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Ray Oliver's Standout Was Third: Taina Fernandez

Updated: Dec 11, 2023


When Taina Fernandez left the mat following last Saturday’s 7-5 quarterfinal loss to

Sean Garretson of Archbishop Spalding at the Raymond Oliver Tournament at

McDonogh, the 126-pounder saw disbelief in the eyes of some observers.

A 14-year-old freshman at Archbishop Spalding who is Garretson’s Cavaliers’

teammate, Fernandez was allowed to enter the event as an unattached participant.


“I was shocked when she almost beat Sean,” said coach Mike Laidley, in his 22nd

season at Archbishop Spalding. “The match was tied up before Sean got a late escape

and a takedown to secure it. But even on that takedown, it was a scramble that could

have turned out in Taina’s favor.”


Garretson was the eventual champion following a 7-4 title-bout victory over state

runner-up Tyler Woods of St. Mary’s Ryken, but Fernandez had given her practice

partner what amounted to his most difficult challenge of the weekend.

“A lot of times, when I’m the only girl there, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s doing well trying to

compete,’ but I really was there to win. I wanted to plant the seed in people’s minds that

I’m going to give it my all every time that I step up,” said Fernandez.


“When I came off the mat, I think that some people were surprised to know that I was actually trying to win the tournament. It was a very cool and rewarding experience for me to have all of my hard work come to fruition in my first high school tournament. It was validation that I’m doing the right things.”

Ranked No. 1 nationally among girls at 130 pounds by USA Wrestling, Fernandez

reached the semifinals with a quarterfinal fall in 3:36 over junior Aidan Salmon of New

Kent, Virginia, and finished at 5-1 with two pins and a major decision.


“Taina is a beast,” said Garretson, a MIAA runner-up and third-place finisher at the

Maryland Independent Schools State Tournament who placed seventh at National

Preps. “Taina’s my teammate. I wrestle her a lot in the room. She’s a really good

wrestler.”

Fernandez won four straight matches after falling to Garretson, pinning freshman

Gabriel Crenshaw of Smyrna of Delaware in 2:44 before grinding out a 5-4

decision over junior Gavin Mundy of Delaware Military Academy.

She then won a 13-1 major decision over Loyola junior Tyler Truitt and a 5-3 decision

over sophomore Drew Roggie of St. Christophers of Virginia, the latter, for third


place. “Right now, Taina’s in the same weight class as me. But with all of these great

tournaments coming up, they have a girls’ division,” Garretson said. “Taina will wrestle

in the girls' division, but for dual meets, we’ll shuffle the lineup and she’ll get some big

matches in that way as well.”


In Roggie, Fernandez defeated a wrestler who was sixth at last year’s National Preps

Tournament where he defeated Jake Tamai of Mount St. Joseph, who is a returning

MIAA and private schools state champion.


“Roggie was a pretty tough opponent based on his credentials. I didn’t know about him

personally, but I know a lot of people weren’t expecting me to do well in that match. I

just treated it like any other match leading up to it,” Fernandez said.


“When I came to Spalding, I knew there was the potential for facing a lot of

adversity. But I’m surrounded by the right people and I’m in a great room with Sean

and others pushing me every single day.”


Along with Garretson, Fernandez’s practice partners include junior Henry Gessford

(120) and senior Vincent Paolucci (132), each of whom finished second at McDonogh.

Gessford was a MIAA tournament runner-up who placed fourth at states, and Paolucci

was a MIAA runner-up who was second at states.

“When I see Taina in the room wrestling, she’s holding her own, but when she came

back and beat Roggie for third and fourth, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Taina makes you

eliminate the ‘female’ wrestler from the conversation,” Laidley said.


“At this point, Taina will be bumped into the dual meet lineup, and she’ll compete in the

all-girls division of the Beast Of The East and National Preps tournaments. But if Taina

wants to wrestle off with Sean, she has every right to do so.”


Fernandez lives in Bowie, where her Puerto Rican father, Kareem, is a professor of

military science and the head of the ROTC program at Bowie State University.

Taina’s Bolivian-born mother, Trinidad, watched from the matside.


“It was pretty rewarding to watch Taina wrestle at the high school level after she worked

all summer with her teammates,” Trinidad said. “Taina was able to prove it to herself

this past weekend that she needs the competitive challenge private schools bring.”


Fernandez knows South River senior Alexandra Szkotnicki (44-8), who established

herself as the second-most accomplished female wrestler in Maryland history by placing

fourth at 113 pounds while wrestling against public school boys at the Maryland Public

Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 4A-3A state tournament a year ago in

March.


Szkotnicki’s effort came two weeks after defeating Broadneck sophomore Cam

Williams, 1-0, to become only the second female to win an Anne Arundel County title,

and a week after having placed third at the Class 4A-3A East Region Tournament.

