It's All Smiles For Whitman After Streak To Semifinals

By Ryan Mink
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Whitman was the happiest losing team at Saturday's Maryland state wrestling duals at North Carroll High School.

First-year coach Derek Manon was getting slaps on the back and congratulations. The wrestlers seemed at ease while packing their bags and accepting hugs from parents.

A week after coming from behind to beat Springbrook in the 4A West region semifinals and edging powerhouse Damascus in the final, Whitman lost to eventual 4A/3A state champion Stephen Decatur in the state semifinals, 34-33. But by the end of it all, Whitman's duals record stood at 16-1, a far cry from its 9-5 record last year.

"This feels good," 171-pounder Taylor Leighton said. "We've come a long way. Our team wrestled real hard to get here. We had a real young team, and we still do. We're just a maturing team."

Whitman will lose just six seniors from this year's squad, four of whom were starters. The Vikings hope the maturation that began this season will continue into next.

"We'll have a lot more ability, because we were here and had a year to mature and get better," Leighton said. "We'll have a good shot at winning it next year."

Whitman fell behind Stephen Decatur early but fought back behind a 2-0 overtime win by 160-pounder Aaron Norris over Bryce Smith and took a 15-12 lead in the next match when Leighton pinned Delonte Tate, who took fourth in the 4A/3A state tournament last year.

Danny Miller scored a pin for Stephen Decatur, but Danny Lee brought the Vikings right back with a pin over Dylan Drew, giving Whitman a 21-18 lead. Stephen Decatur tied the score at 21 before taking over in the lightweight classes, scoring major decisions at 103 and 112 pounds and a pin at 119 to give itself enough cushion at 34-21 that pins by Whitman's Nick Robison and Michael Harder were inconsequential.

Before the dual meet started, Manon gave his wrestlers a speech about how they belonged in the state semifinals. The team had already been through tough tournaments such as the Mad Mats on Jan. 8, the Patriot Classic on Jan. 5 and Mount Mat Madness on Jan. 19.

"One thing goes the other way, and you don't know what happens," said Manon, who wanted to give credit to former coach Andy Wetzel. "I'm proud of my kids for wrestling the whole time. We put in work all year, and we showed we can beat the best in our region and wrestle with the best in the state."

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