Pinning Down the MAC Championship Banner

Pinning Down the MAC Championship Banner
Danny Stock

GDS wrestling notched a historic MAC Championship victory!

It took dozens of arm bars, headlocks, and half nelsons, but last week the GDS wrestling team captured a Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) Championship banner for the first time in the history of the program.

The 2022 MAC Duals Championship featured five schools taking turns going head-to-head through all the weight classes. Having consistent individual winners isn’t enough to take this championship title: teams need depth and breadth to put wrestlers forward in each category or face a forfeit.

By the end of the night, the team had defeated Sidwell (54–25), Saint James (60–23), Saint Andrew’s (54–18), and Potomac (60–24) to claim the title. 

For years as a student and again when he returned to coach in 2016, GDS alum and wrestling head coach Grayson Shepperd ’11 has pursued a championship banner for GDS. “Honestly, I just feel really excited after all this time,” he said. “I know we’ve done a good job teaching the sport, but we’ve always been short-handed [and therefore] didn’t have the concrete results to point to. This is what it looks like when we have a full team.” 

Team captains Henry Tucker ’22 and Hayden Martz ’22 have been working with Grayson since 7th grade. “We’re both really thrilled [with the win],” Hayden said. “It feels like each year we’ve had a shot. The team has always been really good, but we’ve lacked the numbers. This year, we had enough people to fill all the weight classes.”

“It felt special to be able to showcase the team’s skills—what the GDS team is capable of,” Henry added. 

The captains see the success of the team continuing after they graduate, especially given how young the team is as a whole and how many of the underclassmen really stepped up in competition. The team boasts five freshman and four sophomore wrestlers.

Grayson and coaches Chris Oster—also a High School science teacher—and Josh Perelman—a current and alum parent—highlighted two factors that have ultimately proved critical to the team’s success this year: recruitment and campus unification.

Getting the numbers well before the winter season was the first test of determination for this team. “Beck Hotzman has really been the MVP of GDS recruiting [for wrestling],” Grayson said. Other teammates, too, made significant contributions to team outreach in early fall. Junior William Edwards, who has been a team leader on the mat and as a recruiter, found that several of the students he reached out to this fall had already been in conversation with Beck. The coaches are hopeful that the momentum of the championship victory will continue to fuel recruiting efforts going forward.

Also key to the success of the team, especially in light of the strong number of newcomers, has been the new dedicated wrestling room in the Lower/Middle School building. Prior to unification, the wrestling mats constantly had to be lifted to make room for other school activities. Grayson was able to bring students in throughout the fall to build basic skills and play some games around the more experienced wrestlers. Those sessions ultimately built more than wrestling foundations; they built community.

Even when facing an early loss or flagging energy between matches, that groundwork laid through the fall allowed the team to rally. After a lopsided victory over Sidwell in the first cycle, Grayson noticed the athletes dragging and nursing tired, sore muscles. 

“I told them, ‘Any great wrestler who won a big match—this is what they’ve felt like. It feels this way because you’ve been doing all the right things, working hard, and giving your all in a match. This is normal, and it’s how you should feel right now.’ I guess it worked because by the time the next match rolled around, all those complaints and worries disappeared, and they really showed up to put the screws on Saint James.”  

By 8:00 p.m., the team had secured wins in dominant performances across the board; the scores were lopsided due both to the absence of any forfeitures as well as the fact that so many kids put on peak performances. “Even the kids we didn’t need to win went out and stepped it up,” Chris said.

The GDS team has, historically, also been a place of great success from women wrestlers, including EJ Joseph ’21 and Ela Rockafellow ’18 most recently. With the COVID-canceled season last year and EJ’s graduation, recruiting for women wrestlers took a hit. Still, Grayson has found that practicing in the LMS has sparked a lot of interest, and he’s working to build interest through the Middle School wrestling team, which currently has six girls. All students interested in learning to wrestle are welcome to sign up for the GDS camp coming up this summer. 

The coaches expressed their gratitude to the team parents for all their support, especially through the long days at tournaments. “They consistently show up and continue supporting each and every kid—not just their own,” Josh said. 

Above the GDS-green pads on the back wall of the GDS wrestling room, fifteen single sheets of paper dangle from blue painters tape, each bearing three to six handwritten goals. “Win MACs;” “Increase intensity;” “Win MACs; “Dominate Sidwell;” “Get big like Will;” “Win MACs;” and “Win MACs.” Needless to say, many of these goals, all set on the first day of the season, are ready to be crossed out and new goals set for the most veteran to the freshest recruits. “Looking back on how they competed and where they are now, we see so much growth,” Chris said. 

“Yeah, the energy in the room has changed a bit since Wednesday,” Grayson agreed. Along with all the growth—all the new moves wrestlers have learned—he explained, “I’ve seen them come back into the room with the realization, ‘Oh, we’re kind of good at this!’ And that feeling will push them to see how far they can go.”

Note to readers: GDS wrestlers are fully vaccinated and test three times per week when they have a match. A weekly PCR and rapid tests the day before and the day of a match. These precautions are in place because wrestling in a mask is dangerous.

The captains invite GDS fans to the first home match of the season—Senior Night—on Tuesday, February 15 at 5:00 p.m.

2022 GDS Varsity Wrestling Team

William Edwards ’23, Adam Harris ’23, Beck Holtzman ’25, Mario Imbroscio ’24, Paolo Imbroscio ’25, Anoush Keinath-Esmail ’22, Drew Lamel ’25, Alex Marchand ’24, Luis Martinez ’24, Hayden Martz ’22, Henry Mitchell ’24, Ewan Porter ’24, Daniel Reilly ’25, Tyler Smallwood ’25, and Henry Tucker ’22

Fans can view and purchase photos here.

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