Some days, it might be arithmetic. Yes, even in the macho realm of wrestling, math can be the spark for the fire that burns in Ralph Bernardo’s gut like a blast furnace. A line of numbers that just won’t bend to his will.
“I’m doing, like, a math problem,” the Wootton senior recalled recently. “I just get in a roll, I stare at the paper, I grab my pencil real tight and just look up at the chalkboard and not really say anything.”
“That’s how they know I’m thinking of that Boozer match.”
Not everyone can see the signs. It takes a wrestler, Bernardo explained, to understand the agony of last year’s quadruple-overtime loss to Eleanor Roosevelt senior Tommie Boozer in the 220-pound state championship semifinal match.
The memory of that 3-2 defeat follows him like a drumbeat. Anytime he brushes up against hardship, whenever he fails even slightly, the same thought taunts his psyche: “Could’ve been a state finalist. Could’ve been a state finalist.”
“Every single time,” Bernardo said. “It’s just the biggest driving force behind everything I did this year.”
If there exists a Boozer-like foil to Bernardo’s season, the now-195-pounder has not seen him. Not yet, anyway. The standard bearer for undefeated Wootton (7-0), Bernardo is 19-0 in his new weight class. He has 17 pins, and most have come in the first period.
“As the weight’s been coming off him,” Coach Kevin O’Neill said, “he’s been going down in weight classes [and] he’s just been getting better and better as he goes.”
Not long ago, the lean and mean Bernardo was “really fat,” he said. He wrestled at 220 as a freshman, picking up the sport at the urging of his varsity football teammates.
After making varsity, he lost most of the season with a broken arm. Suddenly sedentary, the 5-foot-8 Bernardo ballooned to almost 250 pounds. He wrestled as a heavyweight his sophomore year, and while he was still a bulldog on the mats, always aggressive, never scared, he was none too happy with the beatings he took. In one match, Bernado said, one wrestler picked him up “and threw me like a rag doll. And I realized, I am too small, I need to go down. And so at that point, I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go down. I’m gonna wrestle 220.’”
Bernado was like a new man. He dominated Montgomery County, and when he faced down some of the state’s top-ranked wrestlers in a meet at Harford Technical last season, “He beat the crap out of most of them,” O’Neill said. A deep run in the state tournament was next.
A matter of heads and tails might have kept Bernardo from the finals. Because Boozer won a coin toss in the second period that earned him first choice, and because he capitalized on that first choice to earn the match’s first escape point, he held the advantage heading into overtime. When the two left the third overtime period still deadlocked, Boozer was again allowed to pick his position. He escaped one last time, O’Neill said, “and that was it.”
On the mat, sure. In Bernardo’s mind? Never.
“My wrestling buddies, they know. ‘You thinking about that Boozer match?’ I’m thinking about that Boozer match.”
No. 4 Robinson was scheduled to host No. 5 Westfield and Centreville on Wednesday night in a crucial Virginia AAA Concorde District tri-meet, and the Rams shined this weekend in their final competition before the marquee event of their local regular season schedule.
Seven Rams — Austin Riggs (126), Dane Robbins (132), Dallas Smith (138), Zak DePasquale (160), Cole DePasquale (170), Dan Mika (182) and Jake Pinkston (HWT) — won individual championships at the Mayhem at Millbrook event, leading to a decisive team win.
Wednesday’s tri-meet will be Armed Forces Night at Robinson, where all service personnel who attend in uniform will be given free admission. . .
Elsewhere in tournament action this weekend, Good Counsel won the nine-team Battle of Manassas at Osbourn Park, with 228 points to second-place Osbourn Park’s 203.5.
Kevin Budock (120), Matt Kelly (132), Philip Robilotto (170), Spencer Neff (195) and Kyle Snyder (220) won individual championships for the Falcons.
Westfield edged host Northern at the 24-team Patriot Classic, finishing with 270.5 team points to Northern’s 230.5.
Garrett Maged (132), Derek Arnold (138), Beau Donahue (145), Frank Aiello (170) and Austin Knies (195) won individual titles for the Bulldogs.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase won its own Battlin’ Barons Duals event, beating DeMatha on Day 2 to finish a perfect 8-0 to the second-place Stags’ 7-1.
Related: Individual, team rankings