In sports, the term "limping" usually describes an ungraceful performance by an athlete or his team.
But try telling that to Oakland Mills senior Monte Spencer, the Maryland State Wrestling Association's top-ranked heavyweight.
On a left knee injured during his second consecutive All-County football season, Spencer hobbled into the season-opening Annapolis tournament, pinned his first two opponents in a combined 32 seconds, and defeated Old Mill's No. 3-ranked Don Marco, 5-2, to win the title for the second straight year.
This, after only three days of practice.
"My doctors said to skip the first week of wrestling practice," said Spencer, whose knee has since healed. The 230-pound defending Class 4A-3A state champion is now 11-0 with seven pins. "It bothered me, but I worked through it. I thought people would attack it, but no one seemed to notice."
Observers were too busy admiring the cat-like stealth of Spencer, who bench-presses 350 pounds and is beefier than in his 215-pound junior year, when he went 36-1 and was an All-Metro selection.
Marco, who lost to Spencer once as a sophomore and twice last year, said "he looked quicker and he's starting to wrestle like a lightweight.
"He's tougher, more aggressive and stronger," said the 225-pound Marco (9-2, six pins), the regional runner-up to Spencer last year before placing third in the state.
"Last time, I had a deep single-leg on him. I thought he was down, but his other leg was behind him. He's got great balance."
"Last year, Spencer went upper-body and just blocked off everything," said Marco's coach, Mike Hampe. "Now he's got technique and power."
Power is what Spencer needed against Quince Orchard's No. 2-ranked, 240-pound Dave Vernier to win his second consecutive Lackey tournament, 5-3, with an overtime takedown. Spencer edged Vernier, 2-1, for his state title last year, but Vernier (13-1, 12 pins) entered the Lackey tournament ranked No. 8 nationally after a summer of freestyle wrestling.
"I'd put my money on Monte against any wrestler in the state," said Oakland Mills coach Dan Ricker. "When he's on, he's an animal."
Spencer ranks sixth on Oakland Mills' all-time win list with a 69-9 record. As a 200-pound sophomore he was a county runner-up and placed third in the region, finishing with an 18-8 record. He vividly remembers the losses, particularly the three times he was pinned by Arundel's 260-pound Tim Kerns, who was a runner-up in both the regional and state tournaments.
"When Kerns pinned me in a scrimmage, I was like 'This is going to be a long season,' " said Spencer, who had as many falls (18) last year as he did wins as a sophomore. "When it happened again, I was like 'When am I going to stop running into this guy?'.
After losing to Kerns for the last time in the state semifinals, Spencer avenged two earlier losses for third place. It was shortly thereafter that eventual state champion Kevin Barney of Queen Anne's passed the torch to Spencer.
"I was practicing with Barney before he wrestled Kerns, and he told me 'I'm going to take [the state title] this year. Next year, it's your year,' " said Spencer. "Barney moved quicker, and did things heavyweights don't do. I tried to finesse people last year, and now I mix power."
He used that power last week to pin a 270-pounder in just 51 seconds tosalvage a 33-33 tie with unbeaten Francis Scott Key.
"The big, flabby guys used to just lay on Monte, but that doesn't work anymore," said Oakland Mills' Adam Seidman (135), a two-time defending county champion who's ranked fifth in the state. "Monte doesn't tire out like last year. If we need a pin, he'll get it."
Last year, Spencer's only loss came in the Arundel tournament, when the host team's Pat Beach built an 8-1 lead -- including six backpoints -- and won, 9-6. A local paper ran an embarrassing photo of Beach nearly pinning Spencer.
"That opened my eyes," said Spencer, who already had beaten Marco and Chopticon's No. 2-ranked John Scheer, the eventual Class 2A-1A state champion.
Spencer vows to win at Arundel this Saturday, where he should get a rematch with Vernier.
"I know he'll come after me," said Spencer. "This year, everyone's gunning for me, so I'll keep proving I deserve to be No. 1."