It is said that the right amount of pressure turns a lump of coal into a diamond. Too much pressure and it turns to dust.
Old Mill wrestling coach Mike Hampe challenged his three-time defending Class 4A-3A state champions with the toughest teams he could find this year.
"We wanted them to face the best competition we could generate, and this has become the most balanced team I've ever coached," said Hampe, who in his 17th season has heard rumblings that Montgomery County's Quince Orchard, ranked No. 2 by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, might prevent his top-ranked Patriots from winning an unprecedented fourth state title.
But with Friday night's back-to-back victories over Broadneck, 41-16, and Chesapeake, 49-8, the Patriots (12-0, 8-0 against the county) have all but locked up their 10th countydual-meet championship.
Broadneck (8-2, 7-1), which last year defeated the Patriots, 31-28, and forced a tie with Annapolis for the dual-meet title, entered the match ranked No. 3 in the area and No. 7 in the state. Chesapeake (7-2, 6-2) was No. 5 and No. 9, respectively.
At the season's outset, five of Old Mill's senior wrestlers couldbe counted on to play major roles.
There was defending county, regional and Class 4A-3A state champion Brian Layman (171, a 16-2 record), ranked No. 4 by the MSWA; county champion and state runner-up Steve Lundstrom (112, 14-7); and No. 3-ranked county champion heavyweight Don Marco (18-2, 14 pins), who was a regional runner-up and placed third in last year's state tournament.
Third-ranked regional champion Ernie Longazel (189, 19-1) was third in the state, as was top-ranked John Bliss (145, 18-0), a county and regional runner-up.
Many observers simply wrote off the rest of the Patriots, saying the lineup was riddled with holes.
But as evidenced by Old Mill's No. 1 ranking by the MSWA and in The Baltimore Sun's Top 10, those holes have been filled with talent.
The Patriots entered Friday night's eventhaving pinned 80 of their opponents, with tournament victories at Annapolis and St. Stephens/St. Agnes in Alexandria, Va. Earlier this month, the Patriots went 2-0 in the Virginia Duals and last Friday theypummeled Prince George's County's then-No. 2 Riverdale Baptist.
Only two Old Mill wrestlers have losing records: Sophomore Joe Delong (125) is 4-6-1, having battled Chesapeake's highly regarded Ron Alexander (7-2-1) to a draw, and senior Young Chang (135) is 9-11.
Senior state qualifier Vytas Dulys (119, 10-8-2) was fourth in the counties and regions last year.
But the success of five underclassmen really has helped the team along.
"Some of them are beating some of the best guys in the state," said Marco, whose club finishes with Meade on Tuesday, Severna Park on Friday and Northeast on Feb. 13. "Theywill help us in a lot of tournaments, where we'll really need points."
Sophomore Jason Bryant (103, 15-4) began the season by capturing the Annapolis Tournament title, including an 18-6 victory over Annapolis' then-No. 3 Kevin Owen, a returning state qualifier who was fourth in last year's county and regional tournaments. In last Tuesday's57-3 over Arundel, Bryant handed No. 4 Phil Meenan only his second loss of the year, 5-4, on a last-second takedown.
The Patriots' unheralded junior Marc Procaccini (160, 12-2-1) won, 5-3, over Arundel'sreturning county runner-up Greg Booth, who dropped from 171, where he was ranked No. 5 with a 16-1 record, then on Friday he edged Broadneck's fifth-ranked Seth Lopatkiewicz (17-2), who was third in both the county and regional tournaments at 152 last year.
"It made me angry that Booth came down to wrestle me, like he thought he could beatme," said Procaccini, a transfer from Baltimore's Gilman School. "And I had been gunning for Lopatkiewicz ever since last year. I worked all day (Thursday) for that one."
Old Mill junior Kevin Seavey (135, 10-4) bounced Annapolis' Seth Robbins (third in last year's countytournament), 9-3, in a recent dual meet won by the Patriots, 48-14. Junior Todd Hultgren (152, 16-3-1) has lost two decisions to Annapolis' No. 2-ranked county and regional champion Chip Cochran, a state-runner-up, and junior Rick Oleszczuk is 10-3.
"Jason, Todd, Oleszczuk, Procaccini and even Seavey -- our depth comes from them," said Layman, who raised his pin total to 15 Friday night.
"They have takenon the duties they've needed to, filling the holes we thought we'd have. They've come through tremendously."