After a 14-hour day at the 23rd annual Patriot Classic, Mitch Fenton cleaned up.
The senior captain of the Whitman wrestling team pinned his first three opponents before claiming a 5-2 decision over Oakdale’s Chase De Maille in the 152-pound final. While most of the participants shuffled out, Vikings Coach Derek Manon spied Fenton assisting the hosts at Northern.
“I look over, and Mitch is helping them roll mats,” Manon said. “I didn’t ask him. He just went over and started helping. That’s the type of kid he is, and that’s the type of young man that he’s become.”
The fact that Fenton was disappointed with his performance in the championship round explains the type of season the two-time Montgomery County champ and three-time region title winner is having.
At 20-0, Fenton has beaten all comers. But with a high-profile, Fenton isn’t content unless he dominates.
“This year everybody’s looking at me,” he said. “I want to come out and I want to basically break them.”
Although it didn’t arrive in the fashion he envisioned, a win at the Patriot Classic was a significant checkpoint for Fenton.
In the same event in 2015, Fenton dropped a one-point decision to Oxon Hill’s Jahi Jones. Last March, Jones would repeat the result in the semifinals at the Maryland 4A/3A state tournament with a 2-1 win via ultimate tiebreaker in a match that went to four overtimes.
That match came down to an official’s controversial call that had fellow wrestlers consoling Fenton afterward.
“It was heartbreaking,” Fenton said. “It was out of my hands.”
This season, Fenton is determined to avoid close calls.
Formerly a middle linebacker and fullback on the football team, Fenton gave up that sport to hone his wrestling technique. Manon has seen the results manifest in a quicker pace and more active feet. Fenton said he has added more shots and set-up moves, especially out of the neutral position.
After missing the Montgomery County championships last year with a bout of mononucleosis, a healthy Fenton said he’s looking forward going after a third title. As a junior, he returned from the illness to pin his way through the region.
A fourth straight region title would be nice, but honestly, the two-time state placer has had his sights set on one thing for years.
“If I get my hand raised at the end of the state tournament, I will be the happiest kid in the world,” Fenton said. “It’s pretty much all I’ve been working for my whole life.”
In the bowels of Annandale High School last Saturday morning, Killian Cardinale took his first opponent down with a pin in the opening period. It was a routine sequence with little celebration from Patriot’s prized 113 pounder, but it marked a significant milestone in Cardinale’s decorated high school career: In the middle of his junior year, he had just earned his 100th win, making him the first wrestler to do so in the five-year history of Patriot.
Still, Cardinale, like most wrestlers, doesn’t tie much importance to a win that doesn’t lead him to a podium.
“It wasn’t one of my goals, but I knew it was going to happen,” Cardinale said. “It’s just part of the process. It’s just another match. But it feels good I guess to get that out of the way and cement some history into my school.”
In the short term, Cardinale’s 100th win was the start of a successful Annandale Duals showing in which he went 4-0 and garnered Outstanding Wrestler honors. In the long term, it was another step toward his ultimate goal of defending his state championship this season.
As the top-ranked wrestler in Virginia at the 113-pound category, anything less than a state title would be a decisive letdown for Cardinale this year. The Fargo Freestyle All-American cruised to regional and state titles as a sophomore at 106 pounds, and he has yet to be tested by a regional opponent at 113 this season.
Physical dominance is hardly the first thing typically associated with a 5-foot-3, 113-pound high school junior, especially one with a humble demeanor. It’s only when Cardinale hits the mat that his fearsome aggression and unwavering endurance stand out.
“He’s always pushing the pace. He’s never really waiting on anybody else,” Patriot Coach Ben Shifflett said. “So a lot of time he’s working the inside control move and pressuring forward the entire time, constantly looking for a way to attack.”
Cardinale missed his goal of winning last month’s Beast of the East tournament in Delaware, where he lost in the quarterfinals. His eyes are now set on his second major goal of the season: winning the 113-pound title at Escape the Rock in Pennsylvania, where many of the East Coast’s top grapplers will gather this weekend in a 47-team field. Seeded fourth, Cardinale would like to exact revenge on top-seeded Boyertown junior Jakob Campbell, who beat him last year, or No. 2 seed Matt Parker, who beat him at Beast of the East. But like his 100th win, he knows those guys are just steps leading to broader goals.
“I’m not focused on anyone else really,” Cardinale said. “I just want to keep building and try to get better every day.”
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