Reprinted from The Washington Post, by Nick Eilerson February 4
It was the kind of injury that typically brings athletic careers to a grinding halt. Steven Wentz bounced back after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament playing lacrosse, but when he finally returned to the wrestling mat at the start of his junior year, it happened again. Same leg, same injury. St. John’s coaches silently assumed he was done.
Even when Wentz returned to action yet again four weeks ago, the 160-pound senior immediately endured another gruesome injury, this time fracturing his nose in a match against Good Counsel.
But after everything he’d been through, nothing was going to slow his march toward Saturday’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships at Good Counsel.
“I knew I had to push myself,” Wentz said. “It wasn’t going to be easy.”
With his right leg encased in a bulky, black brace and his face shrouded behind a black mask, Steven Wentz took the mat looking more like a bionic comic book villain than a wrestler in Saturday afternoon’s finals in Olney. But the unbridled celebration that ensued after his second-period pin bared the reception of a conquering hero, one who set the tone for the Cadets’ first WCAC team title since 1979.
Wentz locked Bishop Ireton’s Ben Siedlarz in a cradle and didn’t let go, earning the fourth individual crown for a St. John’s squad that ended the day with six champions. The Cadets dethroned four-time defending champ Good Counsel by 27 points, while St. Mary’s Ryken finished 70.5 points behind to grab third place.
Steven Wentz’s twin brother, Zach, was next up at 170 pounds. He soaked up his brother’s momentum and rode it to a 7-6 decision over Good Counsel’s Ryan Briggs.
“I was pumped,” Zach Wentz said. “We didn’t even think he was going to wrestle this year, so just seeing him come out here and wrestle and give it his all and win meant a lot.”
Luke Kowalski (106 pounds), Aidan Rocha (132), Jack Cassidy (145) and Brian Hennessy (195) also topped the podium for St. John’s. Good Counsel and St. Mary’s Ryken produced three champions each.
The Cadets took aim at Saturday’s trophy last summer. Assistant coach Karl Danso popped in a video that spliced Good Counsel’s repeated wrestling feats, then ended with a message about St. John’s setting a new standard this winter, after which rising senior Brian Hennessy thought, “Man, I want this bad.”
Cam Watkins arrived as the Cadets’ new head coach and implemented the most grueling workouts they had ever experienced.
“In the back of our mind we were thinking, ‘WCAC champs, WCAC champs,’” said Hennessy, who embraced the one-hour-and-10-minute drive from his La Plata home to Northwest Washington for Watkins’s extra summer workouts.
Those thoughts came to fruition when Hennessy gathered his gleeful teammates in a scrum, their hands touching the golden trophy raised above them, and shouted, “S-J-C!”
“Champs!” they responded.
“This is something that I’ll remember for a long time,” said Watkins, a four-time All-Met himself who graduated from Magruder. “This was a goal for us starting off, but I think moving forward it becomes an expectation in the program.”