Wrestling: Robinson takes national stage; Good Counsel is loaded again


Zak Depasquale, left, is a key returner on a Robinson team with sky-high aspirations this winter. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
December 11, 2013

Robinson’s Zak Depasquale didn’t have to look much beyond his home mat for competition upon joining the Rams as a freshman. Despite a wrestling background that included a state title with his middle school club team, Depasquale — now a senior — remembers looking up at three state-caliber teammates at his intended 125-pound weight class.

So, to crack the lineup, he packed on 20 pounds.

“That’s when I knew our team was so stacked that our guys would have to adjust their weight in order to get a spot on the team, to compete at the state level,” Depasquale said. Two AAA team state titles later, Depasquale and the No. 2 Rams are seeking a spot on the national stage.

This weekend, Robinson will compete in the Walsh Iron Man, a top national tournament held in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. On Dec. 21, the Rams will head to the Beast of the East event at the University of Delaware.

“One of our goals is to make the state tournament one of the easier tournaments we go to,” Robinson Coach Bryan Hazard said.

Alfred Bannister discusses how he made a name for himself at Bishop McNamara High School. (Nathan Bickell for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./Nathan Bickell for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC.)

Besides prepping its wrestlers for states, Robinson’s slate of highly-touted events provides them with exposure they won’t get in dual meets or VHSL tournaments.

This year’s realignment creates six state tournaments, but it also cuts each bracket in half from 16 wrestlers to eight. It's a move that could “water down” parity, Hazard says.

“I talk to college coaches every weekend,” Hazard said. “They say, ‘We’re not coming. There’s no reason for us to come to that [state] tournament. To me, that’s tough.”

Besides Depasquale, who will wrestle at 160, the Rams are led by three-time state runner up and University of Minnesota recruit Jack Bass (152), Jake Pinkston (285) and 126-pounder Austin Riggs, who finished last season with a mark of 44-9. Depasquale’s brother, Cole, will wrestle at 182.

In order for Robinson to make it three titles in four years, it will need contributions from the 120-pound slot, which currently stands as a big question mark.

“This year, the sky’s the limit for us,” Depasquale said. “This weekend at Ironman is a chance for us to make a big hit on a national stage. It’s an individual sport, so everyone has to perform. Another state title is definitely in our sights.”

Sans Snyder, Falcons poised to soar

How does a team lose the two-time All-Met Wrestler of the Year, one of the most decorated high school wrestlers in the country, without skipping a beat? Ask Good Counsel Coach Skylar Saar.

Though the Falcons will sorely miss Kyle Snyder, who has foregone his senior year at Good Counsel to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., they enter this season as they left last season: as the area’s team to beat.

After running the table atop The Post’s rankings last year — picking up a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title and Maryland Independent Schools state championship along the way — Good Counsel has shown no signs of slowing down. And Saar’s goals haven’t changed.

“That’s pretty much our goal for everybody: to win a state title,” Saar said. “If everyone has that mindset, I think that the team goal — winning another state title — is well within reach.”

Snyder and fellow state champion Spencer Neff are gone, but Maryland recruit Adam Whitesell (113 pounds) and Army-bound standout Matt Kelly (138 pounds) return at Good Counsel’s core. Senior heavyweight Jemal Averette has yet to rejoin the team after football season, but Saar said he could return in the coming months.

The Falcons also have an impressive group of young talent this year. Sophomore Kevin Snyder, Kyle’s younger brother, is unbeaten at 195 pounds and was one of Good Counsel’s five individual champions at the Ray Oliver Tournament last weekend. Freshman Bailey Thomas (126 pounds) and sophomore All-Met Kevin Budock (132 pounds) also won their respective weight classes.

“Everyone else is kind of just a little more experienced,” Saar said. “A lot of these upper weights — Nick Miller (182 pounds), Donovan McAfee (170 pounds) — they’re getting a lot better. This is their third year wrestling, so all the experience they have is really paying off.”

Bannister back for four

Nearly 10 months ago, McNamara senior Alfred Bannister won his third Maryland Independent Schools state title. Three titles are nice, Bannister said then. But he wants four.

For the most accomplished wrestler in the area, a fourth championship might be just the beginning. Last season, as a junior, the repeat All-Met went 68-0 en route to a National Preps title.

Bannister, who will compete at 145 pounds this season, is ranked sixth nationally by InterMat and seventh by FloWrestling. The Maryland recruit could face as many as three of the top five wrestlers in his weight class at the Walsh Ironman Tournament in Ohio this weekend.

“He’s one that always likes challenges,” McNamara Coach Paul Wicks said. “He’s a hard-nosed kid. As the level of competition heightens, he always meets it. He doesn’t walk away from it or fear it. He just goes up and greets it.”

Around the area

Chantilly won last weekend’s NOVA Classic, which featured wrestlers 32 local teams South County, Lake Braddock, and Freedom-South Riding also posted top-five finishes at the same event. . . . Tucker Surbrook takes over as head coach at Westfield, last year's Northern Region and AAA state runner-up.

Rankings: Team and individual

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