Glen Burnie's Justin Neal won Anne Arundel County, 4A/3A East Region and 4A/3A state wrestling championships this winter, but the All-Met heavyweight said his toughest competition will be this week.
Neal, a rising senior, is one of 10 high school wrestlers from Anne Arundel County selected for Team Maryland to compete in the nation's most prestigious tournament, the USA Cadet and Junior Championships in Fargo, N.D.
Neal experienced the greatest success of his young career at the meet last year, winning national championships in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions. But Neal competed in the younger, cadet age category, and now he will take the mat against more experienced wrestlers in the junior tournament.
"I really made a name for myself last year, and now when I'm wrestling, people may not know me by face, but they'll know my name, and they'll be gunning for me," said Neal, who went 27-1 this winter for the Gophers. "I'm going there to try to win, but my goal is to finish in the top three."
County residents joining Neal in the junior competition, made up of rising juniors born in 1987, seniors and spring graduates, are South River senior Ethan Harvey (135), Mount St. Joseph juniors Alex Ward (130) and Mack Lewnes (152) and recent graduates Doug West (130) of Old Mill and Andrew Smith (145) of Annapolis. South River senior Emily Duckworth will compete in the 112-pound class of the women's junior competition.
"It's a totally different story competing in juniors because everyone is more experienced," said Lewnes, who placed third in freestyle and fifth in Greco-Roman in the 152-pound class last year. "This is the biggest tournament in the world for our age group."
County residents competing in the cadet competition, made up rising freshmen, sophomores and juniors born after 1987, are junior Alex Ward (140) and sophomore Austin Clouse (98) of Mount St. Joseph and McDonogh junior Joe Breen (125).
The meet, which began last Saturday and concludes on Sunday, features upward of 150 competitors in each weight class. The top eight finishers in each weight class earn all-American status.
"That's my goal: To be an all-American," said West, who will wrestle for Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., this year. "This is my last match as a high school wrestler, and I'd would like to win it, but I'd be happy just to be an all-American."
But Neal is looking for more than that. He's hoping his performance grabs the attention of the numerous college wrestling coaches in attendance.
"I know this is the one meet where if I win, college coaches will be there watching me, and I can get their attention," Neal said. "I want to prove to them I have what it takes to wrestle in college."