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Ryan Lawrence leads Damascus to state title

When Ryan Lawrence entered The Show Place Arena for the March 3-4 Class 4A-3A state tournament, the 145-pound Damascus junior had a lot on his mind.

It had been a year since Lawrence was forced to settle for a third-place finish at states after having, in his words, been “20 seconds” from reaching the finals “and then getting pinned.”

To be more specific, Lawrence led his semifinal bout, 3-2, a year ago against then-Centennial freshman Jason Kraisser before being reversed to his back and decked as the match-ending buzzer sounded.

“I was on top with the legs in, and they stopped the match for blood time,” said Lawrence. “He reversed me to my back with bout 10 or 15 seconds left and got the pin.”

On Saturday, however, Lawrence left no doubt who the best man was in his weight class, using a decision, a major decision and a semifinal pin to reach the finals.

There, Lawrence scored several nearfall points on the way to a title-winning 21-5 technical fall victory over Old Mill’s Chase Pennell.

Lawrence gained further motivation before stepping onto the mat with Pennell, considering he watched Kraisser win his second straight title, 4-2, over Logan Arneson of Urbana in a 138-pound bout.

“I watched the match, and I have to give it to him because he’s a good wrestler, but I was determined,” said Lawrence, who improved to his record on the year to 48-1 with 24 pins and five technical falls.

“Maybe I was a little nervous the first day, but then, I got a couple of wins under my belt and sort of built momentum from the first day to the second day.”

Lawrence was joined by senior repeat champion Scottie Obendorfer (132) and junior Paul Purkey (182) on the victory podium as the Swarmin’ Hornets (123.5 points) placed six wrestlers within the top for of their weight classes to earn their third straight and sixth overall state title at the venue in Upper Marlboro of Prince George’s County.

Lawrence’s father, Troy, had expected a more difficult challenge from Pennell, whose 6-5 semifinal victory had come against the previous year’s runner-up, Andy McKahan of Stephen Decatur, a wrestler his son had twice vanquished in very tight matches.

“I was more nervous and emotional for him than during any time that I’ve ever competed myself,” said Troy Lawrence, an assistant to head coach John Furgeson and a former state champion at Allegheny who competed for the University of Maryland. “I’m not one to boast about my kid, but he definitely dominated and I was proud to see him win after what happened last year.”

Kraisser actually helped the Swarmin’ Hornets by defeating Arneson, a member of tournament runner-up Urbana (99 points).

“He was wrestling our rival,” said Lawrence. “So I was actually rooting for Kraisser.”

Lawrence’s only other loss a year ago had also come against a two-time champion, that one by 7-6, against Devan Hamrick of Southern-Garrett County after having blown a lead.

“One of the things we talked about with Ryan was focusing on staying in the match, mentally, until the end,” said Troy Lawrence. “It was a shame to have been ahead and then to lose both of those matches, but mental focus was something I think Ryan improved on.”

The championship is even more pleasing to Lawrence given the fact that he missed his entire freshman year due to a back injury suffered while horsing around away from the mats during the second week of practices.

“I was jumping off of a pretty good-sized wall into a pile of mulch and I landed wrong, which wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” said Lawrence. “All of that gave me some motivation to make up for it over the next couple of years, and I wanted to make up for that.”

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