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Jackson Peoples set a new, high bar for the Seahawks

When South River's Jackson Peeples defeated previously unbeaten 106-pound freshman Austin Hayes of Eleanor Roosevelt for last weekend's Class 4A-3A crown at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, he became the first ninth grader in Seahawks' history to win a state title.

Peeples built a six-point lead in the first period of an eventual 10-8 victory over Hayes that made him the Seahawks' seventh individual state champion and the sixth under 27th-year coach John Klessinger.

Finishing the season with an overall record of 35-3 with 20 pins and two technical falls, Peoples dropped Hayes’ season-ending mark to 40-1. Peeples also added his state championship to those he won over the previous two weeks in the Anne Arundel County and Class 4A-3A East Regional tournaments.

"I am all-around happy that I won,” Peeples said. “I feel like winning just made me so grateful for my coaches and team. I’ve gotten so much better and stronger, mentally.”

Peoples has three more years to join the Seahawks’ only repeat champion Karon Lewis, who won consecutive state titles in 2018 and 2019. He can also become the program’s first three- or four-time champion.

The Seahawks' other title-winners are Gene Reid (1996), Andrew Mulry (2005), Brendan Woody (2017) and Sam Ditmars (2023), with all but Reid having been coached by Klessinger.

“We had a good idea of the type of kid Jackson was coming in. We knew he could compete at a high level. But Jackson got better with almost every match,” Klessinger said. “Winning the state title was great for him, his family, and our program. As impressive as him winning a state title as a freshman is, Jackson did it with a forearm that never fully healed from surgery last summer.”

Klessinger said that Peeples persevered throughout his season while wrestling with a previously undisclosed injury in his right arm.

"Jackson broke it wrestling last summer. He had surgery, but it wouldn't heal, forcing his date of return to be pushed back. We weren’t sure that he would even wrestle,” Klessinger said. “The bone didn’t fuse back together. It's actually still broken. The doctor eventually said that he could just wrestle and that he may need to go back in and do another surgery. Jackson is gritty and tough.”

Peeples competed at 113 pounds for the first part of the season, where he suffered two of his losses against freshman Quentin Bailey of Archbishop Spalding and junior Kane Desch of C. Milton Wright.

Bailey placed third in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament. Desch was a runner-up in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Tournament and a Class 2A-1A North Region champion who placed fourth in the Class 2A-1A state tournament. At 113 pounds, Peeples owned a pair of victories over Marriotts Ridge senior Rocky Alabaddi, a Howard County and Class 4A-3A South Region champion. Alabaddi had entered the state tournament with a record of 38-2, having lost to Peeples by scores of 8-1, and 4-3. Alabbadi’s year-ending record was 41-4 after finishing fourth in the Class 4A-3A states.

After dropping to 106 pounds, Peeples went 17-0 with 13 falls, two technical falls, a major decision and a decision. But over the course of the county, regional and state tournaments, Peeples’ had a mark of 10-0 with eight pins, a technical fall and a decision.

“I felt a lot stronger than most kids at 106,” Peeples said. “When I wrestled at that weight, I felt like I could move them around more easily and set up my shots.”

In the county tournament, Peeples registered falls in 2:24, 3:06 and 2:14, the latter in the finals against Chesapeake sophomore Mason Szczeszek. At regions, Peeples simply hammered his competition, comprising a 20-2 technical fall, a pin in 3:17 and a 91-second fall over Northern-Calvert freshman Paul Parks in his championship match.

Peeples continued his dominance at states, using falls in 21 seconds, 5:04 and 3:10 to reach the finals, where he led, 6-0, in the first period of his 10-8 decision over Hayes.

"In the beginning of the match I started to hand fight and snap and move him around. I got an under-hook on him and then I hit a single to a double,” Peeples said. “I tried to get the hammer on top of him. I had a near-wrist ride and cranked a half and eventually got him to flip over to his back. That was still in the first period, and it was already 6-0, but then I ran out of time on the clock."

The son of his coach, Cortez Hayes, Austin won his Prince George’s County title by fall, and his class 4A-3A South Regional title by decision.

Hayes had won an overtime, 11-9, semifinal victory over returning Class 4A-3A state runner-up junior Josh Arthur. A Class 4A-3A West champion, Arthur entered the match against Hayes with a record of 32-1 and eventually finished third.

Hayes entered his bout against Peeples with a record of 40-0.

"I really wasn’t thinking about how he was undefeated," Peeples said. "I knew that I could win, but after the match I did feel more accomplished that he was undefeated."

Peeples’ quarterfinal fall in 5:04 was against Howard County champion senior Srivanth Saladi of Marriotts’ Ridge. His fall in 3:10 of his semifinal bout was against Springbrook junior Sean Torrez, a Class 4-3A North Region champion.

Two weeks earlier, Torrez had finished second in Montgomery County following a 9-3 loss to freshman Cooper Spoales of Damascus, who placed third in the Class 2A-1A states. Peeples was joined in the finals by junior teammate Busayo Balogun (285), who lost an overtime, 3-1, decision to repeat champion RJ Duncan (285) of Old Mill.

Duncan (45-1) added his second Class 4A-3A state title to his second Class 4A-3A East regional crown and his first Anne Arundel County title after having been a runner-up as a junior.

Balogun lost for the fourth time to Duncan, who blanked him, 4-0, in the previous weekend’s regional finals. Balogun had also been pinned and lost an earlier decision to Duncan, who became the Patriots' 36th individual state champion but only the second at heavyweight since Roy Carter in 1983.

Duncan is also the program's first Class 4A-3A state champion since 2011 when 140-pound champion Salaman Riddel defeated LaPlata’s Daniel Brannon, 4-2, to complete a 33-1 season.

Balogun was a junior varsity county runner-up as a 195-pound freshman before winning the county title as a 220-pound sophomore on varsity last season. Balogun also placed fourth in last year’s regional tournament.

Balogun became the 10th Seahawks' wrestler to finish as a state runner-up, joining Mulry (2004), Ditmars (2022), Ian Graham (2007), Chris Elliot (2006), Collin Alley (2012), Trenton Puccinelli (2019), Austin Johnson (2022), Lonnell Owens Pabon (2022) and Racheil Coney (2022).

Not only has South River never had a returning state champ or freshman state champion, but next year's Seahawks can return a pair of state finalists next season for the first time in school history in Peeples and Balogun, according to Klessinger. Peeples wants to repeat, and Balogun wants to join him on the state championship podium next year.

"I would say that I have a good chance at winning states next year," Balogun said. "But I'm just going to continue to work as hard as I can at it and the results will produce themselves."

Next year's Seahawks may also return sophomore repeat county title-winner Trent Shipley (113) among those who helped South River to earn their sixth county tournament crown this season. There was a fourth-place effort from freshman Ethan Burger (126).

The Seahawks were Class 3A state dual meet runner-up to Linganore, having earned last year's Class 4A version with a resounding, 42-28, triumph over Urbana of Frederick County in the state championship match.

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