With back-to-back perfect seasons to start his high school career, Good Counsel’s Kyle Snyder has set the area standard for dominance on the wrestling mat. J’Den Cox, a rising senior at Hickman High in Columbia, Mo., has a resume to match with three state titles in as many tries. Thanks to USA Wrestling’s junior and cadet national championships, the 220-pound teenagers who live nearly 1,000 miles apart have formed a budding rivalry.
Last week at North Dakota State University’s Fargodome, Snyder — the reigning All-Met upper weight wrestler of the year — beat Cox in the semifinals of the junior Greco Roman competition en route to the title. Later, Cox returned the favor, beating Snyder twice to take the freestyle crown.
Those results reversed last summer’s showdown in the cadet division when Snyder won the freestyle competition and Cox captured top honors in the Greco Roman tournament.
“We’re pretty evenly matched,” said Snyder, who was bidding to become Maryland’s first double junior champ since Mike Faust in 2000. “He’s a tough guy with really good leg defense. He’s very aware of his body on the mat.”
At one of the country’s premier high school tournaments, Cox and Snyder distanced themselves from the rest of the 220-pound field. (The event includes Greco Roman and freestyle tournaments, the styles contested at the Olympics, as opposed to folkstyle, which is used in high school and NCAA competition.)
Matches in both tournaments were scored by period with the first wrestler to win two advancing. For the week, Snyder did not lose any periods in his other 13 contested matches, while Cox lost just one.
Head-to-head, the pair squared off in three tight bouts. Snyder started off strong in the Greco Roman competition, beating Cox in three periods, 0-1, 2-0, 1-0, before knocking off Daniel Chaid of California in the final.
In two freestyle matchups at the end of the week, Cox won all four periods by a 1-0 score. Snyder came back to beat Chaid in the third-place match.
Snyder, 16, will have two more trips to Fargo if he chooses, and he’s already looking forward to seeing Cox again.
“If you don’t lose, you don’t really have anything to fuel your fire,” said Snyder. “I don’t want to say it was a good thing, but it wasn’t a bad thing at the same time.”
In the past, Snyder’s return from Fargo has signaled the unofficial beginning of his football season. With his focus squarely on wrestling this time around, he plans to take a month off from wrestling to let his body recover and focus on getting even stronger in the weight room.
After a lackluster showing in the Greco Roman tournament, Josh Llopez, a rising junior All-Met, went 11-0 in the junior 152-pound freestyle competition, finishing his run to the title with a 1-0, 2-1 victory over Yoanse Mejia of Florida in Saturday’s final.
A year ago in his first trip to the event, Llopez suffered a broken rib early in the week and still managed to finish third in the cadet freestyle tournament. This time, he eased through the Greco Roman portion with a 1-2 record and put much of his energy into bettering that freestyle result.
“You don’t go out there to lose,” said Llopez, the state’s first junior freestyle champ since Faust’s double championship 12 years ago. “You train all summer for it. ... Starting on the airplane on the way out there, I was thinking that I was going to win the whole tournament.”
Llopez, who has capped his first high school seasons at La Plata with Maryland 4A/3A titles, won’t continue that streak. He said he will begin classes at St. Mary’s Ryken next month and plans to compete for the Knights next winter in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, a move he hopes will help set him up academically to wrestle in college.
“I’m ready to compete with those guys,” Llopez said of his venture to the private school scene, which offers the chance to end his season at the National Prep tournament. “I think I can hang.”
Recent Centennial graduate Nathan Kraisser — the All-Met lower weight wrestler of the year last winter — finished seventh in both competitions at 126 pounds in his final trip to Fargo. The four-time Maryland public school champion will wrestle at North Carolina next year.
Northern 152-pounder Eric Hoffman — a rising senior who earned second-team All-Met honors last season — was the other local junior wrestler to post two All-American performances with a pair of eighth-place finishes.
Duval 120-pounder Thierno Diallo (fourth), Hayfield 138-pounder Sahid Kargbo (third), Georgetown Prep 138-pounder Daniel Sanchez (sixth) also earned All-American status in the junior Greco Roman competition.
In the cadet category (ages 14-15), Severn 88-pounder Michael Doetsch earned All-American status with top-eight finishes in both competitions, including a second-place showing in freestyle. Northern 88-pounder Breandan Coughlin (second) and Good Counsel 94-pounder Adam Whitesell (eighth) were Greco Roman All-Americans.
On the girls’ side, Harriet Symington, a rising junior at Whitman, posted a pair of All-American performances, finishing third in the cadet freestyle competition at 101 and seventh in the junior freestyle draw at 97.