1997-98 All-Anne Arundel wrestling teams

March 12, 1998|By Glenn P. Graham

Wrestler of the Year

Rob Connolly, Arundel, Sr., 160 (35-0): Flawless. That was Connolly this season, who methodically turned aside every challenger with a dominating approach that didn't allow most to even think they had a chance. By the time the Arundel captain had his first individual state title, decisioning Eastern Tech's Hector Santana, 11-6, in the final, the Wildcats were well on their way to the Class 3A-4A state crown. Veteran Arundel coach Buddy Hepfer was just as impressed with Connolly's leadership as he was with his overwhelming talent on the mat. "He always set himself aside and put the team in front," said Hepfer. "A lot of kids get caught looking ahead, but he took each match one step at a time climbing up the ladder. The kid has it all -- strength, balance, a good attitude and knowledge." Connolly came to Arundel in his junior year after his family moved from East Rutherford, N.J. He took third at states last season, losing 6-5 to eventual state champ Bo Harper of Frederick. The experience was vital as Connolly got an understanding of what it takes to be a state champion and, this season, he made no mistake. "He was always on the attack, and that kept the other kid out of his offense. He was all business," said Hepfer. Counting his sophomore season at Rutherford High, Connolly went 98-13 in his three-year varsity career.

Coach of the Year

Ralph Toomey, Severna Park: With all the attention steered toward dual-meet state title winner Old Mill and state tournament champ Arundel, the Falcons quietly enjoyed a breakthrough season under their fifth-year coach. They were making noise right from the start this season with a surprising runner-up finish to Arundel at the Meade Tournament. By season's end, with a 9-5 dual-meet record and solid third-place finishes at the county and region tournaments, the Falcons were no longer a surprise. "I really appreciate the award, but everything goes to the kids. If they don't work their butts off in practice, we don't win any matches," said Toomey. "This was not the most talented team I've had, but they were able to pull it together. There was so much team spirit, more camraderie." Toomey's only other winning season came in 1993 when his Falcons finished with a 7-6 mark. This year's team came within four points of an 1103 season, losing two, two-point matches. The success has brought more and more enthusiasm to the Severna Park gym. Toomey was quick to praise assistant coaches Paul Joyce, Kenny Miller and Carlos Negrete, along with the team's parent organization who helped with concessions and all the fans that came out to support the team.


The first team

Nick Alley, Southern-Harwood, Jr., 112 (31-3): In the county's toughest weight class, Alley won his first county championship with an 11-9 decision over Meade's Matt Pandullo in the most entertaining match of the tournament. The two split their first two meetings, and it came down to Alley's takedown with 55 seconds left in the third period to break a 9-9 tie. A state champ last year, he didn't compete in states this year after being suspended from school on the tournament's opening day for an incident away from the mat.

WT Aye, North County, Sr., 152 (28-2): Outside North County's gym, a special wall displays banners of all the school's state title teams along with photographs of individual state winners in the various sports. Aye's season-long goal was to get his photo up there. On Saturday, he did just that with a 9-5 decision over Frederick's Ivan Zdanov in the Class 3A-4A final, becoming the school's first state wrestling champion. With speed, strength to match, and an incredible work ethic, the Knights' two-year captain became a more polished wrestler this season to reach his goal.

Tom Cain, Northeast, Jr., 171 (32-5): Cain made the most of his first full season on varsity, winning a county title, advancing to the region final, and placing fourth at states. Getting just enough varsity action to qualify for the region tournament as a sophomore, and then finishing fifth, Cain did all he could during the off-season to prepare himself for this season. It paid off, highlighted by a 5-2 decision over Arundel's Jeff Blachly in the county final. "He had a great regional tournament [last year] and then took it more serious -- lifting weights and going to tournaments over the summer. He really works hard," said Northeast coach Al Kohlhafer.

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