The Quince Orchard High School wrestling program has long been competitive within Montgomery County and has produced some of the state’s best athletes. But heading into this winter’s postseason, the Cougars hadn’t had a state finalist in five years. On March 2 at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, two Quince Orchard wrestlers—senior Jose Echeona and junior Marquez Cooper—each found himself within one match win of a coveted state title. It was the first time two Cougars had made it to the state finals since 2009.
Junior Ryan Jones, who finished fourth at states last winter and had won the Class 4A/3A West Region title at 195 pounds, suffered a concussion during his state quarterfinal loss and was unable to continue competing for a spot on the podium.
“It was exciting for us. We hadn’t had a wrestler in the final since 2014,” Quince Orchard coach Rob Wolf said. “The only other school in the county to have two guys in the finals was (seven-time reigning dual-meet state champion) Damascus.”
Echeona Solidifies Spot as One of QO’s All-Time Best
It was defeat from the jaws of victory. For about 40 seconds in the second period of their Class 4A/3A state wrestling tournament 138-pound final, Quince Orchard senior Jose Echeona had Broadneck High’s Michael Garlington on his back, seemingly pinned. The referee counted off—Echeona said he heard the other referee communicate that Garlington was downed, from his perspective—and Cougars coach Rob Wolf waited intently for his hand to hit the mat, deeming the match over and Echeona state champion. But that moment never came.
“We were all in shock that (the referee) didn’t call a pin,” Wolf said. “Maybe we were in a bad position (to see) but (Garlington) was on his back for 40 seconds, so it’s hard to believe at some point during that 40 seconds, he wasn’t pinned. All he had to do was hit his hand on the mat, and Jose is state champion.”
Though Echeona, who erased an early 0-4 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the second period, ultimately fell in a heart-wrenching 6-5 decision, Wolf said he couldn’t have been more proud of the disappointed teenager’s composure.
Reaching the state final is an honor to begin with, Wolf said, and nothing can take away from Echeona’s legacy—his 138 high school wins rank second on Quince Orchard’s all-time list, just five victories behind leader Eli Bienstock.
Echeona’s impressive postseason run included regional and state semifinal wins over Walter Johnson senior Jacob Bernstein, to whom he had previously lost four consecutive matches, including at states a year ago and in this year’s Montgomery County championship final.
“In our book, (Echeona) is a champion,” Wolf said. “The way he wrestled, he didn’t deserve to lose that (state final) match. After the loss, he was amazingly calm and not bitter at all. He took it all in such great stride.”
The way Echeona carries himself, Wolf said, is perhaps where he’s made his impact on the program. In four years, he missed one single practice—late this season to go on a recruiting trip—despite starting 2018-19 with a torn ligament in his thumb. Echeona proved himself through his mental mindset and work ethic, Wolf said, which is arguably the greatest lesson he offered his teammates.
“(I wanted to show) my younger teammates that anyone who steps onto the mat, you can be good if you put in the work,” Echeona said. “If you put in part-time effort, you’re going to get part-time results. You have go hard every single day to get the results you want.”
Cooper Falls Just Short of Title
Football might be Quince Orchard junior Marquez Cooper’s No. 1 sport—he’s already received several Division I scholarship offers. But the elusive running back also happens to be one of the state’s top wrestlers.
After dominating his first three opponents at the state wrestling competition—two of which were regional champions—Cooper faced Linganore High senior Michael Bromley in the final. It was their third meeting of the season, and third one-point decision in Bromley’s favor.
“In the blink of an eye, Marquez can throw you on your back and beat you,” Wolf said. “He made getting to the finals look easy. (Bromley) was definitely being very defensive and once he got his points, he was just trying to hold out and did a good job of that.”
A wrestler since age 8, Cooper’s extensive football training regimen, coupled with his technical skills and experience on the mat, fed his performances this winter. Quick-footed and aggressive, he’s confident in his ability to take anyone down. And he’s ultra-competitive.
“I’m grateful I made the state final, but I wanted more,” Cooper said. “I’m a little upset about it still. I always want to be on top.”
Though Cooper said the state final loss does motivate him to want to go for the title again next winter, he said he’s unsure he’ll wrestle his senior season, to avoid risking injury heading into his first year of college football. But just as football influenced Cooper’s wrestling, his time on the mats has made him a better football player, he said.
“Wrestling has made me tougher,” Cooper said. “People try to hit me in my legs (when I’m running) but I’m used to it, so I can stay up.”