When North County wrestler Dave Thomas took the mat in the 135-pound final of the Meade Invitational Tournament last weekend, he knew nothing of his opponent.
And Knights coach Song Chang wanted to keep it that way.
"I purposely didn't tell him who [Loyola's Tim Spielman] was," Chang said. "I didn't want him to be intimidated before he stepped out on the mat."
Spielman was the two-time defending Maryland Scholastic Association champion. Thomas was a wrestler with potential, but lacking credentials. This one had mismatch written all over it.
Or so it seemed. Thomas, a senior, rallied from a four-point deficit with 33 seconds left in the third period, before winning a 10-8 overtime decision. Thomas rolled Spielman for two points and gained two more to tie the score as the Loyola wrestler crawled out of bounds.
"A friend told me while I was warming up that [Spielman] was a two-time champion, and I said, 'No, he's not. Stop trying to psych me out.' I didn't find out until I read it in the newspaper the next morning," he said. Chang was going to reveal the secret afterward, but "we were both so excited, I forgot."
Thomas followed the victory over Spielman with 7-2 and 8-6 decisions over Northeast's Matt Jewer and Chesapeake's Steve Shirk, respectively, in a tri-match Tuesday, and had a 5-0 record heading into Saturday's Cougar Invitational at Chesapeake.
Chang said on Thursday that it was "too early to make predictions" about Thomas this season, but he thought the Cougar Invitational might help determine how Thomas would fare the rest of the winter. Thomas' two decisions earned him a place in the tournament's championship bout opposite Mount St. Joseph's fourth-ranked Paul Scott. Although, Scott won his third straight Cougar Invitational title, 7-1, Thomas did little to damage his coach's optimism.
Last year, while wrestling at 130 pounds, Thomas compiled a 15-6 record with less than two weeks remaining before the county tournament. Then, disaster struck. Or, as he put it, "something dumb."
Thomas became involved in a scuffle at school, and "my right hand got in the way," he said. And the broken bone he sustained got in the way of any hopes Thomas had of winning the county title and perhaps landing in the state tournament.
"My hand was the size of a basketball," Thomas said. "I was planning on dropping to 125, and I definitely could have finished in the top four [in the county]. My dad was pretty upset. He told me he thought I could have won it."
Thomas will drop to 130 later this season, and probably will make another strong push for the county championship, or at least a high finish.
"I expect good things from him," said Chang, who assisted coach Chuck Markiewicz at North County last year.
"He listens well, and he's a hard worker. Everything he does, he's been taught. He doesn't turn around and try some stupid move that I've never seen. He's not extremely fast or strong, but he wrestles a smart match. He knows how to finesse people."
He just doesn't know much about team success. During his sophomore season, the Knights won five matches and placed 10th in the county tournament. Last year, they went 0-12, and so far this season, they haven't had a victory.
"When I wrestled for Millersville's junior league team, as a whole we weren't that good," he said. "My coaches always told me that, when the team's not doing well, you've got to wrestle for yourself. But I do get discouraged sometimes."
Chang said, "We had 14 kids last year, and he realized that we weren't going to beat anybody with 14 kids. I don't want to make him sound selfish, but he had to go out there for himself."
Not that Thomas has disconnected himself from the team. He believes that better times are ahead for the Knights, and until then, he will stay the course. Win as much as possible, and hope the rest of the team will follow.
"The guys tell me it gets them pumped up to see me win," he said.