Just one point separated River Hill junior Dylan McCullough from a Class 4A-3A state championship and an undefeated season.
One point and Churchill of Montgomery County senior Jaden Selby, whom McCullough allowed to build an early four-point lead in last year’s 170-pound clash at Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.
McCullough entered with a 34-0 record before falling to Selby, who held off the Hawks’ wrestler to win, 7-6.
“Jaden caught me in a move that I had never really seen before, and unfortunately, I gave up some backpoints and went down 5-1 early,” said McCullough of Selby, who was coached by two-time state champion Tim Lowe (Einstein) and three-time champ Tony Howard (Magruder). “I was starting to make a comeback, but unfortunately, I was never able to get that final takedown to secure the victory. I lost 7-6. It was tough.”
McCullough had earned county and regional titles entering last year’s state tournament after placing third and fourth in each as a 145-pound freshman. McCullough’s path to the state finals had comprised a 71-second pin, a 6-2 decision and a 40-second fall before losing to Selby, who improved to 40-1 having reached the title bout on a pair of decisions and a 70-second fall.
“I beat myself up over it for the next few weeks because I knew that I was right there. I could’ve been a state champ,” McCullough said. “Regardless, I used that loss as motivation to get better in the offseason. I put in the work that will hopefully pay off and get me on the top of the podium at states this year.”
McCullough takes plenty of momentum and a record of 35-1 (31 pins) into Tuesday’s tri meet with Marriotts Ridge at Wilde Lake, having gone unbeaten in dual meet tournaments at the Westminster High Duals, Scorpion Duals at Oakland Mills High, and Dick Bauerlein Duals at North Carroll High.
McCullough’s 107-15 career record includes having earned his 100th career victory last month. He has also split bouts with Manchester Valley senior Jake Boog, who won the first meeting, 7-5, before losing the rematch to McCullough, 8-6, in overtime.
“Boog is a tough wrestler and I knew that I had to be on the top of my game to beat him. The first time we wrestled at the North Carroll Tournament, I scored the first two takedowns. I was not feeling too great that day and made some mistakes late in the match that backfired and caused me to get taken down and lose the match,” said McCullough of Boog, who pinned his Class 2A-1A title bout rival to win a 152-pound Class 2A-1A state title and complete last year’s 43-3 season.
“The upside was that it gave me an idea of what I needed to work on. The next time we wrestled at the Westminster Tournament, I felt much better and was able to do a much better job of finishing my shots and getting those late takedowns. I ended up winning 8-6 in overtime. It was cool to have beaten a returning state champ and avenge that earlier loss. I’m more happy about the fact that I was able to get those tough matches before the state tournament comes around.”
McCullough’s primary workout partners are head coach Jeff Rermgosakul and assistant Thomas Perkins, the latter being a former two-time county champion and twice a regional runner-up who placed fifth at states before graduating from River Hill in 2004.
“Dylan is the hardest working kid in the room and among the most mentally-prepared wrestlers I’ve ever met,” said Rermgosakul, a 1997 graduate of River Hill.
“Dylan is very determined to win a title. He does extra conditioning after our practice. He does the required work and gets extra practice at clubs when he can.”
McCullough’s wrestling career began in Carroll County’s Warhawks’ program, which produced three-time NCAA champion, Olympic gold medalist and World champion Kyle Snyder.
“I began my wrestling career with the Warhawks under coach JC Porter and Dan Ricker when I was in the fourth grade. The barn always had tough guys,” said McCullough, whose 38-13 freshman record included going 2-2 at states.
“I would get beat up every practice for my first few years wrestling. As I got to my later years of youth wrestling, I went to national tournaments. Having those experiences under my belt definitely paid off when I got to the high school level.”
After finishing third at counties as a freshman, McCullough placed fourth at regions after beating Atholton’s county champ, Michael Altamarino, 4-2, in overtime of their first-round consolations bout, and then, county runner-up Shayani Kassiri of Howard, 6-5, in the consolation semifinals.
“My freshman year I was a little bit up and down, but I was able to peak at the right time and qualify for states. I lost to Michael Altamirano at counties, 1-0,” McCullough said.
“Altamirano ended up placing first at counties and Shayan Kassiri placed second. At regions, I beat Altamirano and Kassiri in back-to-back matches to place in the top four at regions and qualify for states.”
McCullough missed his sophomore season due to the pandemic like most Maryland wrestlers, but he made most of the interruption.
“The Covid-19 Pandemic hit right after my freshman season had ended. At that point, I made the decision to use that extra time to separate myself from other Maryland wrestlers by putting in the work to get better,” McCullough said.
“I practiced a lot and went to some national tournaments in places like Oklahoma, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. Going to all of these tournaments gave me an advantage when I came back for my junior season because a lot of kids hadn’t wrestled much throughout that Covid year.”
As a junior, McCullough pinned his county tournament quarterfinal and semifinal opponents before winning his title bout, 15-6, over Glenelg’s Daniel Vaysman.
At the Class 3A East Regions, McCullough then ran through his rivals with falls in 20 and 81 seconds of the quarterfinals and semifinals before finishing his title-bout rival in 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
McCullough is rated No. 1 in the Class 4A-3A and No. 3 overall in the Maryland State Wrestling Association Rankings.
Behind McCullough at Nos. 2 and 3 in Class 4A-3A are Montgomery Blair of Montgomery County senior Nelson Manzoeto and Linganore of Frederick County junior Ethan Arneson.
Manzoeto finished fifth at states at 170 pounds, and Arneson, fourth at 160.
McCullough owns a pair of victories over Manzoeto, whom he edged, 6-2, in last year state quarterfinals, and was beating, 10-3, earlier this season before Manzoeto defaulted with an injury.
“I plan to just put all the rankings aside and go out there and wrestle my matches,” McCullough. “By the time I reach the state tournament, everyone will be tough and have the same goal in mind.”
A versatile athlete, McCullough also starred as a middle linebacker as the Hawks’ football team went 11-2 and lost in the Class 3A state semifinals to eventual champion Damascus of Montgomery County.
McCullough totaled 120 tackles, 6 ½ sacks, five tackles for lost yardage and two forced fumbles, being named All-State and Howard County Defensive Player Of The Year.
“I also have a 4.3 weighted grade point average. I plan on majoring in something related to business in college,” McCullough said. “I hope to wrestle somewhere in college, but I am not completely sure where yet. I’ve already started learning a lot and plan to expand my knowledge wherever I end up.”