When Churchill defending state champions Danny April and Brandon Shapiro get tired of challenging each other in the Potomac school's wrestling room, they simply turned to a former champ for competition.
Bulldogs assistant coach Tim Lowe won a pair of titles while wrestling for Einstein in 1999 and 2000 and has played a key role in April's and Shapiro's success entering this weekend's Maryland 4A/3A tournament in Westminster.
The sparring sessions have proven to be among April's and Shapiro's toughest competition this season.
April, a junior 125-pounder, boasts a 31-1 record and seeks his third state title. Shapiro is 29-0 at 119 pounds and, with four more victories this weekend, can claim his second state title.
"It's really a great combination," April said of practicing with Lowe and Shapiro. "Brandon and I know each other so well at this point that I usually end up wrestling with [Lowe]."
Both April and Shapiro claimed 4A/3A West Region titles last weekend before earning Montgomery County titles on Tuesday. Snow days postponed the county tournament three times and, to avoid the tournament's first cancellation in 41 years, officials were forced to reschedule it following the regional. As a result, eight wrestlers did not show up for their semifinal matches because they had already failed to qualify for the state tournament or did not want to risk injury leading into states.
April earned his 100th victory with a major decision over Wheaton's A.J. Tao in the county final. He has lost just twice in his high school career, including a loss in January to Lackey's Joe McKeever. The defeat, April said, only refocused him to achieve his goal of four state titles.
"I've won it twice already. That's good enough, right?" April joked. The loss "boosted me and gave me more energy. I started working harder in practice and it made me realize that I'm not the best out there and I need to work harder. It kind of woke me up."
Brentsville Coach Mark Smaltz looks to close out his first season by claiming the Nokesville school's record eighth -- and final -- Virginia Class A title this weekend in Salem. After dominating the tournament with two straight titles, the Tigers will jump to Virginia AA next season.
Smaltz inherited Virginia's best Class A program this season when local legend Thad Kiesnowski retired after 30 years. Brentsville will carry 11 wrestlers into this weekend's tournament after claiming the Region B and Bull Run District titles the past two weekends.
"I think there is a tiny bit of pressure to win," said Smaltz, who served as an assistant to Kiesnowski for 12 years. "When we go down to states there are all these Nokesville fans who don't even have kids in the school anymore. Brentsville has been winning for the past 25 years, and I think they still want to see a winner. We're going to come out full steam ahead."