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The Wrestling Intersection of Churchill & Einstein

Updated: Mar 6

Churchill coach Tim Lowe became Albert Einstein High School's first state champion wrestler with back-to-back crowns in 1999 and 2000, the former at 130 pounds in the Class 2A-1A, and the latter at 135 pounds in the Class 4A-3A.

Lowe's status led to a memorable experience during last weekend's Class 4A-3A state tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro where he coached Bulldogs' senior Taigh Merola to a crown at 150-pounds and watched Einstein juniors Stone Yuen (126) and Isaac Ogunlade (190) become the Titans' fourth and fifth winners of individual state titles.

"As an Einstein alumnus, I’m happy to see the program succeeding at the highest level," said Lowe, in his 12th season coaching the Bulldogs. "Coach Oscar Salazar and his wrestlers are doing things the right way over there."

Where Merola became Churchill's 15th state champion and their first since both Ethan Nasvaderani and Jaden Selby won crowns in 2022, Yuen and Ogunlade are the Titans' first titlists since 2002 when 171-pound Matt Butler earned a Class 4A-3A crown with 9-8 decision over Patuxent's Matt Anderson.

"I was well aware of our school's wrestling history being that Timmy Lowe was our first state champion in 1999 and 2000, and after that we had Matt Butler at 171 pounds in 2002," said Titans' coach Oscar Salazar, a 2009 graduate of Einstein. “So that's where the state championship list ends at Matt Butler, but where a new one has begun is with Stone and Isaac. This is my seventh year as the coach, and this is the first time in Einstein history that we’ve had two state champions in one year and at the same state tournament."

Merola ran his record to 49-0 on falls in 2:57, 3:02 and 5:51 before winning his title bout, 6-3 over Bethesda-Chevy Chase junior Nizhoni Deschene. A returning fifth-place regional and fourth-place Montgomery County finisher last year, Merola won both of those crowns this season.

"All the hard work paid off," said Merola, who had edged Nizhoni Deschene, 3-2, in their county title bout. "Standing there having my hand raised was by far the greatest and happiest moment of my life."

Merola is the eighth individual state champion coached by Lowe, who was an assistant to Mike Endler for two of the Bulldogs' state title-winners, including when Danny April earned his third and final crown in 2003. Lowe was also an assistant in 2003 when Brandon Shapiro won his second state title.

Lowe was head coach when Hunter Sutton won his second and third crowns in 2012 and 2014 and has also guided the Bulldogs last four state champions in Nasvaderani, Selby, Merola and Jack Connolly (2018).

"Taigh’s 49-0 state championship run had nothing to do with luck. He’s coachable and he's done everything the right way,” Lowe said. “Starting with hard work and accountability, he was consistent at every practice and match, he put the team first, and was never hesitant to wrestle wherever the team needed him.”

Endler was the coach who twice provided state championship guidance for Lowe, whose current assistants are Jonathan Foster, James Taylor, Mike Reish and Bob Yi.

"We’ve managed to assemble a complementary group of coaches at Churchill that all played an important role in Taigh's run," Lowe said. "That includes helping with his technique, mindset, match strategy, and mixing it up with him during live wrestling. As a coaching staff we couldn’t be more proud of Taigh."

Yuen (38-1) won his title match, 5-0, over last year’s champion, junior Neil Sharma of Magruder (34-4), against whom he improved to 2-1. Yuen reached the finals following a 16-0 technical fall, a 12-2 major decision and a 12-5 decision.

Yuen lost an overtime match, 4-2, to Sharma during a regular-season dual meet, but gained revenge with a 6-3 decision in their Montgomery County title bout. Yuen defeated Sharma at counties despite having suffered an injured right shoulder during the first period, according to Salazar.

"Stone's only loss to Sharma was in a regular-season dual meet. So, we game-planned around his mistakes in that first match and saw Sharma again in the county finals. But in the county finals, Stone's shoulder actually popped out in the first period. Stone had to use almost all of his injury time," Salazar said. "We thought Stone was going to be done, but he came back and won the county championship wrestling with one arm because of a bad shoulder. Stone showed a lot of heart and determination by coming back and becoming a county champion, and to watch him beat Sharma for the second time in the states makes him all the greater."

Yuen provided his account of his series with Sharma, among other things.

"I had a migraine when I lost to Sharma and probably shouldn't have wrestled that match, but I have no excuses," Yuen said. "I came back to beat him at counties even though I hurt my shoulder and thought I was going to be out for the season."

