Coach Mike Hampe's Old Mill Patriots have emerged as an obvious favorite to win their second consecutive county dual-meet title, county tournament and possibly a third Class 4A/3A state tournament title.
The Patriots, after all, blew away the state tournament field last year and brought a 26-match unbeaten dual-meet streak into yesterday's season-opening battle at Baltimore's Gilman School.
What may not be as obvious to the casual observer is just how tough it's going to be for the Patriots to maintain their incredible streak -- including six titles in county and regional tournaments and four runner-up finishes in the state tournament.
FOR THE RECORD - Due to a copy editing error, the wrestlers pictures in yesterday's edition of The Anne Arundel County Sun were identified incorrectly. The wrestlers were Mount St. Joseph's Khris Reina (top) and Old Mill's Brent Layman.
In yesterday's recreation roundup, Crofton wrestler Dan Kachura's finish in the Bowie Christmas Tournament was given incorrectly. He placed second in the 95-pound Junior Division.
The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the errors.
"It's (the season's) going to be tougher than I thought," said Hampe, who had a career 148-21-3 dual-meet record before last night. "But the newer kids got their exposure and the tournament experience at Annapolis and my better kids are working on their conditioning."
For the first time in his 16-year tenure, Hampe's squad won't be scrimmaging North Carroll's highly touted Panthers in the preseason -- it will be wrestling them in a dual meet.
It's the same Panthers squad that suffered a one-point state tournament loss two years ago to the Patriots and finished a solid third last year.
"We want to get the top teams because we want to make sure we've wrestled the best competition for March (the state tournament)," said Hampe. "That's our main goal."
But Broadneck coach John Mayberry, in his eighth season, has the Bruins looking like the top contenders to dethrone the Patriots for the county title. That is, barring injury.
The Bruins, who finished third behind Arundel in the county tournament a year ago, swiped fourth place in a talented 16-team field at last weekend's Annapolis Tournament. Old Mill was second to champion Mount St. Joseph.
Before last weekend, Mayberry said "I don't think anybody can beat Old Mill." But since then, he has changed his tune, slightly, to "I think it's going to be a dogfight."
Even though Annapolis was a distant seventh at the Annapolis Tournament, the Panthers' performances of a year ago cannot be dismissed.
Dave Gehrdes coached the Panthers to a second-place showing in the state tournament after a disappointing fourth-place county tournament finish.
Arundel, which is going through somewhat of a rebuilding season under Buddy Hepfer (in his 21st season), South River and Southern are all in position to play the spoiler role.
"I believe that Old Mill is the team to beat, but everybody's got weak spots," said Gehrdes, in his 11th season. "In the dual meets, it's going to come down to the matchups."
Among the private schools, St. Mary's coach Brad Best doesn't think his Saints can match last year, when they posted a 17-2 record and won the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference championship, but he's got at least three wrestlers who will contend for individual titles.
The following is a sketch of each of the county's 13 weight classes: * 103 -- Old Mill's Steve Lundstrom was the state's No. 2-ranked wrestler here before winning the Annapolis Tournament title. That may have increased his stock. Lundstrom was third in the county and fourth in last year's regional tournament. North County's Sam Paik (formerly of Andover) was fourth behind Lundstrom at 103 a year ago. Broadneck freshman Charlie Bennett, a former three-time junior league state champion, was third at Annapolis. Southern's Sherrard Neal (second in the region) rounds out the top contenders here.
* 112 -- Broadneck's top-ranked defending county champion Shawn Miller is coming off of an impressive victory over Paint Branch's defending Class 4A/3A state champion Craig Middledorf for the Annapolis Tournament title.
His closest competitor should be South River's Bill Whitcher, who was a 103-pound county tournament runner-up last year to Miller's former teammate, Jason Berger. Southern senior Steven Tisdale soon may enter the picture, however.
* 119 -- South River's regional champion Greg Nida, who was third at 112 last year, appears to be the favorite here. But Broadneck's Roy Brazeau, a junior varsity county champ last year, looked tough in placing third at Annapolis. Annapolis' Mike Bousman will try to avenge last weekend's 4-2 loss to Brazeau somewhere down the line. St. Mary's Don Cipriani is an outside threat for an MSA title.
* 125 -- The title here is up for grabs, and judging by the logjam of talented wrestlers, some likely will drop into 119 by season's end. Old Mill's Bob Sugden was fourth in the county here a year ago but Southern's Keith Trader was fourth at 119. Broadneck's Vin Gerrior, Arundel's Noah Murdock and Annapolis' Ira Robbins are among possible titlists.