Excuse Seth Lopatkiewicz for chuckling when he ponders his success on the wrestling mats this season. Not that the 160-pound Broadneck wrestler isn't taking himself seriously.
Certainly, no one is laughing at his 17-1 record -- not the 10 guys he has pinned this year, or the Maryland State Wrestling Association, which currently ranks him fifth in his weight class.
"I think he's just a little surprised at how well he's doing, butI'm not," said Broadneck coach John Mayberry, whose 6-1 Bruins are ranked No. 3 in The Baltimore Sun's Top 10 and No. 7 by the MSWA.
Is Mayberry talking about the same mediocre guy who experienced seven of his 10 losses before the county and regional tournaments last year, where he placed third?
Yes and no.
"Seth has always had the skills, but he's just gotten mentally tough," said Mayberry. "There were times last year when he'd get an injury and become really tentative. This year, he's wrestling through them."
Lopatkiewicz' top-ranked teammate, Shawn Miller, who is 18-0, agrees.
"I always knew Seth had the athletic ability, but he just had to get his head into it,"said Miller, who went 34-2 as a county and regional champion and a state runner-up last year.
"He's still a little sloppy and has somethings to learn. But he's double-jointed with a weird style."
LetOld Mill coach Mike Hampe shed some light on that "weird style."
"He's like a boa constrictor, the way he rides those legs. He's just so tough to wrestle," said Hampe, who watched one of his wrestlers fall prey to Lopatkiewicz last year.
It was Lopatkiewicz' third-period pin of Old Mill's John Earle which broke a 2-2 tie and keyed the Bruins' 31-28 upset victory that snapped the Patriots' dual-match winning streak at 33. Broadneck was ahead, 31-10, after Lopatkiewicz planted Earle, who had pinned him earlier.
En route to winning the title in last week end's ninth annual Bruin Invitational tournament, Lopatkiewicz decked all three of his opponents in a combined 3 minutes, 12 seconds. But in that same event a year ago, Lopatkiewicz finished third after pinning himself in just 36 seconds against Southern's Chris Boston, an eventual county and regional champ and Class 2A-1A state runner-up.
There were similar bouts to that one, like his match against Glen Burnie's John Wehn, a wrestler who finished with a 10-12record, failed to place in the top four of the county tournament anddidn't qualify for the regionals. Lopatkiewicz built an 8-2 lead over Wehn before getting caught in a headlock and being pinned in the third period.
"A lot of times last year, I'd just go flat in a match," said Lopatkiewicz, 18, who went 27-10 with 17 pins last season. "The (Boston) match was really disappointing because later, I only lostto him by one point. I knew I could wrestle better."
And Lopatkiewicz wrestled superbly during the stellar second half of last season.
There was his third-place finish in the county tournament after dropping a tough 4-2 semifinal loss to South River's Brian Hunt, the eventual county and regional champion who finished second in the Class4A-3A state tournament.
Lopatkiewicz suffered a 16-9 overtime setback to Earle in the regional tournament, but rebounded to take thirdplace. In the state tournament, he dropped a first-round decision toJason Persing of Charles County's McDonough, who went on to a fourth-place finish.
"Toward the end of last year, I opened up more," said Lopatkiewicz. "This year, I think I'm all the way open."
Lopatkiewicz surpassed most expectations by capturing the season-opening Annapolis tournament title on three pins and an impressive come-from-behind, 6-5 decision over Riverdale Baptist's sixth-ranked J.R. Proctor. Proctor had been unbeaten in six matches and had just won his second consecutive title in the Archbishop Curley tournament.
"Right before the match, everyone was telling me how great Proctor was. They said, 'Hey, second place is all right,' already thinking I'd lose," said Lopatkiewicz.
"That Annapolis tournament was the best thing that ever happened to Seth," Mayberry said. "I don't think he thought hewas that good, but now his confidence is really up there. He's doingwhat it takes to win, especially the close matches."
Lopatkiewicz' only loss so far came by 12-6 to Virginia state champion Mike Brady.
But he knows there are others waiting to derail him, like Arundel's county runner-up, Greg Booth, who has dropped to 160 pounds from 171, where he was ranked No. 5 with a 16-1 record.
Or his opponentin Friday's match with Old Mill, junior Mark Procaccini, who is 9-2-1 and eager to crack into the county's top echelon.
"I know I can't get cocky," said Lopatkiewicz. "I've been to the states and I know how hard they can be. But I can still improve. I know a lot more moves than I've shown so far."