Fernandez also knows all-girls state champions, Lexy Pabon of Crofton and

Ugochi Anunobi, winners at 125 and 170 pounds a year ago as juniors in March.

Pabon was among the most dominant in the all-girls states, pinning all four of her

opponents.


Anunobi improved her record on the year to 30-0 (3-0, all pins against boys) after

earning her second straight crown with a 7-4 decision over previously unbeaten

Azariyah Johnson (15-1) of Stephen Decatur.


Last year’s all-girls state championship was the fifth event since the Maryland Public

Secondary Schools Athletic Association held its inaugural all-girls state wrestling

tournament at Northeast High in February 2018.


Now a sports psychology major at McKendree University in Illinois, Szkotknicki went 3-2

at states, including victories by pins in 21 and 73 seconds and by an 11-1 major

decision.


Szkotnicki lost her semifinal bout, 4-0, to eventual champion Drew Montgomery (40-0)

of Northern-Calvert County, and her consolation finals bout, 14-3, to sophomore

Cooper Cammarata (35-7) of Tuscarora of Frederick County.


Szkotnicki joined Arundel High’s Nicole Woody (103), who made more history as a

senior in 2007 by becoming Maryland’s first girl to win an Anne Arundel County and

regional title and to finish as a Class 4A-3A state runner-up.


In March 2006, Montgomery County freshman Helen Maroulis became the first girl to

place at the Maryland wrestling championships with a sixth-place finish at 112 pounds

in the 4A-3A state tournament.

As a Magruder junior in 2009, Maroulis became the first female to reach the finals of

both the Montgomery County and Class 4A-3A East Region tournaments and repeated

her sixth-place finish at states.

Western Tech’s Jade Hendricks became the first girl to reach the Class 2A-1A state

tournament, the same year that Woody did so on the 4A-3A side. But Hendricks went

0-2.

In 2010, Smithsburg senior Monica Hovermale (103) became the first female to place in

the Class 2A-1A states and the third female to do so overall, finishing sixth.

A four-time Washington County champ, Hovermale totaled 104 career victories,

becoming Maryland’s first female wrestler to surpass 100 wins. Hovermale went 2-2 as

a sophomore at states, becoming the first female to win at least a match on the Class

2A-1A side.


“We could have gone to a public school, and Taina probably could have reached a state

title,” Trinidad said. “But Taina’s proven that she is where she needs to be when it

comes to schools, and Taina’s goals are bigger than state titles.

Maroulis later became the first-ever American female to win a gold medal at the

Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016, and world championship titles in 2015 and

2017.


Maroulis also won a gold medal in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara,

Mexico, and, most recently, a bronze medal in the Tokyo Summer Olympics and a

gold medal in the January 2022 Ivan Yariguin Grand Prix in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Fernandez met, practiced, and worked with Maroulis at the Capital Wrestling Club

in Gaithersburg, Maryland, two years ago, having since become even more

inspired, according to Taina Fernandez.

“Two or three weeks ago, Taina went to the Princeton Open and wrestled two college

women who are starters on their teams, and she beat them,” Laidley said. “That was

before losing in the finals to a 28-year-old who is competing internationally [and was

an Under-23 World Champion in 2018]. Taina wants to be an Olympic gold medalist,

and I believe she can do it.”

On Sept. 2, Fernandez scored a first-period, 10-0 technical fall over home-town favorite

Carley Ceshker of Wisconsin, defeating the sophomore for the second time in their careers at The University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Ceshker was a runner-up at both the Under-16 Fargo Nationals and the Under-17 World Team Trials. In October, a 130-pound Fernandez won her second straight title at the Super 32 in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she hung out with Woody, a former coach and a constant mentor to the talented ninth-grader. Fernandez was named the Outstanding Wrestler during each of her appearances at the Super 32, where she has not been scored upon during her presentations in the event.

“Taina is humble, hard-working and so talented,” said Woody, in her fifth year coaching

at Oklahoma City University. “Taina will be the best [female] wrestler to ever come out

of Maryland.” Over the weekend of November 24-25 in Panama City, Panama, Fernandez won the Under-15 Pan Am Games for the second consecutive time as well. “This was her second year making the United States team. Her first year was a year ago when she was 13,” said Trinidad Fernandez. “That was the first year Taina was eligible to compete on the under-15 team. She still has one more year in the under-15, but she’ll try to make the under-17 World Team at Nationals in May 2024.”Fernandez is looking forward to the Dec. 15-17 Beast Of The East Tournament at The University of Delaware in Newark, which features an all-girls division.


“Beast Of The East is definitely a tournament that I know for sure I’m going to try to do

this year, along with the National Preps,” Fernandez said. “The McDonogh tournament gave me the confidence that I need to compete at 126 and I feel as though that’s a really strong weight for me. If the team needs me at 120 or 126, we’ll see how it goes.”

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