Darkness is great for jogging the memory of Mark Nevin.
Three miles every day but match days, the 125-pound Glen Burnie wrestler goes running into the night, mentally replaying each of the 15 bouts he lost a year ago.
Nevin entered last year's county tournament with a 12-11 record, but lost his last four 119-pound matches of the season -- each by four points or less.
"Toward the end, there were a lot of matches I could have won," said Nevin, 17, who is off to a 9-0 start this year. "There were a lot of cheap losses where I didn't give that last effort or use that one last move."
There was his disappointing 8-4 semifinal loss to Old Mill's eventual champion and state qualifier, Bob Sugden, followed by a 9-5 consolation semifinal loss in overtime to Annapolis' Mike Bousman, who later placed fourth.
Next came an excruciating 1-0 loss to Severna Park's Dave Rupert, which cost Nevin a fifth-place finish. Rupert added insult to injury in the Class 4A-3A Region IV tournament a week later, ending Nevin's season with his 3-1 first-round victory.
Those bitter memories have served as motivation, from Nevin's nightly jogging routine to a daily weightlifting regimen that has him bench-pressing 200 pounds.
"The biggest change isMark's overall attitude toward wrestling. It's a commitment, not just an interest," said Glen Burnie coach Bruce Sider, who is in his 12th season.
"Last year, he was wrestling well enough to get by, but not enough to get ahead. Now he's doing all of the extra stuff that commited wrestlers do, like getting out and doing road work at night -- no excuses."
Thanks to his hard work, Nevin has been on the other side of four close decisions this year, including three one-point victories.
He edged Arundel's Ken Brown, 7-6, for the Meade tournament title Dec. 7. And in the title bout of the Dec. 28 Arundel tournament, Nevin escaped in the last 15 seconds to nip Chesapeake's Rob Zittle, 4-3.
"His training and desire made the difference in the Meade and Arundel tournaments," said Sider. "He was just in better shapethan most of those guys."
"I can go all three periods without anyproblem, that's the greatest thing," said Nevin, who downed Northeast's Matt Jewer, 11-4, Tuesday night. "But I really didn't expect to be undefeated so far."
Tucked within Nevin's victory ledger are a few more substantial triumphs.
He scored a 7-3 decision over Wilde Lake's Antoine Harris, who was fourth in Howard County and is favoredto win this year's county title. Nevin's 6-0 win over Old Mill's Dave Basta on Dec. 19 kept the Gophers from being shut out by the three-time defending Class 4A-3A state champion Patriots in a 62-3 loss.
Then there was his 17-8 major decision over Buddy Pinder, which paced the 1-3 Gophers to a win over Queen Anne's -- one victory more thanin last year's 0-12 dual-meet campaign.
But Sider says Nevin isn't kidding himself.
"He knows he hasn't wrestled all of the best guys, so he's keeping everything in perspective," Sider said.
Wins over wrestlers like Annapolis senior Seth Robbins, who was third at 125 in last year's county tournament, or Chesapeake junior Ron Alexander, who was third a year ago at 119, might earn Nevin some respect.
Perhaps Nevin's biggest test comes tomorrow against South River's No. 4-ranked Bill Whitcher. A county and regional runner-up at 112 pounds last year, Whitcher (13-0, seven pins) was fourth in last year's Class 4A-3A state tournament.
"Whatever happens, it will be a good experience," said Nevin. "It's going to be my chance to see how good I really am."
Nevin's takedowns are superb. In addition, he's a hard man to hold down.
"I'm pretty good on my feet, and my shot hasn't been stopped yet," he said. "I'm pretty good from the bottom on escapes."
But Sider says Nevin needs to improve his pinning combinations to be considered top-notch.
"At times, he's not wrestling as aggressively as I think he has to," said Sider. "He's gotten the majority of the takedowns in his matches, but he scored his first near-fall points in the Arundel tournament."
Nevin scored his only fall in 4 minutes, 33 seconds in the Arundel tournament semifinals, so he'snowhere near the achievements of last year's 125-pound state champion, Chesapeake's Brian Eveleth. Eveleth dominated with a 34-0 record, including 23 pins and seven technical falls.
"Every match I've felt like I was in control," Nevin said.
"I've been working on scoring back points and on my wrestling from the top position, trying to turn people over."
And if memory serves him, his dark past will yield a bright future.