You could say the Oakland Mills wrestling team has Howard County's number.
The Scorpions became the county's strongest program under longtime coach Steve Carnahan. And they have yet to miss a beat under Coach Dan Ricker, who enters his fourth year with a perfect 21-0 county record and three league championships.
The Scorpions anticipate another normal year by their standards. They are loaded with talent -- four defending county champs are back -- and experience. They are rich in winning tradition. They fully expect to make it four consecutive undefeated seasons and four county titles in a row with Ricker.
But Ricker doesn't sound as certain about his chances as he has in years past. Ricker still may be in the driver's seat, but he's taking some long looks in the rearview mirror.
"Hammond and Wilde Lake have tough teams. I think Hammond may be the best team," says Ricker. "I have better wrestlers, but they have every single position covered. They have a strong lineup that won't give up six points (pins)."
Hammond and Wilde Lake are coming off strong seasons, having placed a strong second and third in last year's county tournament. The Bears and Wildecats are the only schools capable of offering resistance to Oakland Mills' domination.
Here is a look at each team:
The Raiders have seven freshmen, two sophomores and only three returnees. Fourteen of the team's 18 members are first-year wrestlers.
All of which probably spells a long season as far as team victories are concerned.
"We'll be battling just to stay out of the cellar," Coach Ron McMillan said.
The returnees feature senior Tony Zancan (140), Andy Lewis (189) and junior Jason Sturm (119). Zancan finished third in the county and second in the region last year. Lewis won the region.
The Raiders also have apromising transfer from DeMatha, senior heavyweight Rodney Baxter.
Atholton, which has lost meets to South Carroll and Centennial and finished 10th among 12 teams at the recent Chopticon tournament, is temporarily forfeiting four weight classes.
"They will eventually all be filled, but I don't want to throw the freshmen to the wolves. Iwant to bring them along slowly," McMillan said. "We'll get beat up in December, put things together by January and be respectable by February. We're building for the future."
The Eagles expect significant improvement over last season, when they won only five meets.
Coach Todd DeCrispino returns eight wrestlers, including standouts Ken Tortolani (152), Paul Badawi (135), Shamus Gillen (171)and Bill Augustin (189). Badawi and Gillen finished second in lastyear's county meet. Augustin went 26-2 and finished third in the countytournament.
In addition, freshman Jason Nagle (103) looks like a big winner in the near future.
The Eagles have no heavyweight, butDeCrispino is optimistic about his team.
"We have good wrestlers who will win if they want to," said DeCrispino, whose Eagles are off to a 1-1 start. "The majority of the team is seniors, so we look good."
The Gladiators have nowhere to go but up. Last season they were 0-14.
With 14 returnees, first-year coach Jeff Kent isoptimistic that his team could go from doormat to doorkeeper. Anyonehoping to wina county title, he says, will have to get by the Gladiators.
"We could even be a challenger," Kent said.
So far Glenelg is off to a 1-2 start, having beaten C. Milton Wright (Harford County) before losing to Hammond and South Carroll in a tri-meet.
Joe Neville (125), Paul Brosenne (171), Jamie Arnsmeyer (112) and Jeremy Rutter (145) are all unbeaten at 3-0. Neville and Brosenne have threepins apiece.
"We have a lot of skill in the lower weight classes and strength in the higher weights," Kent said. "We look aggressive."
The Bears expect to battle Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake for the county title this season.
They've already won the Frederick Douglass Tournament, despite not winning an individual title. Allbut one teammate scored.
And the Bears have beaten three other opponents handily -- South Carroll (66-5), McDonogh (56-16) and Glenelg(43-25).
Hammond returns 11 wrestlers, led by Chris Mercurio (135), who was 25-10 last year, Brian Magill (14-3) and Pat Brennan (24-15). Brennan had 17 pins and finished fourth in the state meet at 189 pounds. He's 7-1 already this season.
Newcomer Erin Woodward (125)is also off to a 7-1 start.
"We'll be a good tournament team," Coach Bill Smith said.
The Lions lost county champion George Proctor (103) and finalist John Finney (140) to graduation and return only five wrestlers.
One of them, 189-pound senior Dominique Pierre-Toussaint, won a county title and placed third in the regionalsto highlight a 23-8 season. The other, senior 152-pounder Adam Eldridge, went 19-7 last year.
From there, the Lions will rely mainly on seven underclassmen up from the junior varsity. Sophomore Seth Eldridge was the junior varsity county champ last year, while sophomore Brian Elphage (112) and junior Jason Shefrin (140) each finished second.