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St. Mary’s Ryken takes sixth at National Preps


Published by the Washington Post on February 25, 2023

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St. Mary's Ryken's Clayton Gabrielson, left, wrestles Landon's Joel Brown, right, in the 144-pound third place match on Saturday, Feb. 25, at National Preps in Upper Marlboro, Md. (Shane Connuck)


Landon’s Joel Brown got on top of St. Mary’s Ryken’s Clayton Gabrielson early in the 144-pound third-place match at the National Preps wrestling championships Saturday, but a takedown from Gabrielson quickly evened the score.

It was the third time this pair wrestled in the past three weeks, and Brown was victorious the previous two times. Saturday’s bout at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro went similarly — Brown came away with a 6-3 decision to place third, the highest finish a Landon wrestler has had at this meet in Coach Andy Katz’s 28 years at the helm.

While Brown and Gabrielson have become competitors on the mat, the top senior wrestlers are also close friends. They were roommates when they attended McDonogh School for two years and have been wrestling together since they were little.

“We were inseparable,” said Brown, who is committed to wrestle at Army. “I was happy, but it was also heavy. … I want to see him succeed, but to be the one that beat him just stinks.”

Gabrielson, a Maryland commit, was one of six St. Mary’s Ryken wrestlers who placed, powering the Knights to 126.5 points. They finished sixth as a team, the highest of any school in the area.

“In the end, I’m happy for him and he’s happy for me,” Gabrielson said. “That’s the type of rivalry that just makes us both better as wrestlers.”

Gabrielson was a bit emotional after dropping the final match of his career to his longtime friend, but before he could fully process it, he was sitting on the side of the mat cheering on junior Mekhi Neal in the ­150-pound final.

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St. Mary's Ryken's Mekhi Neal wrestles Claudio Torres of Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) in the 150-pound finals at National Preps on Saturday, Feb. 25. (Shane Connuck)


Neal was brought down early by Claudio Torres of Lake Highland Prep. He found some answers for the Florida grappler, going low and grabbing the lead several times, but ended up on the wrong side of a 9-8 decision in the only championship match featuring a D.C.-area wrestler.

St. Mary's Ryken's Mekhi Neal wrestles Claudio Torres of Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) in the 150-pound finals at National Preps on Saturday, Feb. 25. (Shane Connuck)

“Definitely have stuff to work on,” said Neal, who is also committed to wrestle at Maryland. “It’s just motivated me — shows me I can hang with the best.”

In addition to Neal and Gabrielson, SMR's Mason Buckler, Will Buckler, Gerard Johnson and Austin Wood got to stand on the podium at Show Place Arena. Archbishop Spalding had two placers, Vincent Paolucci and Sean Garretson. Other schools from the area had just one, including Paul VI’s Brady Colbert, Bullis’s Ellis Kirsch and Landon with Brown.

“They’re happy for the team and the success, but they’re not satisfied with how they finished,” St. Mary’s Ryken Coach Jason Gabrielson said. “They didn’t win. It’s a good accomplishment, but that sting of not being first is going to take a little bit.”

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