When Ron Alexander steps onto a wrestling mat against an opponent, either he'll let his skills do the talking, or his mouth will.
"When I run my mouth, I get into trouble," said the 125-pound Chesapeake wrestler, who leads the 13th-ranked Cougars (2-3) into tonight's match at No. 11 Arundel (3-1). "I let that happen too much last year. I've got to get out there and just take care of business."
Alexander (12-2) was all business in his first two bouts of last week's Arundel tournament, nailing his fifth and sixth pins of the season in 55 seconds and 2:30, respectively. In the title bout, he faced Arundel's Don Waters, who was coming off an 18-3 semifinal technical-fall victory over Wilde Lake's Howard County runner-up, Fennell Howell.
Alexander took the action to Waters for most of the bout only to win a 7-5 decision that was roundly booed by the crowd.
"I felt good because I won even though he [Waters] didn't wrestle cleanly, so it [the booing] didn't bother me," said Alexander, who may face Waters again tonight. "But I complained too much. It'll be totally different [tonight]."
Waters agreed he was less than a gentleman against Alexander.
"I let his talking get me mad," said Waters (5-5). "I was wrestling to hurt him, not to win. But this time, he won't get to me."
Last year's season was bittersweet for Alexander.
It included a third-place finish at the Chesapeake Cougar Invitational and a 3-2 victory over South River's eventual 119-pound county and regional runner-up Greg Nida.
There was also a 3-2 loss to South River's two-time county runner-up Billy Whitcher, who eventually won county and regional titles and was third in the state.
Alexander lost his head -- and a 6-5 decision -- against Glen Burnie's unheralded Mark Nevin, failing to place among the county's top four wrestlers after having been third as a sophomore.
His frustration continued in the following week's regionals. After pinning his first opponent and upsetting Calvert's top-seed Bill Pawlowski, 5-1, he lost to county and regional runner-up, Seth Robbins (Annapolis) and unheralded Joe Delong (Old Mill).
Seven teammates qualified for the state tournament while Alexander stayed home.
So the 5-foot-9 Alexander vowed to shake the inconsistency of last season's 20-7-1 record, which included the Aberdeen Tournament title he will defend this weekend.
"Attitude control was my No. 1 priority" over the summer, said Alexander, who wrestled four times a week, ran every day and lifted weights at least three hours a day, five days a week.
His efforts produced Amateur Athletic Union state titles in both Greco-Roman and freestyle, and a 2-1 record as a Maryland All-Star against teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia.
In the Maryland State Games, Alexander pinned six of eight opponents for Greco-Roman and freestyle titles, including pins over Mount St. Joseph's Maryland Scholastic Association runner-up David Inkman and Hammond's Dan Proulx, who was third in Howard County.
"I'm basically wrestling with the same intensity now," said Alexander, who also placed fourth out of 34 wrestlers in the summer AAU Grand Nationals. "I've watched each match on tape and worked on each of the mistakes I've made."
Alexander's controversial 130-pound victory over Northeast's Steve Smiddy, who was third in last year's county tournament, came when the referee stopped the match after Smiddy bit him.
Alexander later had two first-period pins in the Chesapeake tournament before facing Mount St. Joseph's Russell Fecteau, who entered the bout after a runner-up finish at Curley and a third place at the Annapolis' tournament.
Fecteau trailed by as much as 6-3, but edged Alexander, 7-6, on a takedown with six seconds left in the bout.
Fecteau (11-2) won the title, 7-1, over Frederick's Tim Fields, and Alexander pinned his consolation semifinal opponent and blanked Northeast's Chris Morrow for third place.
"When Ron's focused, like in the second half of our tournament, he's as good as anybody out there," said Chesapeake coach Tom Slichter. "But sometimes, he just loses focus. That hurts him against better kids."
Just three days later, Alexander turned up the heat in tri-meet losses to Northeast, 48-18, and DeMatha, 40-23.
He pinned Morrow, setting up a match with DeMatha's once-beaten, fifth-ranked Robert Alexander, who owned pins over Fecteau for the Curley Tournament crown, and Broadneck's sixth-ranked, former state champion Charlie Bennet at Annapolis.
Ron Alexander led 2-0 before accidentally slamming Robert, who couldn't continue with 10 seconds left in the first period. He could meet Robert Alexander at Aberdeen, when the Cougars try to defend their title against the host Eagles, DeMatha and others.
Alexander, who is going for his third Aberdeen title, defeated Aberdeen's Harford County champ, Frank Johnson, 8-2, for last year's crown.
"We've got to see a new and improved Ron Alexander," said Slichter. "If we do, then he'll win both matches with Waters and [Rob] Alexander."