Wentz’s courage pro­pels St. John’s to team ti­tle

The Washington Post Sunday - - HOCKEY - BY NICK EILERSON nick.eilerson@wash­post.com

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 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 had 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 sec­ond­pe­riod 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 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 1-hour 10minute 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.”

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