During their practices on Monday, both Northeast coach Al Kohlhafer and Old Mill coach Mike Hampe stood proudly before their wrestlers.
Each coach was overwhelmed with the effort of his wrestlers just a few days earlier in the county tournament.
"Coaches ask whether this is the best team that I've ever had," said Hampe, whose Patriots (229 points) outdistanced second-place Annapolis (132) for their 10th county tournament crown. "I don't know if that's true or if I can answer that question, but it's certainly the most balanced team I've had."
Kohlhafer's Eagles took fourth placein the county tournament behind Broadneck, Northeast's highest finish since winning the county tournament in 1977. Last year, Northeast was 11th. This year's 6-7 dual meet record bettered last year's 2-12 mark.
"I think the kids did a fine job," said Kohlhafer, whose Eagles begin wrestling tomorrow at Hammond. "We're really happy with the momentum this gives us going into the regions."
Top-ranked by the Maryland State Wrestling Association, the Patriots eclipsed the county's scoring record of 203.5 points, placing wrestlers in the top fourspots of 12 weight classes with five champions and two runners-up.
In the Class 4A-3A Region IV tournament, which begins tomorrow at Meade, Old Mill's target is the meet record of 225.5 points. By qualifying 10 wrestlers for the states last year, the Patriots tied the meet record, but scored just 216.5 points. Having gone 15-0 in regular-season dual meets, the Patriots raised Hampe's record to 175-22-3 over17 years.
"They want to win four (state titles) in a row," said Hampe of his three-time state champs. "I don't think they'll be satisfied if they don't."
The Eagles aren't satisfied either.
Northeast was the 11th of 12 teams in last year's Class 2A-1A Region III tournament, won by Chopticon, 140-131.5, over Southern. Chopticon is strong again this year, and so are Howard County powers Oakland Mills and Hammond, ranked No. 8 and No. 10, respectively, in The Baltimore Sun poll.
Hammond, the Region III champ two years ago, lost, 219-203, to Oakland Mills in last weekend's Howard County tournament.
Northeast's top wrestlers face tough roads. The Eagles' county-champion freshmen Kusick twins, second-ranked Marty (103, 22-0-1), and sixth-ranked Mike (112, 24-1), should qualify for the states, but not easily.
Mike should see Damascus' third-ranked defending regional champ,Kendal Lloyd, and Marty will have to dethrone Chopticon's Phil Gainey.
Sophomore Jason Grunder (140) was fourth in the county, but could see either Oakland Mills' county champ, Joe Salinas, or Wilde Lake's county runner-up, Bobby Farace. Junior county runner-up Bill Katzenberger (145, 16-10) may face Oakland Mills' county champion, Marcus Myles. Al Grunder's 152-pound weight class includes county champion Mac Goudy (Hammond), Oakland Mills' Brian DuVall, who was third in thecounty, and Wilde Lake's Robert McGrain, who was fourth.
Northeast sophomore Steve Smiddy (119, 22-3-1) was third in the county tournament and will challenge Chopticon's sixth-ranked defending champ, Jeff Daigle. Daigle, a senior, is a former state runner-up.
Both Daigle and Smiddy have lost decisions to South River's fifth-ranked Greg Nida. Smiddy's only other setbacks came by 4-1 and 6-2 against Broadneck's top-ranked, three-time county champ, Shawn Miller.
Grunder (20-8) has lost to respected wrestlers, including twice each to Annapolis' two-time county champion, Chip Cochran (25-1), and Liberty's Tony Nagle, a state qualifier last year. He split bouts with Old Mill's Todd Hultgren, edging Hultgren, 6-5, in the county semifinals.
"I've been working real hard," said Grunder. "None of the guys who beat me are 2A-1A, so I've got a shot."
For Southern, Sherrard Neal (125) and heavyweight Robert Burley were regional runners-up last year and both finished third in the state. Fourth-ranked Burley could face his toughest opponent in Oakland Mills' defending state champion, Monte Spencer.
Broadneck returns four of six qualifiers: defending state champ Charlie Bennett (112), Miller (119), county runner-up Seth Lopatkiewicz (160, 21-3) and Dave Macauley (171). Lopatkiewicz and Macauley each placed third in the region, but will have to beat Old Mill's sixth-ranked Marc Procaccini (18-2-1) to win.
Cochran, Annapolis' two-time county champion, will try to defend his crown, and teammate Tom Sfakiyanudas (135, 24-3) has a tough foe in Northern's Tony Lignelli, who was fourth in the state last year. Sfakiyanudas owns a 12-8 victory over Chesapeake's county champion, Doug Horton (130), whohas beaten Lignelli in overtime.
The tests for sixth-ranked Horton (23-3) should come from Old Mill's Ken Seavey, whom Horton edged, 6-4, in the county finals, or Severna Park's Dave Rupert (third, county), whom Horton edged, 5-3.