Prep Signing: East wrestler Almeida headed for Belmont-Abbey
By Ronnie Gallagher
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s Mark Almeida won last season’s county title at 126 pounds. He won the 3A regional title. But there was one thing on his mind when the state tournament began.
“My goal all year was state champ,” Almeida said.
There was a formidable — and familiar — foe awaiting the Mustang senior in Jacksonville’s Tyler Ross, who had beaten him the previous year, 10-0.
Almeida held his own this time, fighting through a bad ankle and a bloody nose but fell just short, losing 10-9 on a third-period escape.
“The loss was terrible,” Almeida said. “I cried and cried.”
There are no tears now, however. His career is far from over.
Almeida, who finished his senior season 43-6, is driving off to Belmont-Abbey on Friday with a wrestling scholarship in his back pocket.
“It will be a lot tougher,” Almeida said of the competition. “A lot more dedication. I just want to do it. I just want to be the best.”
It’s hard to believe, but one of East Rowan’s most successful wrestlers of all time didn’t always think like that. He remembers a friend in the seventh grade asking him to go out for wrestling.
“I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’ ” Almeida smiled. “In the eighth grade, he bugged me enough that I said I’d come out. The first week, I loved it.”
Almeida started as a 95-pounder in middle school and didn’t have a standout season as a freshman.
But after two years with East Rowan coach Barry Justus, he realized this sport might take him somewhere. Especially after he won the county championship as a sophomore.
“All of my sophomore summer, I went to camps,” he said. “It helped out a lot. I could tell a difference my junior year.”
There was no doubt he was going to repeat in the county tournament as a junior, this time at 119 pounds.
As a senior, he was named tournament Most Outstanding Wrestler despite North Rowan winning the title.
He defeated his friendly rival Giancarlo Solorzano of North Rowan at 126 by the score of 11-3.
Solorzano always kept Almeida working hard.
“We were always back and forth — in the offseason and everything,” Almeida said. “We’re great friends. But on the mat, we’re no longer friends. When we stepped off the mat, then we were buddy-buddy.”
When asked how much Justus helped him as far as college, Almeida said, “Oh geez, just getting me out there, taking me everywhere and getting my name out there to the coaches and scouts.”
Appalachian State talked to Almeida but in the end, he became a Crusader.
“Belmont-Abbey gave me a bigger scholarship,” he said.
Belmont-Abbey was only 4-12 last season but three of the best wrestlers suffered injuries and were kicked off.
The Crusaders won’t have to worry about their newest recruit. Even in a casual conversation, it’s easy to see the discipline and dedication in this athlete.
He even won the U.S. Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete award at East Rowan’s banquet.
Now, he goes to college, never to forget of a brilliant high school career.
“It was a lifetime of memories,” Almeida said.
Including one memory he wants to make up for: that loss to Ross in the state championship match.
“I believe that’s what truly motivated me to go on to wrestle on the next level,” Almeida said. “I wanted to end on a good note someday.”