Nate Casella is disgusted. Chris Turner feels embarrassed. And Rich Jackson says he has never been so frustrated in his 21 years as a wrestling coach.
Defeat has Wilde Lake's wrestling team in a headlockthese days.
Imagine this scenario: Your team is stocked with tough wrestlers carrying winning records. At least six of them are legitimate county title contenders. You are one of the league's more respected teams. And yet, after five dual meets, you're still searching for your first victory.
At Wilde Lake, this is no movie. The Wildecats have livedthrough one of the stranger, more infuriating months a team could endure.
Five meets, five losses -- by a total of 19 points. Four of those defeats by a combined seven points. A three-point loss, a two-point loss, a pair of one-point setbacks.
Wilde Lake reached its nadir in a 35-33 defeat Tuesday night at Westminster. Leading, 33-23,with two matches left, all the Wildecats had to do to win was stay off their backs. But Westminster's Mike Harmon pinned Stanley Chung one minute into the 189-pound match. Then, Wilde Lake heavyweight Carlos Girstenfeld suffered the same fate in the first period against Ryan Warner.
The Wildecats were furious. Several wrestlers angrily threw equipment near the Wilde Lake bench. Teammates exchanged profanities and pointed fingers. And Jackson, displaying his typically calm demeanor, tried to encourage his wrestlers. He could not reach all of them.
"I try to push them in practice. I'm doing all I can," said Casella, Wilde Lake's 171-pound senior who pinned Art Jenne to give the Wildecats their biggest lead at 33-23. "You've got to stay off your back. You've just got to want it more. I'm disgusted. I know it's a team sport, but I'm wrestling for me and Coach Jackson right now."
"I'm getting tired of it (the losses)," added sophomore 130-pounder Chris Turner. His third-period pin of Sean Kidwell sparked the Wildecats. "It's embarrassing when you keep losing like this. We should be blowing these teams away. I had a bad feeling all night."
With the county dual meet season and postseason tournaments looming -- Wilde Lake opens at Howard Tuesday -- Jackson's task is to get the Wildecats to start winning and feeling good about themselves. For now, Jackson is trying to convince the Wildecats that they are the best 0-5 team inthe state.
"Getting blanked like this, with the talent I have, isprobably the most frustrating thing I've ever gone through," Jacksonsaid. "Kids who you know are good wrestlers are getting pinned. Theyhaven't wrestled badly. It's just those few mistakes they're making.
"As long as they don't get frustrated, we'll be all right. But ifthey get to the point where they feel they can't win, we're in trouble. They've got to hang in there, and they can't point fingers."
The Wildecats were already frustrated coming into the Westminster match. They opened the season with a 40-28 defeat against Aberdeen, a perennial Harford County power currently ranked in The Sun's Top 10. That match actually provided Wilde Lake with something of a moral victory, since the Wildecats forfeited three weight classes, or 18 points.
For the next three matches, the Wildecats forfeited the 103- and 189-pound classes, and came tantalizingly close to victory.
They dropped a 34-31 decision to Northeast (Anne Arundel County) and lost one-point matches to Loyola (Baltimore City) and South Carroll (CarrollCounty). In between the dual-meet failures, the Wildecats put on strong tournament showings. They finished a fourth in the 18-team Douglass Tournament and had four wrestlers finish either second or third inthe Arundel Tournament, despite taking only eight wrestlers to the tourney.
"The forfeits had more of an impact than anything else," Jackson said. "The day before the Westminster match, we were very relaxed."
The Wildecats forfeited only the 103-pound class Tuesday, asthe Owls took a free, 6-0 lead. Fennell Howell opened the Wildecats'scoring with a come-from-behind, 6-4 victory over Eric Jones in the 112-pound class. Then, things quickly turned sour for Wilde Lake.
Nick Yoon took a 7-1 lead into the third period, only to get pinned by Bill Hovermale with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the match. AntoineHarris (125) then lost a 2-0 lead -- thanks in part to a bad calf cramp -- to Fred Thompson, who proceeded to pin Harris with 11 seconds left and give the Owls an 18-3 lead. Those matches would come back tohaunt the Wildecats.
The Wildecats bounced back impressively by taking a 21-18 lead, as Turner, Tony Crawford (135) and Bobby Farace (140) produced pins. The Wildecats lost the lead briefly, then regained it as Robert McGrain (152) and Michael Green (160) won six-point decisions. Casella's pin gave the Wildecats a seemingly safe 33-23 leadwith two matches left.
Wilde Lake's individual records certainly belie a winless team. Harris is 5-4-1 with four pins. Turner (11-4, four pins), Crawford (7-2-1, four pins), Farace (12-2, five pins, two technical falls), McGrain (8-4, two pins), Green (7-3, five pins) andCasella (10-2, seven pins) form a nucleus any coach would love. Farace and Casella are returning county champions.
"We have a good tournament team. We have to stay focused and concentrate for three periods in every match," Jackson said. "We can't force things. We have to take what guys give us, one point at a time. We can't make these third-period mistakes.
"I chalk this up to a learning experience. WhenI was younger, this would have really gotten to me. I'm too old to get upset about it. And I'm not giving up on them."