It's gut-check time for the Oakland Mills wrestling team: Time to see if Coach Dan Ricker's Scorpions can improve on last year's fifth-place finish in this weekend's 12th annual Arundel Invitational Tournament.
A year ago, the Scorpions finished with 135 points, behind Prince George's County's DeMatha (159 points), Arundel (152.5) and Annapolis (144) -- both of Anne Arundel County -- and Charles County's McDonough (142).
The top three teams were ranked No. 5, No. 10 and No. 7 respectively by the Maryland State Wrestling Association in a tournament that usually separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Just ask theScorpions' Adam Seidman.
As a 119-pound freshman last year, Seidman pulled the upset of the tournament in the semifinals by defeating C. Milton Wright's Gary Rinehart --then the state's sixth-ranked wrestler. Seidman nearly pinned Rinehart in the first period before coasting to an 8-2 victory.
However, Seidman took a pounding in the championship bout, losing by a 16-1 technical fall decision to DeMatha'sNo. 2-ranked John Allman.
"Last year, I think we were a little scared coming in. We just wanted to place, and we all ended up losing to very good wrestlers," said Seidman, now a 125-pounder, who later won a Howard County Title.
One of three returning state qualifiers, Seidman's season ended with a 10-3 loss to Thomas Stone's Ronnie Ruffner -- the eventual state champion -- in the first round of last year's Class 4A/3A state tournament.
Seidman points to tournaments like Arundel for helping him get there.
"A lot of those teams have lost people, and we have a lot back," said Seidman, who has a 13-2 record so far. "Three of those teams (McDonough, Arundel and Annapolis) are in our region, and if we win, we should know a little better aboutwhere we stand (in the state)."
Winning won't be easy with Annapolis, Arundel, DeMatha and McDonough all returning this year, in addition to Baltimore County's Kenwood, Harford County's C. Milton Wright and Montgomery County's Quince Orchard.
However, Arundel coach Buddy Hepfer has tabbed the Scorpions as an early favorite along with Annapolis.
Besides Seidman, junior heavyweight Monte Spencer and seniors Dan Bickell (112) and Kalev Freeman (119) represent the Scorpions' best hopes for individual titles. And each is motivated after lastyear.
But the Scorpions also have depth. Most of the wrestlers have faced quality opponents this season, which should help them at Arundel and when it comes to the county dual meet season.
Last month,Ricker's Scorpions wrestled in the Annapolis and Lackey Invitationaltournaments -- 30 teams between two weekends.
Among those teams were the MSWA's top-ranked Old Mill, No. 9 Broadneck and No. 10 Lackey. Although Oakland Mills finished just eighth at Annapolis among someof the best teams from Maryland and Washington, the Scorpions earnedenough respect to be considered among the Baltimore Area's top-10 squads in The Sun's preseason rankings.
And the Scorps rebounded from the Annapolis tournament to be the runner-up to Lackey a week later. Also at Lackey was then No. 10-ranked DeMatha, which finished a distant fifth.
"It looked like we got crushed at Annapolis, but that's good for us," said Bickell. "Actually, we've been wrestling teams that the rest of the teams in the county can't touch."
But this weekend, Ricker will need solid efforts from at least four other Scorpion wrestlers -- Brian Dunbar (135), Joe Salinas (140), Marcus Miles (145) and Dustin Blackwell (171).
All of them have winning records. Dunbar (9-5) was second in the Lackey tournament, while Miles and Blackwell -- each 10-4 -- were fourth at Lackey. Salinas, a county tournament runner-up last year, is 8-6.
Ricker, in his third season, has done a fine job since taking over for Steve Carnahan, who retired after winning 10 county meet titles in 14 seasons. Oakland Mills has continued to prosper under Ricker with a 14-0 county dual meet record and a county tournament title.
With a 3-1 dual meet record, the Scorpions want badly to re-establish the program with the statewide respect it had under Carnahan. Bickell -- who wrestled under Carnahan during his freshman season -- feels the Arundel tournament title would be a huge step in that direction.
"Carnahan always placed a lot ofemphasis on the Arundel tournament," said Bickell. "We've got (three-time defending Class 2A/1A state champion Aberdeen) on Jan. 18, and everyone knows who they are. If we come away at least looking good, that's good to have under our belts."
At Arundel, Seidman will havean opportunity to avenge a loss to McDonough's Larry Green, who defeated him at the Lackey Tournament, where Seidman finished third. Seidman's other loss came against Mount St. Joseph's fourth-ranked Jon Mack.
Spencer and Freeman were runners-up a year ago, and Bickell was third. Bickell and Spencer placed third in the Class 4A/3A Region IV tournament a year ago as well as third in the state tournament.