All season long, wrestling fans have said North Carroll and Old Mill likely will battle for the Class 3A/4A title at this weekend's statetournament.
The results of last weekend's regional tournaments did little to dispel that notion.
And, if the regions are any indication, the tournament Friday and Saturday at Western Maryland College should go right to the wire. Action begins Friday with the first round at 2:30 p.m. and the quarterfinals at 7:30. On Saturday semifinals start at noon, with the consolation finals slated for 6 p.m. and the championship finals to start immediately following, about 7:30.
Both North Carroll and Old Mill of Anne Arundel County won their regions easily and qualified 10 grapplers for the state tournament. The Panthers had three region champs, six second-place finishers and a fourth-place finisher, while Old Mill had three region champs, five runners-up, a third-place finisher and one in fourth.
Their seeding should be very similar in the tournament, but North Carroll coach Dick Bauerlein has always said a team needs a little bit of luck in the seedings to win a state tournament.And both he and Old Mill coach Mike Hampe should know about luck -- or lack of it -- in the state tournament.
Before winning their first team title two years ago, Old Mill had four second-place finishes and one fourth-place finish in the team race, all since 1982. North Carroll still has not won a state title, but came within a point of Old Mill in 1989 and finished second one other time, third three times,and fourth once.
"We need some luck," Bauerlein said. "The first round is very important to us. If everyone would advance, that reallywould be great."
Hampe, whose team topped the Panthers, 39-21, nearly two months ago and is aiming for a third straight crown, agrees.
"The important thing is getting as many guys as possible through the first round," Hampe said yesterday. "Then, it's getting as many of your best wrestlers into the semifinals."
Wrestlers earn points not only based on how they win their match (by decision, major decision, pin, etc.) but also by advancing from round to round.
Hampe and Bauerlein both caution that several other teams could challenge forthe title, including Broadneck and Annapolis .
Among Carroll teams, Westminster was fifth in the region and qualified five wrestlers, including region champs Justin Ott (135 pounds) and Boomer Warfield (189). Liberty advanced two wrestlers.
But the spotlight will be onNorth Carroll and Old Mill.
One important first-round match, which could cost either team several points throughout the rest of the tournament, is the 112-pound match between North Carroll's Chad Miller and Old Mill's Vytas Dulys.
Several other weight classes could feature top wrestlers from the two schools farther along in the brackets. At 140 pounds, North Carroll's Jason Myers won his region and Old Mill's John Bliss was second in his. Ditto for North Carroll's Dave Foster and Old Mill's John Earle at 152.
At 171, Old Mill's top-ranked Ernie Longazel could butt heads with North Carroll's Bill Lubking,second in his region. Bauerlein said he is hoping for a big match from Liberty's Tom Rheubottom in the first round to eliminate Longazel.
At the top and bottom weight classes, each team will have wrestlers who finished second in their region. It's North Carroll's Jeremy Myers and Old Mill's Steve Lundstrom at 103, and the Patriots' Don Marco and the Panthers' Jim Dill at heavyweight.
Bauerlein said two of Old Mill's top wrestlers -- brothers Brent (135) and Brian (160) Layman -- have relatively little competition in their weight classes. The same doesn't hold true for the Panthers' top-ranked grapplers.
Again, it's that luck factor.
Hampe, though, quotes longtime Old Mill track coach Ron Evans when discussing luck.
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity," Hampe said.
Both teams look to be prepared. This weekend, wrestling fans will see which team has the opportunity.
In other sports this week:
* The companion Class 1A/2A tournament should be won by Owings Mills of Baltimore County. FrancisScott Key qualified three for the state bout.
* South Carroll hopes the third time is the charm tonight for its boys basketball team, which visits Thomas Johnson of Frederick County at 7 in the Class 3A Region I semifinal. The Patriots have topped the Cavs twice in the regular season.
* The winner of last night's Liberty-North Carroll game will be playing at Oakland Mills at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Class 3A Region I girls semifinal.