Is three-time defending Class 4A-3A state champion Old Mill a shoo-in to win its third straight county wrestling tournament title, and its eighth crown overall?
Heading into tomorrow's quarterfinal round, Old Mill, which doesn't have a wrestler with a losing record in its lineup, is so highly regarded that even a victory over the Patriots' 140-pound Ken Seavey (8-8) might seem like a championship win.
"Beating Old Mill, I think, is a bit unrealistic. But we feel we have as good a shot at secondplace as anybody," said Chesapeake coach Tom Slichter, whose Cougarsfinished fourth in last year's tournament.
Chesapeake has as manywrestlers (nine) as Old Mill seeded in the top four of their weight classes, with sixth-ranked, 130-pound sophomore Doug Horton (20-3, 14pins), a county runner-up last year, getting the Cougars' only top seed.
South River, Northeast and Severna Park are the only other county teams with just one top seed.
Northeast's second-ranked freshman Marty Kusick (103, 19-0-1) was a junior league state champion a year ago; South River's sixth-ranked 125-pounder Billy Whitcher (24-1,11 pins) was last year's 119-pound county and regional runner-up andplaced fourth in the Class 4A-3A state tournament; and Severna Park's Scott Woodland (140, 22-3) beat Horton to win last year's 130-poundcounty crown before taking fourth in both the regional and state tournaments.
"Our team was humbled a little bit in our last match (a 41-15 loss to Annapolis)," Slichter said. "But I think we've proven to everybody that we can wrestle well in tournaments."
The season began with critics questioning potential holes in Old Mill's lineup, despite the return of five state qualifiers from a team that broke an 11-year-old record for total points (113) in crushing second-place North Carroll, 130.5-95.5 in the state meet.
But the Patriots, who are currently top-ranked by both The Baltimore Sun and the Maryland State Wrestling Association, rolled to their 10th county dual-meet title with a 15-0 record, raising Coach Mike Hampe's 17-year mark to 175-22-3.
"Anything can happen," said Annapolis coach Dave Gehrdes. "That's why we wrestle (the tournament.)"
Gehrdes summed up the county dual-meet season better than anyone, simply calling it "strange."
There was Southern's wrestling team, which came off last year's Class 2A-1A state tournament runner-up finish -- its highest state placement ever -- only to go 4-9 in dual meets this year.
Severna Park, by contrast, nearly reversed last year's 2-12 season, finishing 9-5in dual meets. And how about Slichter's Chesapeake squad? By going 10-3, the Cougars compiled the best record in Slichter's seven-year tenure and found themselves ranked as high as ninth by the MSWA, and fifth by The Baltimore Sun.
Finally, there was Gehrdes' 13-3 Annapolis squad, which has come full circle since the season's outset, when the Panthers were ranked fifth in the area's preseason poll. Annapolis disappeared from the rankings, thanks to injuries to six wrestlers,with two more wrestlers quitting the team. Then came a sixth-place finish in the Arundel tournament -- which it had won the previous year-- and a lopsided loss to Old Mill.
But with last Friday's win over Chesapeake, the Panthers usurped the fifth spot in The Baltimore Sun poll, dropped the Cougars to No. 7, and are approaching tomorrow'sfirst-round action with renewed vigor.
"We're coming in with a lot of confidence," said Gehrdes. "But you can bet Chesapeake and Broadneck are going to be wrestling well, also."
"Our goal is for our kids to place in the top four," said Broadneck coach John Mayberry. "But that's probably the same goal that kids at Chesapeake and Annapolis have."
Did you notice Old Mill wasn't mentioned as a target?
"In my opinion," said Mayberry, "they're not going to get beat."
For the Patriots, three seniors garnered top seeds. They are John Bliss (20-0), the MSWA's top-ranked 145-pounder, fourth-ranked Brian Layman (171, 19-2) and Ernie Longazel (189, 21-1).
Layman is a defending county, regional and state champion. Longazel was a regional champwho placed third in both the county and state tournaments, and Blisswas third in the state after finishing as the county and regional runner-up.
Two Patriots wrestlers -- 112-pound Steve Lundstrom (16-8), a regional and state tournament runner-up, and heavyweight Don Marco (21-2), a regional runner-up who placed third in the state -- are defending county champions. Yet, they were seeded third and second, respectively, in their weight classes.
Southern heavyweight Robert Burley (20-2) was awarded the top seed despite finishing second to Marco in last year's county tournament, and losing, 4-3, to Marco during the regular season. Burley was third in last year's Class 2A-1A state tournament.
"It's all just bulletin-board material," said Hampe. "It'll just get us more fired up. It's obviously an exciting thing to be going for your fourth straight state title, and believe me, we're going for it."