For Old Mill's Brent Layman, victory was just an inside single-leg takedown away.
Just one more victory, that's all. Just one guy, Franklin's Brian Siatkowski, stood between him and last year's Class 4A/3A 130-pound state wrestling title.
He had reached the finals with a 30-0 record after a second-period pin, a technical fall and an easy decision victory.
However, Layman dropped the championship bout, 4-1. Today, he admits the pressure was perhaps too great.
"I guess it was fear of failure, and it was definitely disappointing," said Layman, now a senior. "I thought Ihad this inside single that was unstoppable at the beginning of the season, but then people learned to counter it. But I just didn't wrestle like myself in that match."
Layman ended the season as the Maryland State Wrestling Association's fourth-ranked 130-pounder, while Siatkowski was ranked No. 2 and later chosen to The Sun's All-Metro first team.
That loss has been a primary source of motivation for Layman, who is even more technically sound, more offensive-minded and more economical with his moves this year.
"I've changed my style alittle bit," said Layman, now the state's top-ranked 140-pounder with a 20-1 record (12 pins, four technical falls). "This year, I'm coming at people from all angles, taking whatever they're giving me and not trying to force that one move."
Old Mill coach Mike Hampe said,"He's learned that he can't be in a situation of complacency. He knows that there are guys who can beat him, but he's quietly determined."
Layman stays on top in the classroom, too, maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average. Several Division I college programs are interestedin the slender senior, but he has narrowed his choices down to George Mason University in Virginia, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania.
"They're not the best of the best in wrestling, but they all have good business programs and GMU andBucknell are ranked in the top 20 (in wrestling)," said Layman, adding that his former teammate and a state champion, Gary Baker, attendsPenn.
"Gary says the coach makes them hit the weights hard. They watch over every set that he does," Layman said. "Wherever I go, I think my wrestling skills will help me adapt, but the overall strength of wrestlers at that level -- that's something I'll have to work hardon."
Hard work is something that has come easy for Brent Layman, especially with his younger brother, Brian, pushing him while following in his footsteps.
As a sixth-grader, Brent started wrestling with the Crofton Youth Leagues. Brian followed two years later as a seventh-grader.
"Everything we've done in life, I've always come after him," said Brian, the state's No. 3-ranked 160-pounder, who has a 15-0 record with 11 pins. "He won the junior league state title two years before I did, and now in our matches, he wrestles first."
Evenon the Old Mill soccer field, Brent played as a forward and midfielder while Brian played goalkeeper behind him. The only sport Brian hasn't played with his brother is tennis -- Brent was second and fourth,respectively, in boys singles the past two seasons.
However, lastyear's state wrestling tournament held true to form for the Layman brothers. Brent finished second and Brian third at 152. Brian ended last season as the state's No. 4-ranked 152-pounder with a 32-3 record that included a county and a Region IV title.
"Brent was always a little better than me. We call him 'Silk' -- he's just so smooth," Brian said. "He's got a textbook style. Mine is a little more rough. But it works."
Brent Layman's style may have changed since last year, but one thing hasn't. The contenders still are trying to knock offthe No. 1 guy.
Earlier this season, Brent turned back Mount St. Joseph's then No. 3-ranked Kris Reina, 13-7, for the Annapolis tournament title. A week later, he captured the Chesapeake tournament title with a thrilling 11-8 victory over Southwestern's No. 4-ranked Caldwell Veale.
Against Veale, Layman put on a virtual takedown clinic while displaying amazing concentration.
"I'd have to say that's my biggest win so far because for so many years -- even through junior leagues -- he had been so dominant," Layman said. "I overcame what a lot of people thought was impossible for me. But it also added a lot of pressure, because people have a goal to beat me."
A week later, in the Dec. 28-29 St. Stephen's tournament in Virginia, Layman lost for only the second time in two seasons -- this time to a formidable opponent in St. Stephen's junior Khalil Abdul-Malik.
Layman droppeda tough, 13-8 semifinal decision to Abdul-Malik but pinned his consolation final opponent for third place.
Along the way, Layman earned the respect of St. Stephen's coach Dave Hooper.
"I remember their match vividly. Khalil won it on the strength of two takedown counters," Hooper said. "When both wrestlers came off of the mat, they werecompletely exhausted. Khalil has won some matches that have been closer, but that was his toughest of the season. (Layman's) a great wrestler and gave Khalil all he could handle."
That's quite a statement, considering Abdul-Malik has a career record of 102-7, including 24-0 this year, and is on the verge of the Virginia victory record (130).
"(Khalil) was a notch quicker than me that day, and I wasn't finishing my moves well. But I lost to a guy who thinks really well on the mat," said Layman. "I'm kind of glad I've lost already this year.After beating Veale, I think I was starting to peak early. Losing took a lot of pressure away."