John Klessinger guided the South River to its second straight Class 4A state dual meet crown with a resounding, 42-28, triumph over Urbana of Frederick County in the state championship match on Feb. 11 at North Point High School in Waldorf.
The 23rd-year coach also guided senior Sam Ditmars (145) to his first Class 4A-3A state championship at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on March 3-4 after being runner-up as a junior.
In addition, Klessinger coached first-year senior Alex Szkotnicki, a 113-pound female, to a fourth place finish in the Class 4A-3A state tournament to establish herself as the second-most accomplished female wrestler in Maryland history.
“After the 2022 season, we lost five state placers and nine seniors. We always expect to compete. This year was no different, but at what level, we were unsure. We may have five or six wrestlers out of our 44 who have had more than 3 or four years of wrestling experience,” said Klessinger, 48, who has coached the Seahawks to five county tournament and seven county dual meet titles.
“Three of our wrestlers have significant experience, but most have two years. That is a yearly thing. So you are never certain of progressions from year to year. So from Day One, we hammer our principles of hard work, accountability and consistency each day in our habits inside and outside the room. I tell our kids it’s easy to work hard for a day, a week or even a month. But can you do it daily for four months? That is the measure of who you are.”
The Seahawks (16-2) endured a humbling couple of months in December and January. First, they lost to Anne Arundel County rival Chesapeake in December. Then January featured a pair of setbacks to private school power Loyola and Sparrows Point at the Iron Horse Duals, along with a 40-25 loss to their county neighbor Broadneck.
“The first couple months weren’t seamless. We had some early success followed by losses. We went to Iron Horse to see the best teams,” Klessinger said. “That was really to make us tougher and more resilient. That is a key to our growth this year and the past. Wrestling a tough schedule each day is an attempt to try to get better. We don’t talk about winning too often. We talk about being the best versions of ourselves.”
The Seahawks rebounded on Feb 9, regaining momentum with a 38-30 vengeance victory over Broadneck to repeat as Class 4A East Region title winners. The Seahawks also vanquished Sherwood of Montgomery County, 51-23, in the Class 4A semifinals, a match during which Szkotniki registered falls in the first and second periods.
“After Iron Horse, they slowly bought in. After the Broadneck loss in January, I realized the hype was legitimate regarding Broadneck. In our room, we kept working to get better. We knew the things we had to adjust and change to beat them,” Klessinger said. “Our kids listened and did what we asked in practice. The credit goes to them for buying into what we told them. We beat...Broadneck and then kept it going at the state duals to win it for the second year in a row.”
Ditmars ended his season with a record of 49-1, avenging a county runner-up finish to Nik Antonelli of Annapolis by winning his second straight Class 4A-3A East Region crown. Bound for the Naval Academy, Ditmars earned his second straight state title by defeating repeat runner-up Aidan Rivenburg (41-2) of North Point in the finals.
“Sam is the most deserving kid to win a state championship. He put himself in position by his work ethic, student approach to the sport and a mental toughness. He bounced back from a loss to Antonelli from Annapolis by making adjustments in the room. For five days, he worked on finishing his shots and getting out on bottom,” Klessinger said.
“Sam wasn’t focusing only on Antonelli but the match at the county tournament exposed areas to improve. He relied on isolated attacks and a stand-up. Sam worked on multiple attacks on his feet and countering legs, ultimately leading to reversing the week before. At states, Sam’s preparation all season prepared him for that tough match against Rivenburg. In the final, he was on a mission. He was alert and ready, increased the intensity and went into a turk and scooped the far shoulder for three backs. At the start of the third on top, up 5-0, unfortunately Rivenburg was injured and defaulted.”
Szkotnicki became only the second girl to win an Anne Arundel County Tournament title and before placing third in her Class 4A-3A East Region Tournament. Szkotnicki defeated Broadneck sophomore Cam Williams, 1-0, for her Anne Arundel County title.
Szkotknicki went 3-2 at states, including victories by pins in 21 and 73 seconds and by an 11-1 major decision. Szkotnicki lost her semifinal bout, 4-0, to eventual champion Drew Montgomery (40-0) of Northern-Carroll County, and her consolation finals bout, 14-3, to sophomore Cooper Cammarata (35-7) of Tuscarora of Frederick County.
Szkotnicki joined Arundel High’s Nicole Woody (103), who made more history as a senior in 2007 by becoming Maryland’s first girl to win an Anne Arundel County and regional title and to finish as a Class 4A-3A state runner-up.
“Alex raised the level of the kids around here. She’s a tough student of wrestling and loves the sport,” Klessinger said. “That rubbed off on our other members. They saw what she did each day without complaint and modeled her behaviors by default.”
South River also crowned county champions in freshman Trent Shipley (106), sophomore Busayo Balugon (220) and junior Aidan Healey (195). Healy finished second at regions and fourth at states, Shipley third at regions and fifth at states, and Balugon, fourth at regions.
“In our room, we talk about toughness every day. Sam demonstrates that and so do Alex and a couple of others. Our staff of David Hicks, Collin Schildt and Brandon Ford loves wrestling. Our success comes from the coaches’ commitment to the sport,” Klessinger said.
“We study it and constantly try to learn more. In my opinion, I have the best staff around. South River winning a dual championship and individual success is a reflection of the time, effort, and dedication of the coaches, kids, parents and people who support our program.”