After a slight drop-off last season, during which Mount St. Joseph lost to Gilman in only its second dual-meet defeat by a Maryland Scholastic Association opponent since 1980, fourth-year wrestling coach Paul Triplett has his young squad back at the top of the heap. The Gaels are ranked No. 1 in The Sun poll.
The MSA's Gilman, No. 5, and Loyola, No. 8, are capable of tripping up the young Gaels during the dual-meet season. That is, if they themselves don't get tripped up by coach Roy Lobdell's over-achieving Calvert Hall squad, ranked No. 9.
Little separates No. 2 North Carroll and No. 3 Old Mill. Even their coaches, Dick Buerlein and Mike Hampe, have similar experience -- each in his 16th season.
But on Jan. 4, the North Carroll Panthers will face the Patriots in a dual meet for the first time in the tenure of either coach. The winner will be a bigger target for the other, No. 7 Broadneck or quickly improving No. 10 Oakland Mills during the Class 4A/3A state tournament in March.
A week earlier, Guy Pritzger, in his eighth year, will see if his No. 4 Owings Mills squad can take the Class 2A/1A Region IV title from three-time state champion and No. 6 Aberdeen, coached by Dick Slutzky.
Here is a look at The Sun's top 10 area wrestling teams:
1. Mount St. Joseph: The team is still strong despite the graduation of two-time National Prep champion Scott Shaw. In winning back-to-back titles at the Archbishop Curley and Annapolis tournaments the past two weeks, the Gaels have devoured competition from 32 schools. Senior Jon Mack (125 pounds), junior Steve Cooper (189) and sophomores Shane McCarthy (119) and Glenelg transfer Kevin Neville (152) -- a Howard County champion last season -- are unbeaten with a pair of titles each. Senior Khris Reina (140), who was fourth in last season's National Prep tournament, took his fourth title at Curley two weeks ago and is looking to defend his MSA title. Calvert Hall transfer Chad Votta (135), a junior who was second to Reina a year ago, captured last weekend's Annapolis title after finishing third at Curley. A pair of freshmen, former junior league county champion Steve Smiddy (103) and junior league state champion Paul Scott (112), have stepped right in. Scott already has the Curley tournament title to his credit.
2. ,22North Carroll: After a one-point loss two years ago and a solid third place finish in the past two Class 4A/3A state tournaments -- both won by Old Mill -- the Panthers feel ready to make the move to the top. They captured the Meade tournament title Saturday. Senior state champion Dave Foster (145) is back, as is Tom Dell (119) and each is ranked No. 1 in his weight class. In addition, senior and three-time county champion Jason Myers (140), who placed third in last season's state tournament, has recruited his younger brother, freshman Jeremy (103), a four-time junior league champion. County champion and regional runner-up Justin Deibel (125) and 171-pounder Bill Lubking give the Panthers strength throughout their lineup.
3. Old Mill: Coach Mike Hampe has a good chance to join Dick Slutzky as the only other coach to win three consecutive state wrestling titles. He's got the firepower to do it, too, although most of them are underclassmen. Beginning with the top-ranked Layman brothers, senior Brent (140) and junior Brian (152), the Patriots are tough. Brent finished second in the state tournament and Brian was third. No. 6-ranked heavyweight Don Marco, second in the county and fourth in the region last season, looks like the top gun in his weight class. Junior teammate John Bliss (145) finished fourth in the county, regional and state tournaments, losing a one-point state semifinal decision to the eventual 135-pound champion. Seniors Sun Park (160) and Bob Sugden (125) took fourth in the county. Junior Ernie Longazel (171) was fourth in the county and regional tournaments.
4. Owings Mills: With only four seniors, Pritzger's charges look like the 1A/2A version of the Gaels: Virtually every weight class has an experienced wrestler. Sophomore Grant Johnson (130) is the top returning wrestler, having placed third in last season's state tournament as did Pikesville transfer Corey Setlen (119). Sophomore Greg Kessler (125) was a regional champ and senior DTC Jason Ricketts (152) was third in the county and a regional runner-up. Senior Kenny Gendason (112) was fourth in the county, but already owns a victory over Overlea's Kevin Heid, last season's 103-pound state champ.
3 5. Gilman: Coach Chris Legg's squad already has scored a lopsided victory over MSA opponent St. Paul's and finished second in the North East (Cecil County) tournament. Today, they'll get a big test from Old Mill (at Gilman, 3:45 p.m.). Six starters return. Legg, in his ninth year, said his top returning wrestler is senior David Gilner (152). A four-year wrestler, Gilner is expected to do some big things this year after finishing second in MSA tournament for two straight years and fourth in last season's National Prep tournament. Sophomore John Kim (125) took second in the National Prep tournament after finishing fourth in the MSA tournament at 119, among the toughest weight classes last season. Senior Brett Wilke (119), third in the MSA's, is another four-year veteran.