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Violet Land just wants to wrestle

Marriotts Ridge junior Violet Land recalls the moment in mid-September when she told her mother, Linda, about the new sport she wanted to try. It was the same one that her father, David, had excelled at both in high school and college, earning state titles and All-American honors.

"It was during the drive home with my mom from a gymnastics practice," said Violet Land, 17. " I was thinking about wrestling. I just said, 'mom, I want to wrestle.' It just clicked. It was spontaneous."

But Violet Land had to tell her father, who owns, manages and develops residential rental properties.

"We arrived after the drive home, and he was in his office,” Violet said. "I was like, 'dad, I'm thinking about wrestling. Can I wrestle? I think I'd be good at it.' He was like, 'no -- absolutely not.'"

Long before wrestling was a viable sport for females in Maryland, David Land was both a two-time state champion in the late 1980s and twice a collegiate All-American in the early 1990s.

"My rationale was that wrestling is one of the toughest sports in the world, and Violet was already into competitive gymnastics where they spend four hours a day, five days a week in the gym. And she's taking GT or AP courses," David Land said. "I think I thought about it for a couple days and I had the caveat where I was like, 'okay, you can wrestle if you can keep your grades up and finish out your gymnastics season strong. If you can do that, go for it.'"

David Land was coaching at mat side on Friday at Wilde Lake as Violet pinned three boys to win a 106-pound Howard County title in the junior varsity tournament.

"I was looking for a transition from gymnastics into a sport that I felt would fit my personality. So, I started wrestling when the season started. I had an idea of wrestling 106, which I knew would involve cutting weight," Violet Land said. "But I was okay with that and willing to do it. My dad helped me a little bit with the very basics, and I was able to pin all three guys and win the JV championship."

David Land's response?

"I tried to call her bluff," David Land said. "But Violet called my bluff."

An assistant to first-year head coach Vince Muscato, David Land was a catalyst as the Mustangs (191 points) overcame runner-up Glenelg (178.5) to win their first-ever county tournament title.

"Violet is a hard worker just like her dad and wants to win just as much as everyone else in the room. She has made great improvements in her abilities this year and does a great job hanging with the tough smaller guys in the room. Having Dave has been a great asset and just another great role model to have around," Muscato said.

"Dave does a great job integrating himself into our workouts and I utilize him a lot to make little tweaks to our wrestling style. There have been several instances where we have changed small components of our moves to make them more effective and have higher chances of finishing them on the mat. The boys really look up to him and it's great to see Dave rolling around with the guys during practice as well."

The Mustangs crowned seniors Srivanth Saladi (106) and Rocky Alabaddi (113) as well as sophomore Boden Pistorio (120) among seven wrestlers who finished within the top four of their weight classes.

Runners-up for the Mustangs were junior Jonah Obitz (165) and sophomore Cj Nyorkor (175), with junior Trip Bennett (144) finishing third, and a fourth-place effort from junior Alex Gladstone (138).

"Coach Land has helped with a new perspective on most of the moves to make it more effective and easier for us,” Alabaddi said. “He has personally helped me a lot by practicing and drilling with me a couple of times and giving me a run for my money. He's really a big contributor to my success this year and I couldn't have done it without him.”

But David Land wouldn’t be there without Violet, who improved to 7-3 overall with six pins and all of her matches being against boys comprising a 5-0 record on junior varsity and 2-3 on varsity.

"Violet fits within the culture we have on this team perfectly, and she's always asking me for help with moves to learn and to get better. Her hard work in the room has shown from the point where she started wrestling in the beginning of the season,” Alabaddi said. “It’s amazing what she's accomplished so far, like winning her junior varsity championship in her first year. But this will be a small step on a big staircase of achievements she will accomplish."

Violet's skills were on display at Wilde Lake, where she decked Glenelg's eventual third-place finishing Daniel Kim in 58 seconds of their first-round match, finished Mustangs' teammate Nathan Lee in 2:55 of their semifinal, and planted Howard’s Jay Srivstava in 3:02 of their championship match.

"Violet has great balance and body awareness and she's very powerful because of her gymnastics. She's got great upper-body strength so she can do throws," David Land said. "Her three losses have all been by points. Her six pins were from all sorts of holds -- half-nelsons, bar-arms, head locks, whips. She's an opportunistic wrestler and doesn't have a favorite pinning move."

On the weekend of March 1-2, Violet Land's goal is to compete in the 105-pound category of the all-girls varsity state tournament, whose inaugural event was held in February 2018 by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association at Northeast High. The event has since moved to The Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro, where it is run alongside the boys' Class 4A-3A and Class 2A-1A state tournaments.

Violet must first qualify out of this weekend's Class 3A South Regional tournament at Laurel High, which happens to be David Land's alma mater.

"I am wrestling in the girls regional. Hopefully, I'll make it to the states as well," Violet Land said. "I wanted to make my dad proud. I wanted to make him happy. That's the main goal for all of this that I'm doing."

Violet will compete at the regional alongside her male Mustangs' teammates just as she did at the counties.

Pistorio is a believer in Violet's abilities.

"Violet looks to battle in the regional and I believe that she will have a shot at qualifying for states. I think having Violet in the room is very helpful in lightening the mood as she is always kind and lighthearted," Pistorio said. "Even though she may not be as experienced having just joined the team this year, she still is at every practice day in and day out, putting in the work to get better."

David Land competed at 98, 105 and 112 pounds as a wrestler at Laurel High, graduating in 1989 after having won a pair of 98-pound AA-A state titles.

"My titles were at 98, but I often wrestled upper weights during the year." David Land said. "I wanted to get tougher against better competition. That's why I wrestled 105 and 112."

Land was also a two-time All-American at the University of Maryland, graduating in 1993 after placing seventh and eighth at 118 pounds in the NCAA Tournament.

"Coach Land is very helpful to have in the room. When he is in practice, he often provides insight into how to make our moves better," Pistorio said. "There are always new moves we can add to our arsenal, and coach Land is very experienced. I know that when he's teaching me something, I'm always going to be learning good things from him."

David Land's 15-year-old daughter, Cecilia, is a ninth-grader. Like Violet, Cecilia is a Level 9 competitive gymnast. But unlike Violet, Cecila "has absolutely no interest in wrestling," according to her father.

"I get more nervous watching Violet wrestle than I did when I was competing," David Land said. "But I always tell Violet to go out and have fun. She's good at it, she loves doing it, and she's been maintaining and kicking butt."

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