SMR dominates WCAC wrestling championships

By Daniel Jones

Published by the Washington Post on February 5, 2022

It took less than a minute for Mekhi Neal to go in for the kill. Halfway through the first round of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference wrestling championships’ first-place bout at 145 pounds, Neal threw Gonzaga’s Matt Van Sice near the boundary. A few seconds later, Neal earned a win by fall.

Evan Boblists WCAC Championship 2022 Wrestling

Evan Boblits of St. Mary's Ryken handles James Hanley of St John's in the 113-pound class at the WCAC wrestling championships at Paul VI High in Chantilly on Saturday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Neal was one of 10 wrestlers from St. Mary's Ryken to medal at Saturday’s event held at Paul VI in Chantilly as the Knights dominated to defend their 2020 WCAC title, after no event was held last season. St. Mary's Ryken’s 277 points gave it a 102-point margin over second-place Gonzaga.

Neal’s quick pin fit St. Mary's Ryken’s season-long game plan. After canceling its season last year, St. Mary's Ryken’s entered this season under the radar but with a slew of talented young wrestlers eager to make a statement.

“We’re looking to prove our name,” Neal said. “We don’t want to be the team who barely won. We want to come out here and show what we’ve been working on and how hard we’ve been working.”

Thirteen of St. Mary's Ryken’s 14 wrestlers made it to the finals Saturday. The team recorded a meet-high 21 pins.

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“We’ve been preaching all year, do the right stuff in every aspect of your life; do the right stuff in the room. That’ll carry over,” St. Mary's Ryken’s Coach Bob Seidel said. “We told them this week, ‘You’ve been doing everything right.’ ”

Alongside multiple transfers and nine underclassmen, Seidel is also a new face for St. Mary's Ryken. He arrived by way of Colts Neck in New Jersey, where he coached the first five state place-winners in the school’s history, and most recently Waialua in Hawaii, where he led the boys’ and girls’ judo teams for multiple seasons. Seidel said he was planning on returning to the East Coast when the job at Ryken opened up.

“I knew Southern Maryland had some great clubs and we were going to get kids with some experience and great technical skills,” Seidel said.

Tyler Wood WCAC 2022 Wrestling

St. Mary's Ryken's Tyler Wood, right, takes down McNamara's Rhonin Swenson in a 120-pound matchup at the WCAC wrestling championships at Paul VI in Chantilly on Saturday. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

St. Mary's Ryken’s next big target, the Maryland Independent Schools state tournament, begins Feb. 15. After that, St. Mary's Ryken will set its sights on nationals, which this year are at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

“We’ve been working all year towards a state title,” Seidel said.

In addition to Neal, Will Buckler (152), Brandon Jefferson (170), Ezekiel Gayle (195), and T.J. McCauley (285) won their championship matches by fall for St. Mary's Ryken. McCauley pinned his opponent in the first-place bout in 18 seconds, pushing his record to 24-0.

Keegan McMahon was the only wrestler from Paul VI to medal in his home gymnasium. He won the first-place bout at 126 pounds after a back-and-forth tussle with St. Mary's Ryken Koen Bowling that included multiple reversals and near-pins.

“We wrestled St. Mary's Ryken earlier in the week in a dual, and it was a tough match like that,” McMahon said. “My freshman year I lost to a kid from St. Mary's Ryken, so it was really nice being able to beat and take away some of their team points.”

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