With more than 4,500 wrestlers competing, the USA Cadet and Junior National Championships, held July 24-31 in Fargo, N.D., is the biggest wrestling tournament in the world -- regardless of age level. For the past decade, the FargoDome has played host to the extravaganza. This year, 23 mats were in use, and more than 7,000 matches were contested, as high school wrestlers from more than 40 states and Puerto Rico wrestled in Greco-Roman and freestyle divisions for a shot at being named all-American.
Of the 49 wrestlers from Maryland, eight were from Anne Arundel County: Andrew Smith (Annapolis, 145 pounds), Ethan Harvey (South River, 135), Mack Lewnes (Mount St. Joseph, 152), Doug West (Old Mill, 130), Austin Clouse (Mount St. Joseph, 98), Joe Breen (McDonogh, 125) and Alex Ward (Mount St. Joseph 130). Emily Duckworth, a rising senior at South River, was among the 144 girls competing.
Duckworth competed in the freestyle women's division at 110 pounds and was making her third trip to the Cadet and Junior Nationals. She was planning to wrestle against boys in the Greco-Roman bracket but hyperextended her elbow during the Maryland team's warmup camp in Baltimore.
In Greco-Roman wrestling, a wrestler may not attack below the waist and may not use any part of his or her body below the waist to gain an advantage; in freestyle wrestling, the wrestler can attack above or below the waist and use all parts of the body.
Duckworth lost both her matches in Fargo (the tournament is double elimination) but had a great time both competing and watching her fellow wrestlers.
"Watching is not as rewarding as being on the mat, but when you watch these matches, you can learn so much," said Duckworth, who had a record of 16-6 last winter for South River and only took up the sport three years ago. "You can always improve things. In terms of style, technique, aggressiveness."
Duckworth conceded that in her first match, "The girl pretty much beat me up." She acknowledged she had two black eyes following her initial defeat, but that those battle scars earned her some respect among the boys.
"Three thousand six-hundred guys walk in, and their reaction is 'Oh my god, it's a girl. But, okay, she's a wrestler, she works as hard as we do.' Then you walk out, and it's like [they're saying], 'Hey, she's a wrestler with two black eyes!' "
Smith, who graduated from Annapolis in June and will attend Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., was also making his third appearance at the prestigious tournament. He made it to the third round in the freestyle division, winning three matches and losing two. In order to make all-American, Smith would have needed to finish in the top four in his pool (top eight overall) at 145 pounds. No county wrestler achieved that status.
One of his victories came via a pin, the other two by technical fall (10-plus point margin of victory), but the match that got away from him, Smith said, was his last one. He led his opponent 4-3 with seven seconds remaining, but the referee awarded a point to Smith's opponent because Smith was not attacking, and the match went into sudden-death overtime. He lost on a two-point crotch lift.
"I had many opportunities to win it," Smith said. "Any time a match goes into overtime, you should win."
And what did Smith take out of the world's largest wrestling tournament?
"Basically, I know that I can compete. I'll get beat, yeah, but nobody's too good. Everybody's beatable."