Pasadena resident Khris Reina always dreamed about wrestling for perennial power Mount St. Joseph of Baltimore.
And last Saturday, Reina and four other county residents helped the Gaels -- the state's top-ranked team by the Maryland State Wrestling Association -- capture their 16th consecutive Maryland Scholastic Association tournament title.
"I grew up wrestling for the Riviera Beach Buccaneers and my coach was a Mount St. Joseph graduate," said Reina, who is the No. 4-ranked 140-pounder. "My coach (Tim Haney) told me about the winning tradition, and I've wanted to wrestle for Mount St. Joe's ever since I was8."
Reina (22-4) captured his second straight individual title and third overall, and teammate Shane McCarthy (24-4, 17 pins), also ofPasadena, won the 119-pound title. Freshman Steve Smiddy (103) and senior Brian Bennett (160) -- each of whom finished fifth -- are from Pasadena and Glen Burnie, respectively.
Reina and McCarthy grew upwrestling with the Riviera Beach Bucs, and neither finished higher than third in the state.
However, McCarthy improved tremendously in his first season under Mount St. Joseph coach Paul Triplett, a St. Joe alumnus and a former wrestler for the University of Maryland.
"I was all right in junior leagues, but the coaching I get from (Triplett) at St. Joe's really helped me a lot, and its also a good schoolacademically," said the 16-year-old, who maintains a B average. "Coach tells us to try not to worry about tradition, but with St. Joe's, you feel like you have to win. And when you do, you feel good becauseyou're on the No. 1 team."
While Reina breezed to the MSA title on two pins, a technical fall and a major decision, McCarthy had to avenge an earlier loss to Poly's Malcolm Compton in the final.
"I wanted revenge for our first match. I was beating him pretty good, and then I got caught and he pinned me," said McCarthy, one of four St. Joe sophomores.
This time McCarthy edged Compton, 7-6. The two wrestlers were tied as the state's sixth-ranked wrestlers before the bout. Before his first meeting with Compton, McCarthy had missed three matches with a chipped bone injury in his right shoulder.
"That match was his first match back after his injury and after that loss, he'sjust come into his own," said Triplett. "Shane's a hard-nosed kid who doesn't take any crap from any body. I'm really impressed with him."
In losing Bennett, a B student, to graduation, the Gaels lose a valuable veteran. Bennett (19-11), who is 18, earned runner-up finishes in both the Curley and Chesapeake tournaments as well as a third-place finish in the Annapolis tournament.
He also had a key 3-2 victory in the match against No. 6-ranked Gilman. Bennett's win helped put the close match mathematically out of reach as the Gaels (12-3 overall, 8-0 league) remained unbeaten in the MSA.
"When Bennett cameto St. Joe's, he had no idea what wrestling was," said Triplett. "Hespent two years on junior varsity and was on varsity last year. Thisyear, he beat some people who crushed him last year and won some bigmatches for us."
Triplett said future stars like Smiddy (19-13-1), an A student, provide a solid foundation.
The 14-year-old was fourth at the Annapolis tournament and third at Chesapeake. He has lostclose decisions to some of the state's best, including Old Mill's county champion Steve Lundstrom, Broadneck's sixth-ranked Charlie Bennett, Calvert Hall's formerly fifth-ranked Greg Knox, Gilman's MSA runner-up Gerard Harrison and MSA champion Scotty Speilman of Loyola.
"Steve has been right there with the best in every one of his matches," said Triplett. "He still hasn't got used to the high school style,but once he makes that transition, I expect him to be very successful."
This weekend at Lehigh (Pa.) University, Mount St. Joseph willtry for its ninth National Prep tournament title since 1976. The Gaels last won the title in 1989 and were runner-ups last year.
Reina, a co-captain this year, was a runner-up as a sophomore and fourth last year. As a senior, Reina has taken on a leadership role.
By contrast, Reina, a four-time Curley tournament champion, never has won the Chesapeake tournament (finishing second twice and third once) andhas finished second at Annapolis all four years.
Reina scored 1210 on his SATs and maintains a 3.83 grade-point average, and Triplett said Reina is an excellent example for a team that starts two freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors.
"I think Khris has really donea nice job. He's not flashy, but he wins," said Triplett. "He's taken control of a lot of these young kids, and he's told them what it's like to be a part of this program. He's an excellent team motivator."
Reina's two losses in the state this year have come against Old Mill's top-ranked Brent Layman and then fourth-ranked Caldwell Veale of Southwestern.
McCarthy was ranked among the top six 103-poundersthroughout last season when he won the titles at the Curley and Chesapeake tournaments and finished as runner-up in the Annapolis and MSAtournaments.
Reina and McCarthy both have had to overcome injuries this season. Reina missed a month of action because of strained ligaments in his left leg, and McCarthy missed three matches with a chipped bone in his right shoulder.
However, each is ready to tackle the National Prep tournament.
"I'm still looking at it through freshmen eyes," said McCarthy, who was eliminated last year. "It's a learning experience and it's a tough tournament."
"You never know who's going to be up there, but that's the fun of it," said Reina, who expects to be seeded among the top four in his class. "My moves are just starting to become fluid. Everything usually comes together for me in the National Preps."