rockville's Cameron Hoppman, who continued his impressive undefeated season. Next round freshman Mervin Mancia came out in place of junior Rudy Ngougni for the 220 class and quickly met the same fate as Paulino, narrowing the Blazers' lead to five. Ngougni came out next as the heavyweight wrestler and nearly met the same fate as his teammates. He was on his back and narrowly escaped a pin before turning the tables on his opponent, finishing him off with a pin with 5 seconds left in the first.
Ngougni attributes the eventual victory to the team's effort as a whole. "We had to make a few switches at 220 and heavyweight," explained Ngougni. "[Mancia] had to go up against my man who is state ranked, seventh in the state, and I had to bump up to heavyweight so we could get a guaranteed pin on heavyweight, and everything worked out, I got the pin."
Blair turned to its two lightweights to finish off the competition. Sophomore Muhammad Baig was also pinned with a minute forty left in the second round, leaving Blair with a slim 35-30 lead. Junior Ryan Handel stepped onto the mat to close out the victory for Blair. Cheered on by all in the stands, Handel dominated the match, holding his opponent down for most of the three rounds, running the clock out on the Rams' wrestlers.
Head coach Tim Grover is looking past his team's win over the weekend and toward the playoff tournament, where he thinks that many of Blair's wrestlers can make it deep playoff runs in their weight classes. "I think we can place half our team at counties. If we do that we'll probably finish in the top five or six teams overall and advance to the regional tournament. If you place top four there then you advance to states," explained Grover.
Ryan Handel is a staff writer for Silver Chips Online
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