Yuen credits close friend and 165-pound junior Lincoln Wendel of Springbrook for coaching him through his county title match against Sharma. Wendel has earned three county tournament titles, one regional crown in three championship berths, and has placed fourth and fifth at states.

"Lincoln is always in my corner coaching me no matter what. He's my childhood friend that I grew up wrestling with," Yuen said. "Lincoln knows my style of wrestling better than anyone else. He talked me through my county's match with Sharma when I was injured, and I don't think I could have done it without him."

Yuen won his crown after being a 113-pound runner-up to then-sophomore Drew Montgomery of Northern-Calvert, who won his second straight title in three championship bout appearances with Saturday's 2-0 decision over last year’s Class 2A-1A runner-up junior Beau Schmidt (38-4) of Northeast-Anne Arundel.

"It really sucked for me after I lost to Drew Montgomery in the state finals last year. I was so down, emotionally, and so pissed at myself for losing that match that I didn't speak to anybody for about a week," said Yuen of his 10-4 championship loss to Montgomery. "I just kept telling myself before the state finals match with Sharma, 'I'm not getting second at states again. There's no chance.' When I wrestled Sharma the final time at states I was just in a different mindset. It feels good to be a state champion, and next year, I'm determined to win another one."

Ogunlade (34-1) joined Yuen on the victory podium, but only after winning an overtime, 3-1 decision over previously unbeaten senior Dominic Queen of North Point. A third-place finisher at 182 pounds last year, Queen slipped to 42-1.

"The tougher the competition in counties, regions and states, the more Isaac is winning by one or two points. We knew going into state finals with Dominic Queen that we had a defensive wrestler. We wanted to use an outside attack and switch off to a double-leg, or maybe the blast double-leg," Salazar said. "Isaac had tried that about three or four times, but the final shot was beautiful. Isaac faked like he was going to go back into hand-fighting, but he immediately dropped his level and just blasted the kid. Isaac got in deep, cut the corner, got in a body lock and finally got him to the mat to win it in overtime."

Ogunlade had won his first bout by 18-3 technical fall before reaching the finals following narrow decisions victories by 5-3 and 3-1 in overtime, the latter against eventual third-place finishing senior Charlie Trenkamp of Churchill, who slipped to 47-3.

Ogunlade has developed a knack for winning close matches. He won his county title match, 6-4, over Trenkamp, and his Class 4A-3A North Regional title bout, 12-10, in overtime against Kenwood senior Chris Nwachukwu, who finished sixth at the states.

"I feel like I have more stamina than most of the other wrestlers, and that I can always win by giving a short, explosive burst of energy for the takedown," said Ogunlade, who placed fifth, second and sixth at last year's county, regional and state tournaments. "My only loss of the season this year was to a 215-pounder from Delaware. But I have to thank my coaches for my improvement. They put a lot of time into me during the off-season, taking me to Capitol Wrestling and things like that. I have the confidence now that I believe that I can do whatever it takes to win."

Ogunlade's 2-3 record at states last year included winning an overtime quarterfinal bout, 2-0, over Chesapeake-Anne Arundel's Xander Dodd, and losing a semifinal bout, 4-2, to eventual champion senior Samire Brown of Northwest.

Dodd was a state runner-up at 215-pounds on Saturday after losing his championship bout, 5-1, to Bowie junior Jamil Morrow. Morrow finished the year with a record of 37-0 to Dodd's record of 41-3.

"It was an amazing moment for both me and Stone becoming state champions as juniors," Ogunlade said. "We must look forward to capitalizing on our success and to repeat the cycle next season by winning and making back-to-back state titles and making it two in a row."

Churchill's three-time champions

Dan April

Hunter Sutton

Churchill's two-time champion

Brandon Shapiro

Churchill's 15 individual state champions

Dave Framm 1978

Mark Holbrook 1984

Nick Franzetti 1995

Dan April 2001

Dan April 2002

Brandon Shapiro 2002

Dan April 2003

Brandon Shapiro 2003

Hunter Sutton 2011

Hunter Sutton 2012

Hunter Sutton 2014

Jack Connolly 2018

Ethan Nasvaderani 2022

Jaden Selby 2022

Taigh Merola 2024

Einstein's two-time state champion

Tim Lowe

Einstein's five individual state champions

Tim Lowe 1999

Tim Lowe 2000

Matt Butler 2002

Isaac Ogunlade 2024

Stone Yuen 2024

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