Palllotti senior Chris Halkos, right, works McDonogh’s… (Photo by, Brendan Cavanaugh )
After winning the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference two seasons ago, and sending three wrestlers to national preps a year ago, the expectations for the St. Vincent Pallotti team remain high despite a move to a higher conference.
Pallotti moved from the MIAA B Conference to the A Conference for this wrestling season — meaning the Panthers will face the best private-school teams in the state on a consistent basis.
However, that hasn't changed coach Tom Owens' philosophy of building a winning team at Pallotti. The team currently holds an 11-3 record overall.
"It's all about the end of the year and where you end up, and trying to get these guys as high a seed as can be when the MIAA tournament and states come around so they can move on to national preps," said Owens, who is in his 17th season as coach at Pallotti. "Our goals are the same every year; it's always to be the best we can possibly be and try to do something we've never done before."
The top-5 wrestlers in each weight class advance from the private-school state tournament to national preps, and Owens believes this team may have more wrestlers advance to national preps then ever before.
"Last year, we had three wrestlers — Chris Halkos, John Chenault and Derek Pittman — advance to national preps, and that was the best we've ever done," Owens said. "This year, we definitely should do that."
John Chenault was Pallotti's most accomplished wrestler last season, when he won an MIAA championship at 125 pounds and placed third at the private-school state tournament.
Chenault and Pittman were lost to graduation, but Halkos returns along with several talented grapplers.
"Halkos and senior Nick Finnblade have really stepped up this year," Owens said. "Finnblade placed fifth in the state as a sophomore and placed seventh in the state junior. But his leadership this year and his confidence, he has really impressed me."
Finnblade is currently 16-2 at 138-pounds; and Halkos, also a senior, is 17-1 at 120-pounds.
He pinned McDonogh's Logan Meister, who was the state champion at Halkos' weight class last season, on Dec. 21.
Despite the glamour attached to his surname, the biggest surprise for Owens has been freshman 106-pounder Justin Chenault.
"He's been doing really well. He has been a big surprise," Owens said. "He wrestles a lot like his brother, John. I think he has a good shot at placing in the state as a freshman."
With the season only a month old and the majority of the schedule remaining, many Panthers will be changing weight-classes after the winter break.
Senior 132-pounder Cary Caprio will drop to 120, Halkos will drop from 120 to 113, and Finnblade will drop from 138 to 132.
"When everyone gets down and the line up is Chenault at 106, then Halkos, then Caprio, then Campbell, then Finnblade at 132, that's a pretty solid first five guys, and all those guys have a legitimate shot at placing in the state," Owens said. "Plus our heavyweight, Yamil Cristobal has a good shot at placing. He never got his opportunity because he was wrestling behind Pittman the past two years. He's going to be dangerous."
While the team has a lot of talent and potential in the lighter weight classes, Pallotti has been forfeiting at two weight classes, 160 and 195, which has cost the team 12 points in every match.
Despite the missing two weight classes the Panthers placed fifth out of 23 teams at the Lackey Tournament on Dec. 16-17, crowning Finnblade and Cristobal as champions.
"We have a goal sheet in our binder that we go through. No misconduct points, no stalling points, let's outscore bonus points, let's get two or three guys in the finals of each tournament," Owens said. "Just always trying to make every kid better and better, and bring the expectation level up for the teams to come."