All season, La Plata's wrestlers functioned more as a unit than as individuals. They naturally wear the same uniform, but to supplement their unity, they dyed their hair an unnatural blond for last weekend's Southern Maryland Athletic Conference tournament.
After the Warriors captured the team championship Saturday without winning an individual title, Coach Todd Sharp decided he, too, would dye his hair for the remainder of the season.
"With winning this, I'm going to do it. They deserve it," Sharp said after his team hoisted its first SMAC trophy in 18 seasons. "I was nervous with them doing it, but it's turned out to be a lot of fun. It pulled the team together. It helped take the edge off."
La Plata, which defeated Chopticon, 202-197, needed something to relieve pressure in a tightly contested conference championship in which Calvert (193) and Northern (186) also contended for first place until the final round.
Sharp said the Warriors won without "superstars" because they placed 12 of 14 wrestlers among the top six in each weight class, another example of their depth.
"We weren't expected to win SMAC at all," La Plata senior John Payne said. "We were picked fourth. We thought we'd have a good year, but not this good. It's been all a team effort."
La Plata finished the season 16-0 in the SMAC. Including the SMAC title, the Warriors won three team championships this season.
The conference victory was the second this season in which the Warriors edged the Braves. La Plata won the dual meet, 28-27.
"We lost some of the close ones," Chopticon senior Eli Black said. "I thought we had a good chance. We had a good year. I just hope next weekend some of the guys that lost turn it around. We could win" the regional tournament.
That is scheduled Friday and Saturday at Calvert. Wrestlers qualified for it by earning points throughout the season, including the SMAC tournament.
Although his team lost, Black won the 152-pound title with a major decision over Thomas Stone's George Taylor. His brother, Lucas, a freshman, earned a victory in the 103-pound division over Westlake's Tim Remo while fighting through the tournament with a fractured wrist. The brothers finished the SMAC season undefeated.
At 160, Chopticon senior Jay Taylor returned to the mat for the first time after breaking his ribs and puncturing a lung in practice four weeks ago. Despite soreness, he won his weight division with a 10-2 decision over Lackey's Robert Matthews.
"Maybe that four or five weeks might have done him good because he came out with a lot of energy," Chopticon Coach Dane Kramer said. "He wrestles aggressively. He gets the lead, and he puts points on the board. He has different pinning combinations."
Third-place Calvert received strong performances from 112-pounder Ryan Buff, 140-pounder Matt Bancroft and 215-pounder Shawn Englert, all of whom won individual titles.
Bancroft, a senior who faced La Plata's Josh Weimert for the fourth time this season, pulled out a 6-5 victory in the closest match of the finals. The returning SMAC champion earned his 105th career win.
Northern, fourth overall, had three individual champions -- 145-pounder Jeremy DeSantis, undefeated 171-pounder Walter Hoffman (28-0) and 189-pounder Matt Parsons.
DeSantis, who upset top seed Brandon Jennings of La Plata in the semifinals, defeated Thomas Stone's Fred Edwards, pinning him at 5:08 with a skillful takedown.
"We both got stacked up face-to-face on top," DeSantis said. "I just tossed him and locked up both arms. He was pretty much defenseless."
Great Mills heavyweight Jeremy Berg earned the 275-pound title by forfeit over Randy Robinson of Lackey, who was attending a state football banquet.McDonough's Derek McDermott, ranked No. 1 in the state at 130 pounds, extended his record to 30-0. The senior said plowing through each match becomes tougher with the weight of expectation on his back.
"That's tough," McDermott said. "People are constantly watching you to see whether you look like a champion or not. It's hard to live up to their expectations, but I've held up and done great."