St. Mary's Ryken junior King Sandoval, left, is tearing through the competition again this winter, with his sights set on more hardware. (Courtesy of Sam Hotz)

King Sandoval was too tiny to be a high school wrestler. Barely scratching 5-foot-1 and 92 pounds, the rising eighth grader was overlooked by several private schools around the Washington area, all of which showed scant willingness to reserve a roster spot for a pipsqueak that wasn’t even heavy enough to qualify for high school wrestling’s lowest weight class.

Even now, three years later, the bespectacled St. Mary’s Ryken junior looks more inclined to dominate a chemistry lab than a wrestling mat.

“When you see him show up it’s like, ‘Who’s this little kid?’” St. Mary’s Ryken Coach Vince Whittles said. “But in a singlet, he’s Mighty Mouse.”

Read this: Sandoval, at 5-5, 120 pounds, maxes out at 300 pounds on the bench press. Now read that again.

Sandoval, in blue, defended his title at War on the Shore over the weekend. (Photo courtesy of Sam Hotz)

Little wonder then that Sandoval is a returning All-Met ripping through his competition for the third year in a row. The kid everyone passed over has already racked up 38 wins this season and is only getting better. He defended his title at War on the Shore at Stephen Decatur High last weekend in Berlin, Md., beating Damascus sophomore John McLaughlin in the final even after McLaughlin dropped down from the 126-pound class.

Sandoval’s Clark Kent act isn’t just the product of natural gifts. He works out fiendishly year-round, to the point that physical tasks that might seem impossible to a peer seem downright laughable to Sandoval. Take weighted pullups, for example.

“He’s throwing the big chains over his neck and pulling them up there like it was a joke,” Whittles said.

Sandoval’s work ethic doesn’t just manifest itself in the weight room, though. After defending his Maryland Independent Schools state title last winter, Sandoval knew he was in for a daunting junior year.

“Everyone is coming after you when you’re on top of the podium,” Sandoval said. “Everyone’s studying you. They know how you wrestle. So it’s always important to roll out new techniques, new moves that you don’t normally do.”

Sandoval is constantly exploring new shots to roll out this season, knowing his tendency to get overly defensive in tight matches. He’s busting out more sweep singles and headlocks, always aiming to keep his opponent off balance.

“Even when I’m not scoring off my shots,” he said, “it’s good to keep the pressure on them and keep moving.”

The Big number: 130

Number of career victories for Walter Johnson senior JD FitzPatrick. The 138-pounder broke the previous school record of 127 at the first half of this past weekend’s Best of the Nest and picked up three more wins. The second half of the tournament concludes next Friday.

Wrestler of the week

Michael Battista, Broad Run, Sr.

Broad Run’s 170-pound stud went 5-1 to claim third place at Escape the Rock, a national tournament in Holland, Pa., over the weekend. The Virginia commit joined Oscar Smith’s Trevon Majette as the only Virginia public school wrestlers to grab top-three finishes.

Gladiators sense bigger goals on the horizon

The Glenelg wrestling team went home Tuesday night without discussing what it had just accomplished.

With its 51-18 trouncing of Mount Hebron, which was previously undefeated in Howard County, Glenelg (22-2) clinched at least a share of the regular season county championship.

Coach Matt Bichner insists he’s proud of his team. It is an impressive accomplishment, he said. But for a squad with state title aspirations, it was hardly worth a post-match victory speech.

“We need to get ready for regional duals, state duals and try to have our guys peeking at the right time,” Bichner said.

That time is coming. The Maryland state dual meet tournament is Feb. 11, and the state tournament follows March 3-4.

Senior Garrett Murray doesn’t have to be reminded. Despite three years of “coasting,” through practice, Murray won a Howard County title at 152 pounds and took second at regionals as a junior.

He then lost both his matches at the Maryland 4A/3A state championship. That’s why he’s kicked things into another gear this season.

Not only does he go harder in practice, most days he stays after to drill with Danny Bichner, Matt Bichner’s brother and a Glenelg assistant coach.

“I wish I had had the mind-set that I have now,” Murray said. “If I pushed myself, it could’ve happened earlier.”

Murray’s longtime family friend, sophomore Jared Thomas, has invigorated the Gladiators’ lower weights. A Good Counsel transfer, Bichner said Thomas already has the combination of mental toughness and physical discipline to win a state title.

“He’s one of best true wrestlers we’ve had in a while, Bichner said. “Having him in room is good for younger guys hoping to raise their level.”

Glenelg’s younger lightweights often lob questions at Thomas, given the experience he gained wrestling nationally ranked competitors at Good Counsel.

The time for asking and answering is thinning, though. The Gladiators still have a couple items to check off their list, and they’re approaching quickly.