Early in the second day of the Maryland Independent Schools state wrestling championships Saturday, Good Counsel Coach Skylar Saar talked to senior heavyweight Jemal Averette about what was then just a remote possibility.
Defending state champion and host McDonogh held a commanding lead in the team competition, but if enough results fell the Falcons’ way, Averette needed to be ready.
By the time Averette took the mat for the final bout of the tournament, the team’s state championship hopes rested entirely on his bulky frame.
“It was really nerve-racking,” Averette said. “My coach had told me it might all count on me, and it did. I was just wondering to myself how I was going to do.”
Averette rode a second-period near fall to a 6-1 decision in the 285-pound state championship bout, and Good Counsel completed an improbable comeback to capture the school’s first state title with four individual state champions, edging McDonogh, 266-264.5. John Carroll finished third in the 16-team A division with 216 points, Georgetown Prep finished fourth with 198.5 and Spalding finished fifth with 188.
“We thought we had a chance this weekend, but we needed some stuff to go our way,” Saar said. “Things didn’t go our way early on, but it finally did in the end.”
Good Counsel freshman Kevin Budock won the 120-pound final by major decision, but McDonogh still led by 14.5 points after the 182-pound final.
Even though defending state champions Spencer Neff and Kyle Snyder and top-seeded Averette all remained for Good Counsel, the Falcons still needed bonus points and help from McDonogh’s opponents in the remaining consolation brackets to make up the deficit.
Neff, a senior who has committed to Duke, earned an emotional first-period pin over Spalding 195-pounder Zach Abey to win his second straight state title, and Snyder, a 220-pound junior, won his third straight state crown and remained undefeated throughout his high school career with a third-period pin over Shane Cockerille, a Maryland football recruit from Gilman.
Good Counsel’s deficit was down to 2.5 points when Averette took the mat against Pallotti’s Antonio Santoro — a team gets four points for a decision — and when Averette scored the decisive takedown, the entire Falcons’ team at the side of the mat erupted in anticipation of him closing it out.
“It was a release of stress knowing that I took him down and I had the lead,” Averette said. “It’s an amazing feeling that you won for the team and won for everybody and made everybody proud.”
Earlier in the final round Saturday, McNamara 138-pound junior Alfred Bannister won his third consecutive state championship by technical fall, and Spalding’s Logan Breitenbach grinded out the 152-pound title with a 3-0 decision.
“It’s great, but I’m looking at getting four,” Bannister said. “I’ll celebrate three, but [winning] that fourth state title means the world to me.”